“We met with someone before you . . . it didn’t go well,” said my prospective client, the president of a small digital marketing firm that was looking to hire me to do some presentation skills workshops for their employees. Our meeting had gone quite well. We had dates on the calendar for the workshops.
My curiosity was piqued.
“I don’t need to know a name, but what didn’t go well?” I asked.
“She wasn’t very confident.”
“Well,” I said, “when you want your employees to speak more confidently, I can understand your concern!”
The other presentation coach probably was knowledgeable, maybe even more knowledgeable than I. Maybe she had advanced degrees in communication (I have a bachelor of science in engineering).
But she didn’t have the critically important skill of confidence.
Mark Twain may have oversold confidence when he said, “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”
But, what I think he meant by ignorance was ignorance of all the possible negatives. If your knowledge is holding you back, keeping you from taking bold steps because you dwell on your shortcomings, then here’s to ignorance!
I remember feeling that way when I self-published my first book. On the day after Labor Day in 2010, I had a short manuscript that I wanted to self-publish. I hadn’t a clue how to self-publish, so I googled “how to self-publish.” To make a long story short, I had a published book in my hands in fewer than 2 months. After I published that book, I thought it might be a good idea to read a book on self-publishing, so I got a few from the library to look at. If I had looked at them (literally, just looked at them), that might have caused me pause. They were thick books, several hundred pages long. I might have gained just enough knowledge to give up before I even started.
The same thing can happen with speaking. Sometimes we can hold ourselves back because our knowledge or negative self-talk erodes confidence.
So, how can you speak with greater confidence? Here are 10 ways–a preview of the next 10 posts! I will be doing a separate post on each one:
1. Be passionate. Speak on something you are passionate about. If you don’t care, why should anyone else? Also, if you are passionate about something, people are much more forgiving of “imperfections” in speaking. And, frankly, you will probably care less about being perfect. If I had to pick only one thing to improve confidence in speaking, it would be this.
2. Focus on the Audience. A lack of confidence often means that you are thinking about yourself. Yep, you are being self-centered. Instead, be so excited about your message that you consider it a gift to your audience.
3. Know your material. Confidence may be more important than knowledge, but knowing your material will give you credibility and even more confidence! Plus, if you are passionate about a subject, you probably already know a lot! You don’t have to SAY everything you know. It’s handy to know more in case you need to speak longer or forget a point.
4. Use notes—sparingly. Jot down brief, keyword notes (or little pictures) to jog your memory to keep yourself on track (a short speech may not need notes). DO NOT SPEAK FROM WORD-FOR-WORD NOTES. Confident speakers make eye contact and project their voices, both of which are hard to do if you read a speech.
5. Practice AND rehearse. Practice alone to work out the flow, but also rehearse as much as possible in front of people. Toastmasters clubs can give you the opportunity to speak in front of a friendly, supportive audience.
6. Stand and move with power and purpose. Stand tall. Don’t sway, cross your legs, or pace. Set your feet about shoulder width apart (one foot slightly in front of the other for stability) and then only move from that position on purpose (for example, on a big stage you might want to walk to the other parts of the stage to get closer to different parts of the audience). Gesture naturally, leaving your arms at your side when not gesturing.
7. Smile. Give your audience the “I really like you smile” before you even start, and then beam your smile during appropriate parts. Smiling at your audience will relax them and you! (Be culturally sensitive with the amount of smiling you do. Some cultures think Americans smile too much).
8. Project your voice. As I tell my high school speech class students, “speak from your belly button.” You want to speak conversationally, but likely louder (unless using a microphone). Speaking more loudly will make you feel more confident and make it easier for your audience to hear you.
9. Pace with pauses. Most speakers, especially when they are nervous speak too quickly, rushing from thought to thought, hoping to just make it to the end. Pause before and after important points.
10. Plan for Worst-Case Scenarios. Imagine the worst things that might logically happen and decide how you will deal with them if they do happen. Odds are you won’t die.
Confidence is a skill that can be learned. Confidence must also be practiced. Do you have some confidence-building techniques for public speaking?
Next week, more on “be passionate.”
Want my best tips on public speaking? Get my book Cat Got Your Tongue?: Powerful Public Speaking Skills & Presentation Strategies for Confident Communication or, How to Create the Purrfect Speech