For a long time, I thought confidence was a personality trait – you either have it, or you don’t. When I started out in my career, I was quite shy. The idea of standing in front of a room of people would literally bring me out in hives (it still does sometimes, more on that later!) but probably 5 years later, there I was presenting to some of the UK’s biggest retailers, confidently pitching new products and making a success of it.
What changed? Did I have a personality transplant? Nope, but I did have a lot more practice. Because that’s the thing, confidence is actually a skill that can be practiced and mastered. Sure, some people are naturally more confident, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have a chance at it.
Here are some of the things that work for me, to help me feel more confident presenting, in meetings or when I am thrown into something new.
1. Be prepared
Part of feeling confident for me, is feeling that I have prepared well. The reality being that as humans we hate feeling out of control, so when we go into a meeting that we can’t control the outcome of, that can feel uncomfortable. So, for a younger, more anxious me, this may have meant over preparation, which isn’t always helpful but worked at the time. As I have become older and more experienced I have a better ability at balancing preparation level without too much time wasting but I do still have to keep that in check
2. Practice, practice, practice
When it comes to presenting something super important, I like to practice what I am going to say (despite my desire to just “wing it”). In my Ready Meals marketing days, I was part of a high performing team – one of our key strengths? We always role played and practiced our presentations when going into a retailer. This ironed out excessive “erm’s” and stumbling over words and helped with our overall confidence. We “nailed” many a presentation due to our collective confidence. Now, although I work solo most of the time, I still seek out friends to practice on, or actually record myself on video to practice what I am going to say.
3. Take action
It’s easier to do nothing, to stay where you are. It’s safer (or so your brain thinks, which is hard wired to do what it’s always done). The commonly talked about “Fight or Flight” response, often fails to mention the third option we have and that is to “Freeze”. So many of us do it and it stops us moving forward with confidence in all parts of our lives. But here’s the thing, action creates confidence, much like practice does. If you take action one of two things will happen – you will have success and feel good about the steps you’ve taken OR (and the fear of this seems to be what keeps us stuck) you will be less successful than you hoped for but you will have learnt something. Simply the process of taking action creates more confidence.
4. Wear a scarf (well, it doesn’t have to be a scarf)
This one may seem a bit random – however let me tell you why. No matter how practiced and prepared I am; no matter how many years I have been presenting; my body still reacts to the pressure of presenting to a new or a large audience. No matter what I do, how I try to control it, my skin goes blotchy. Now, nowhere near the hives that I got as a younger me but noticeable enough that it adds to my stress. So, I wear a scarf! It hides the blotches that come up on my neck and now forms part of my confidence toolkit. To all those colleagues I work with over the years that have complimented my array of scarves, the secret is out!
This isn’t just about covering up blotchy skin though. If “power dressing” or certain clothing helps you feel more confident, then wear it! My favourite ever example of this is a colleague of mine who has “Positive Pants” – a special set of underwear that she wears for really important presentations when she needs a boost. Her mind associates her positive pants with successfully nailing a presentation, so she either wears those pants or imagines she’s wearing those pants to give herself a boost.
5. Use Anchoring techniques
This is a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique which I use a lot. The principle is that you can use an anchor on your body to change yourself to the “state” that you are in, to the one you want to be in. So in this case, feeling nervous to feeling more confident. I use my thumb and my forefinger on my right hand as my anchor for ‘confidence’. I have visualised repeatedly being a confident public speaker whilst pressing those two parts of my hand together. I have recreated all the details in my mind repeatedly to the point where the feeling and visualisation flashes up quickly when I need it (and press my forefinger and thumb together). Might sound bonkers but it really works, it tricks your brain! You can try it yourself using You Tube videos to guide you or use a coach to help with the process.
I also know people who also have a piece of jewellery (or even an elastic band on their wrist) that they have “charged up” with positivity which they can touch when they need a confidence boost.
6. Use Grounding techniques
Feelings of anxiety are normal when you’re doing something new. In fact, it can improve your performance but when it tips into unhelpful anxiety that is starting to make you freeze or want to run away, it might be time to use some grounding techniques. By ‘grounding’ I mean bringing yourself back down to earth, stopping that mind running away with itself and calm your body down. I use some simple mindfulness techniques for this:-
- Breathing while counting my breath in and out. Here is a simple technique recommended by the NHS
- A quick body scan – closing my eyes, noticing the weight of my bum on the seat, my feeling of my feet planted on the floor and then scanning through the rest of my body to notice whatever I am feeling and not judging it.
As ever, it is finding what works for you. When I work with clients on helping them find inner confidence, we go deep into understanding what helps boost their own confidence and what knocks it down. We then work out how to do more of the former and less of the latter! If you would like help finding and developing your confidence, drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org