For a long time, I thought confidence was a personality trait – you either have it, or you don’t. I used to watch other people present and think I would never be able to do that.
Last week, I stood up in front of an audience of over 200 people at one of the UK’s largest retailers and not only spoke with confidence but I was bearing my soul about my burnout from 10 years ago! I can tell you that 22 year old Amy would never been able to do that. When I started out in my career, I was quite shy.
What changed? Did I have a personality transplant? Nope, but I have had 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 have really helped me over the years, that could help you too:
1. Preparation and Practice
Sometimes, I wing it. I am not going to lie and that’s perfectly ok if you know your subject well and there’s nothing going to throw you off track. But for everything else – prepare!
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. Visualise it going well
“Anchoring” 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.
3. Calm yourself down
Feelings of anxiety are normal when you’re doing something new (like walking up on a stage!). 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.
4. Make sure your body language shouts “confidence”
Body language is about 60% of our communication. So, that means that it doesn’t matter what you’re saying – unless you come across confidently, people will not take you as seriously.
And that includes believing it yourself. Yes, really – by holding your body in a more confident pose, it can trick your brain into thinking there is less danger and therefore letting you relax a bit.
The other thing I want to say right now is that it is NORMAL to feel nervous the first time you do something, so stop beating yourself up, because negative self talk is the number one confidence killer. If you would like more helping building your confidence in work situations, I will be running an “Increasing your impact & influence course” soon. If you would like to be added to the waiting list so you’re the first to hear about it: register here