Last Sunday while seated for lunch, I asked my 3 sons: “What advice would you give a friend about how to become a more confident speaker?”
The eldest carefully studied his plate of aroni rice and chicken stew.
After a few seconds he said: “Focus on the now. The present is more important”.
The middle guy, his fork poised to attack a chicken piece, offered: “Don’t over-think. Just do it!”
The youngest, after a brief moment of thoughtful silence declared: “Don’t worry. Most people in the audience don’t mark you on little mistakes”.
“Thanks guys,” I said in-between mouthfuls of food, “you’ve just helped me with my column!”
With a full belly, I lounged on the verandah – thumbs putting down thoughts on my phone for the piece you’re now reading.
I replayed the advice from my confidence consultants:
- Here and now matters
- Overthinking is cured by action
- Worrying is useless
Before analysing their counsel, some definitions of confidence from Oxford Languages:
Confidence is the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.
Example: “We had every confidence in the staff.”
Confidence is also the state of feeling certain about the truth of something.
Example: “I can say with confidence that I have never before driven up this street.”
Confidence is also a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
Example: “She’s brimming with confidence.”
We can now turn our attention to how confidence can be affected by not being in the moment, by overthinking and by worrying.
And most importantly, how to overcome these hurdles.
- Not Being in the Moment
You know how this plays out.
You’re on the stage, but in your mind you’re already done talking and back in your seat.
Why does this happen?
You don’t particularly enjoy speaking in public, so you want the experience to be over and done with quickly.
So you are not focused, because your mind is elsewhere.
The effect is that you appear to be distracted and unsure, maybe even confused.
In short, you don’t feel confident.
Remember, emotions are contagious.
If you exhibit low levels of confidence, it will show in your voice and your manner of speaking – and the audience will reflect it back to you.
The secret to confident speaking is to be in the moment.
Concentrate on what you are presenting and be aware of your surroundings.
It’s not about you, it’s about the message you have for the people who are listening.
Maintain a positive outlook and remind yourself you have something of value to give to the audience.
We’re all guilty of this offence. I know I have been before.
You’re given a topic to present and you waste precious time just thinking about how to get started with your preparation.
Then on the day you find yourself thinking: “Am I the right person for the presentation? Will the audience like me? What if everything goes wrong?”
What state will you be in with all these thoughts running through your mind?
Will you believe in yourself and be certain of doing a good job?
Not at all!
Your confidence takes a big hit from overthinking about your assignment.
Here’s the cure: just do it!
Author Mel Robbins suggests you adopt the 5 Second Rule.
Anytime you think about a task you have to do and you don’t want to overthink it or procrastinate about it, go into rocket-launch mode.
Count backwards: “5…4…3…2…1” and then do what you have to do – whether it’s research, practice or actually speaking.
Try it and see.
Action cures overthinking and boosts your confidence!
Worry is closely related to fear, which has been described as:
Worry is akin to a dream in which you hope for the worst to happen to you.
Crazy isn’t it?
Imagine what worrying does to your confidence.
Worry is nothing but negative energy that shakes the faith you have in yourself and questions the certainty you should have about your message.
The sad thing is that while you obsess about mistakes you may or may not make, often the audience is totally unaware of your shortcomings unless you point them out.
If you want to boost your confidence as a speaker, you must deal with worry deliberately.
First, do the work!
Prepare for the speech with adequate research.
Rehearse often and rehearse the right way (record your practice sessions and rehearse with an audience for feedback).
These 2 steps will eliminate any worries you’ll have before you get on the stage.
After speaking, assess yourself after every speaking experience with these 2 questions:
- What did I like about my performance?
- What should I do differently next time to improve?
If you deliberately look for positives when you review your public speaking experiences (Question 1), you will find things in yourself to be happy about.
That will increase your self-belief and self-assurance, and by extension your confidence.
And if you deliberately seek out ways to improve (Question 2), you will use your mistakes as springboards for better performance – and this can only boost your confidence.
You can also ask anyone who was in the audience to tell you what they liked and what they’d like to see you do differently next time.
You’ll gain rich insights from the answers and you’ll go a long way to tackle those fears that affect your confidence.
And remember, when worry goes down, confidence goes up!
Confidence is a feeling of self-belief, certainty and self-assurance.
You can boost that positive feeling when you speak in public by remembering:
- Have a mindset of being in the moment when you speak (here and now)
- Overcome overthinking with action (the 5 Second Rule)
- Win the battle against worry by preparing well and reviewing your performance for future improvement (the 2 feedback questions).