The confidence to use your voice in the world is a game changer. So how can you build the confidence muscle? Confidence comes from the Latin word “confidere” – to trust. And trust in yourself is where confidence starts – you see it in great speakers, from Michelle Obama, But how can you trust yourself when your words fail you just at the moment you need them most? How can you trust yourself if your voice is shaking? Or if you go blank in the spotlight of an audience’s attention? How can you trust yourself if you can’t trust your own voice?
If this lack of trust in yourself sounds familiar, when it comes to using your voice, welcome to the club. Most people will tell you that deep down they feel the toxic combination of vulnerable, and visible in what my drama school teacher described as ‘hell’s-mouth-opening’ moments in front of an audience, or a camera, or a microphone.
Seared into my brain is the memory of a stage in a huge hall where I went badly wrong in front of a thousand people. I vowed afterwards that I would never speak on stage again. It took me a while to rebuild my confidence. It still makes me cringe to think about it now. But every cloud has a silver lining. In my TEDX talk I started with the story of that failure. And though it was scary that talk has now been watched 7.5 million times.
Here’s how to learn to trust yourself to use your voice.
1: Contribute Don’t Compete. Our “insta” age can be a very competitive place. Using your voice is much more fun if instead of obsessing about who is best, better, best, you focus on what you can contribute. Think about what your audience need and structure your message starting with their challenge – and then offer tools to help. Keep the question “how I help?” in your mind as you prepare and as you speak. It anchors you in your contribution, and gives you confidence,
2: Practise by speaking aloud: Practice is everything, Don’t stick your head I the sand and hope for the best. The confidence muscle is built for you as a speaker by speaking don’t write it, speak it, Your secret ally is the voice notes app on your phone, as allows you to be your own coach. Bullet point or mind map your ideas then record it section by section on your phone. Listen to what resonates and then hone your structure until it flows when you speak it, and your signposts are clear in your mind. You will find that when you’ve spoken your words to yourself a number of you find they flow naturally for you under pressure. It’s so much nicer than holding have a shaking bit of paper in your hand, or slides that you have to stare at to know what comes next. If you are speaking to a big audience run your words in front of a real (supportive) person before you speak them for real. Then when you get into the spotlight, you know the words will come. And each time you use your voice in the spotlight knowing you are ready your confidence grows.
3: See your audience as “old friends” not ‘foes”; A racing heart, a flushed face – these can be good things, falling in love, enjoying a gig, the “good rush”. And learning to use your voice is about embracing and using the adrenalin, framing is as the fun kind of rush, not the fight or flight kind. When This is the ease that allows you to use your voice with control in the spotlight. It’s all about going from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest”. Brain science has some answers to help you do that.
- Before you speak, turn off your phone, as they can trigger fight or flight
- Take a moment to come back to the body. Relax your feet on the floor, feel roots growing down, 10 metres, 20 metres, 30 metres.
- Open up your peripheral vision, as you do when you are safe.
- Imagine that you are talking to your oldest friends. Breathe the feeling of relief and ease you have when you see the people who make you feel safe. Imagine them willing you on.
- Love your pauses as a chance to find your calm. When we chat to those we trust we take time to pause. We speak on the out-breath, pause on the in-breath. When you give yourself time to take that relaxed, spacious, old friends in-breath pause, you find your brakes, you find your control. You find your voice.
Practice these tips everywhere, and I promise you, little by little your confidence will grow and you will find that your voice has a power that gets heard, that changes things. And that’s where life starts to get really interesting.