Public speaking: The phrase strikes fear in the hearts of professionals around the world. Just hearing the words can cause palms to sweat and pulses to race. But beneath those surface feelings is an undercurrent of low self-confidence.
Fear not, friends. It’s possible to calm those waters and shift public speaking from a task you dread to one you actually enjoy. In fact, once you’ve built up your confidence, I find there’s nothing quite like giving a rousing presentation that resonates with an audience and leaves everyone invigorated and inspired.
Whether your next speech is set to occur in a few days, in a few months, in-person, or virtually via videoconferencing, it’ll benefit from your boosting your confidence starting now. Regardless of how much time you have to prepare or how you’ll deliver your remarks, you can benefit from implementing a few strategies that will make you feel like a self-assured superstar.
Fostering a Confident Mindset
For me, boosting confidence hinges on preparation. Experience has shown me that the more time and effort I put into preparing ahead of a keynote, the better that keynote will be. Psychologist Barbara Markway agrees, noting that confident people prepare for situations in advance, giving themselves peace of mind because they have something to fall back on in the moment.
As you’re preparing your presentation, try to focus on the value you’re providing the audience. When you approach it from that angle, you’re focused on the message the audience needs to hear rather than your own nerves. Shifting from self-focused to other-focused can boost your confidence and make it easier to get out of your head and deliver a knock-out performance.
If you’re not sure of the importance of self-confidence, let’s take a look at the issues that a lack of confidence can have beyond a poor presentation. Without enough confidence, you risk falling prey to bad advice, believing your haters, second-guessing yourself, and hesitating to accept future projects. None of those outcomes is great for your life or career.
I have some tried-and-true practices to help me keep my confidence up, and with them in your toolbox, you can send your confidence soaring ahead of your next presentation as well:
1. Practice kind self-talk.
Do you tend to be hard on yourself? According to University of Toronto researchers, practicing self-affirmations helped participants improve their ability to negotiate. In other words, their negotiation performance was tied to how compassionate they were to themselves.
Learning how to say positive things to yourself can be tough, particularly if you’re a perfectionist. Try writing down several statements and reading them aloud to get accustomed to the practice. Look in the mirror before a speech and say, “You deserve this opportunity to share your knowledge,” or, “I’m proud of you for snagging this opportunity.” It will get easier with practice — and your self-confidence will thank you.
2. Recall past successes.
Now is not the time to focus on doubts or missteps. It’s time to celebrate your wins. Jot down a few of your large and small achievements to date. They don’t even have to be associated with public speaking; reviewing any successes will help temper imposter syndrome, that sneaking suspicion that you don’t merit accolades or opportunities that can derail your confidence as a speaker.
Even after you give your next speech, keep adding to your success stories. How you choose to organize your personal triumphs — chronological order, major wins to smaller successes, etc. — isn’t as important as having them available to buoy your spirits before a big speaking engagement.
3. Turn yourself into an expert.
During the preparation phase before your speech, put in the time to research with multiple tools. Search the web and contact other professionals in your network to learn about your audience. The more you concentrate on putting yourself in your attendees’ seats and make your presentation human-centered, the more value you’ll bring to the table.
Alison Gutterman, president and CEO of family-owned cleaning products manufacturer Jelmar, does likewise. Whether she’s speaking to a group of 20 people or 200, she uber-personalizes her content by making her messages relatable. “While not everyone in my audience may work for a family business, for example, we all have the experience of having to explain a different way of doing something to our parents (not as a teenager, where we thought we knew it all),” says Gutterman.
4. Center yourself with breathing.
What happens if your speech is 15 minutes away and you’re still shaky? Beyond embracing and accepting your adrenaline rush, use your breathing to center yourself and calm your mind. Time your inhalations using a smartphone. Then, make your exhalations twice as long. Columbia University’s Richard Brown suggests this simple device readjusts everything from heart rate to the responses of the digestive tract.
Continue this slow breathing method when you take the podium or microphone to promote an aura of calm. It’s much simpler to modulate your voice and avoid including verbal fillers in your speech when your breath comes at an even pace. Not having to fret about vocal fry or a tight chest will give your self-esteem a major lift.
With practice and dedication, these strategies can help raise your confidence to new heights. With kinder self-talk, a list of past successes, research skills, and breathing techniques, you might even find that your response to a speaking request shifts from “No, thanks!” to “Yes, please!”