How to Develop Unshakable Confidence When you Speak
You must aggressively fight the fear of speaking, because it is not going away. It will grow if you give it room. Here are eight ways to begin developing unshakable confidence when you speak:
1. Seize every opportunity to speak. “I don’t think so!” I can hear you protesting at this utterly preposterous recommendation. Work with me here, because this is the truth: the more frequently you speak, the more confident you will become. As with any learned skill, you improve with practice. At the senior prom, you would not walk across the room and ask that little freckle-faced cutie-pie to dance if you had never danced before, would you? Okay, maybe you would, but for most of us klutzes, that is way too much pressure.
Don’t wait until that critical presentation (the one, for instance, that will determine whether you will spend the balance of your career in the boardroom or in the mail room) to develop your speaking skills. Practice speaking in such nonthreatening venues as church meetings, service organizations like Kiwanis or Rotary, or your child’s grade school class. Refine your speaking skills in these forgiving environments, not when the stakes are colossal. This practice will produce a rich collection of successful speaking experiences from which you can draw confidence.
2. Prepare early and thoroughly. Unless you know that you can devote ample time to preparing your speech, don’t agree to speak. Even if you are asked to “just say a few words,” decline if you cannot prepare. Those “few words” will haunt you if you mis-speak, ramble, or fall to pieces. For many, just saying a few words causes the same intense anxiety as delivering a prepared presentation.
Does it really matter if you are prepared? Absolutely. Preparation can reduce your stage fright by as much as 75 percent. That is a heap of worry and torment that you can avoid by preparing. Simply put, there is no better way to reduce your anxiety and bolster your confidence. So pass if you can’t find the time to prepare.
3. Use positive self-talk. Psychologists almost universally agree that positive self-talk enhances your confidence. You must believe that you will succeed and that the audience is on your side. Talk yourself into success and disavow the possibility of failure. Tell yourself, “I am confident, because I know my topic better than anyone else. I am an expert, and the audience will see me that way.” Just be careful to conduct your pep talk in private, or people may think you are slightly loony.
4. Loosen up. For many speakers, their physical appearance alone eliminates any doubt that they are nervous: they have taut, solemn expressions; their knuckles are white from clutching the lectern; their arms are tightly crossed; and their movements are robotic. Their body language sends a glaring nonverbal message that they are anxious, and everyone immediately senses it. They are downright scary to watch.
No audience will believe that you are confident as long as rigor-mortis seems imminent. Instead, project a confident behavior. Walk to the lectern confidently, not tentatively; act as though you are excited to be speaking, not as though you were marching to the gallows; pause before you begin; plant your feet firmly and stand erect; look at your audience; and smile. This will help you appear and feel more confident. The audience wants to see a relaxed speaker, not a somber, starchy one.
5. Remember that very few speakers are flawless. We often place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves (“I have to be flawless, or my career is kaput and my life is ruined!”). We seldom live up to those intimidating standards, so don’t yank your hair out trying. Professional speakers, who have devoted their lives to perfecting their craft, will tell you that they are constantly refining and honing their presentation skills, and that some of their earlier presentations were putrid.
Recognize that despite your best efforts, you will not excel in every presentation. Sometimes you will get rattled, sometimes your audience will not be receptive, and sometimes those blasted planets are misaligned. It happens. We do not have to be perfect, and we rarely are. Just remember: there will be another speech, another day. No speech is fatal (although if you bomb, you may spend a few years in the mailroom).
6. Meditate, or engage in relaxation activities. If they are unchecked, your pre-speech jitters can immobilize you. Whether you meditate, listen to music, chant, or sing (preferably in the shower) before you speak, engage in some activity that helps calm you. Try all of the following relaxation techniques:
- Breathe. Inhale deeply through your nose, drawing air into your diaphragm. Hold it for several seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Stretch. Stretching will help relieve the tension in your head, shoulders, and back. Before your speech, retreat to another room to relax and stretch. To ease the tension, gently roll your head and shoulders clockwise and counterclockwise repeatedly. Finally, to loosen the muscles in your face, open your mouth as wide as possible and move your lower jaw around. Avoid doing this with small children present.
- Move around. Release nervous energy by taking a short walk to collect your thoughts and warm up your muscles before you speak. Just don’t work yourself into a sweating lather or wander off—you still have to speak.
7. Eat sensibly. Okay, so what does eating have to do with visualization? Well, you are not going to visualize anything positive if your body is rebelling. On the day you speak, avoid all dairy products (which create mucus), carbonated beverages (which can result in embarrassing belching), and caffeine (which can make you jittery). Eat only a light snack before you speak. Sip room-temperature water constantly throughout the day to hydrate your vocal cords, and always have a glass of water (no ice) available while you speak. Don’t guzzle water like a camel, however, or you may need to bolt from the stage midway through your speech—never a confidence booster.
8. Mentally prepare for the unexpected. Sometimes, the best of plans go awry. You may encounter various problems while speaking, such as a bungled introduction, a microphone meltdown, a pesky questioner, a lost train of thought, and a few other snafus described in principle 40. Mentally preparing to address these challenges will reduce your anxiety.
Enhance your confidence every time you speak by visualizing an ideal outcome and reliving previous successes. You must “think like a champion!” to speak like one. Tape those words onto your computer, write them at the top of every speech, and most important—sear them into your mind. Make them your creed.