Locate your confidence in public speaking

A while ago, I went to see an event with a good friend of mine.  We got talking afterwards about the speaker on show.

‘I couldn’t do that.’ Remarked my friend.

Why?

Because I’m not confident enough.

Something immediately struck me about this comment; it was said with an absolute assuredness.

And yet- what is confidence? Is it how we present ourselves externally, or something deeper?

We often mistake apparent confidence for insecurity. Do you know somebody who loves to talk about where they have been, what they do for living, or how much money they have? What’s important to remember here is, who are they telling?  This is not confidence, this is ego talking borne out of insecurity.

So . . Something deeper then.  

Confidence is about trust- not the intangible and wavering feeling but in one’s own resources.

Clients will often say to me, In some ways I’m really confident and in other ways I’m shy. The key thing to acknowledge here is the self realisation that the feeling of ‘confidence’ does exist; otherwise how do they recognise it?

I put this thought to my friend.

‘Yes, but getting up in front of people to speak is totally different to what I do normally’

Well . . yes. . of course it is. However, how do any us gain confidence in what we do? We learn, we make mistakes, we hone, we make more mistakes, and after a while a system starts to emerge and a trust starts to develop in our given skill and with it our confidence increases. But that only happens once you have committed to something new, once you are prepared to go outside of your comfort zone and grow.

So how do you take the first step towards locating your confidence?

You must use the resources within yourself that reinforce the feeling of trust and in turn confidence. What if you could take the feeling of confidence in something you excel at and move it into something where you don’t trust yourself yet?  Feeling confident or not isn’t about your ability to do something outside you’re comfort zone.  It’s about where you choose to place to your focus. The best public speakers didn’t start by thinking I will be amazing, they started by thinking – it’s ok if I’m not amazing. To think in this way means the person doesn’t expect excellence initially, but is willing to trust their own resources to become excellent.  

Let’s look at an example-

Person A- is a doctor and has been asked to speak to a large group, they’ve never done this before and don’t feel confident.

Ok, so what resources or strengths might be transferrable to help remind this person how capable and confident they actually are.

Speaking to patients, leading a small team of junior doctors, the knowledge that they studied for several years demonstrating resilience and achievement.

Very quickly a different person starts to emerge, a person who has used their confidence throughout their life and continues to use it daily.

If you choose to place your focus on negative resources such as your fear of failing, or worrying if the auidence will like you,  then you will sit inside your own mind, unable to see or access your confidence.  This mindset will harden and calcify in difficult times or perhaps when watching fantastic public speakers thinking  ‘I couldn’t possibly do that.’

Our sense of possibility only narrows when we don’t trust ourselves, and our confidence diminishes when we don’t acknowledge our own resources. 

Trusting your own experiences and strengths to gain confidence isn’t the preserve of the few, it is in all of us.

Your confidence is within you. It always has been, and always will be.

Whether you choose to find it,  is up to you.

Establish your authenticity in Public Speaking.

You don’t really mean that.

This thought is constantly with me, when I ask my partner something and I feel she is holding something back.

I ask the question and she replies yes. However her tone, intonation and body language tell me otherwise. I heard the answer and yet I didn’t because I’m focusing on what she didn’t say.  What I’m describing here is someone’s subtext or what’s implied but not said.

It happens to all of us, all the time, but how often do we say what we’re really thinking?

Hardly ever.

The reason is simple, our thoughts are for ourselves- they are our own private space where we can criticise, fantasise and day dream. Our thoughts also govern how we feel. If I ask my partner the same question on different days – I may get a yes each time but the subtext of each yes will be different depending on what she is thinking about in that moment.

This is also true of longer conversations, how often have you stopped listening to someone? You have read their subtext and started to switch off; because as they’re talking you know they’re holding something back, or trying to come across as somebody they’re not?  Your face is pointing at them and pretending to listen, but you’re not engaged because they can’t or won’t connect with you.

So we know as a listener how easy is to switch off, but what is happening when the roles are reversed and you’re talking- why do you hold back, or over compensate by trying to be somebody you’re not?

Well, firstly- you have programmed yourself to only share the bits you want with the people you want. Which means most people only see a small part of who you really are.  Secondly, even if you do want to share with your inner circle,  you are still acutely aware that what you say could leave you feeling vulnerable. And what’s the first thing you do when you feel vulnerable? That’s right, pretend you don’t feel vulnerable.  So it feels easier and more comforting in the moment to suppress who you are. 

If we take this into speaking in public then- what are you faced with?

A group of people looking at you waiting for you to speak. . . .

Perhaps you don’t know them, or want to make a good impression so your subconcious programme kicks in- and they only get the bits you want to share, profressional you, sensible you. But your audience is struggling to listen because they’re reading your subtext and they know you’re suppressing who are you. They’re getting distracted by your tone, intonation and body language. They’re pointing their face at you but they’re thinking – this person doesn’t look comfortable, they look tense and nervous. 

When this happens the audience stops engaging with you.

They still hear what you’re saying, but they’re not listening.

Big difference.

Whenever you speak to an audience you are always looking for a connection. You may think no one wants to see your vulnerability, you may think no one wants to see the real you, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Think about your favourite comedian- why are you laughing? You’re laughing because you find them relatable. You’re laughing because it feels like it’s just them talking to you- like a friend or relative. They’re making you feel like that because they are sharing themselves and their vulnerabilities.

Now, I’m not suggesting a career in comedy- I’m merely using it as an example to illustrate the point.

If you suppress who you are for fear of showing weakness, you’re missing your best chance to connect with your audience.

If you share who you are, your insecurities become instantly relatable because your audience see themselves in you and they engage more. The more they engage the more they listen.

Tell your audience you feel nervous.

Let them see you’re not perfect, because they aren’t either.

Don’t hold yourself back.

Banish your fear in public speaking

What if I forget what I am saying?

What if they don’t think I’m credible?

What if they ask me something and I don’t know the answer.

So many questions can emanate from two words- what if.

But they all have one thing in common- Fear

Life is full of the unexpected and if we asked ourselves ‘what if’ every time we faced a challenge it would be hard to imagine us doing or achieving anything. And yet- we are willing to drive a car, fly on a plane, get married, have children, and grasp opportunity. Each of those examples has it’s own potential pitfall or ‘what if’ question.  However we do those things because at some point we have accepted that while something may go wrong, or we may fail, we see the ultimate benefit or outcome.

If we bring that back to public speaking – what is your desired outcome? What will have to happen for you to know you’ve done a good job- is it just getting through it without making a mistake? Or perhaps knowing that the audience could hear you throughout? That’s understandable, but is this the limit of your potential?  And more importantly why set yourself such a low bar?

The answer is two fold, but let’s start with the pictures you’re creating

What if I forget what I’m saying? This leads to a picture in your mind of you looking vulnerable in front of your audience. This escalates to hearing awkward silence, which escalates again to feeling really embarrassed because you’ve completely frozen.  Before you know it the picture has become so big it’s overwhelming. Your body doesn’t know that what your mind has created isn’t real, and you start to feel very nervous- anxious even. 

Now,  because you don’t want to feel like this, you suppress the picture and try harder with your content.

‘I’m a professional. Just concentrate on getting the content right, and it will be fine.’

Except, it won’t be fine. Because your subconscious never lies, and it has this nasty habit of screaming at you when you really don’t need it to. For instance when you now have 10, 100, or 1000 people looking at you and your neck has gone red, your palms are sweating, and you’re on the verge of forgetting your next bit. . .

It’s screaming- I TOLD YOU THIS WOULD HAPPEN.

While you wrestle with your subconscious, your delivery becomes robotic or monotone, and all the audience can see is you trying to avoid the presupposed picture you have created. Most importantly, your audience isn’t listening- because while you’re trying to not make a mistake you’re coming across as tense and perhaps even boring. 

Which brings us to our next ‘what if’.

What if people don’t like me or think I’m credible?  Well, if we put aside the fact that your picture of failure is projecting exactly what you don’t want, there is also another truth; that you’re assuming what other people are thinking and, even worse, taking responsibility for it. Whenever any of us is under pressure it’s very easy to turn our lack of self belief into judgement by others.

The thought ‘ I’m not sure how this will go’ quickly becomes ‘I don’t think people will like me’.

Let me be clear; you are not boring. You are highly qualified in your field and you have been asked to speak for a reason, because you bring knowledge and expertise. Remember that.

Let me be clear; you are not a mind reader. No one in the audience actually cares about you. No audience has ever turned up wanting the speaker to fail. Ever.  All they want is to listen to you. It’s vital that when you’re asked to speak you acknowledge this.

Speaking in public isn’t about getting it right, it’s not even about your content. It’s about you, and your ability to banish your fear and trust who you are; so your audience listen to you and not the content. To do that, you must understand what you’re choosing to focus on, and the affect this has on the pictures you create and blocks you put in the way of your own success. 

You can find problems in ‘what if’, or it can also help you achieve your desired outcome, because banishing your fear is where your greatest growth lies.

What if you had a system in place to help you banish your fear, so your audience listen to you and not the content?

A B.E.L.I.E.F System.

Can you drive?

Slow down!

Is the cry from my partner whenever I go 1mph over the speed limit, or her whole body will violently jolt whenever I come within ten meters of the car in front.

Cursory glances are mutually exchanged. 

If we park (sorry) my domestic woes for a while, I want to take a closer look at what is happening under the bonnet. (I’ll stop now)

Whenever we drive a car we are using lots of different skills. Muscle memory for changing gear and using the clutch. Our vison to watch the road, and critical thinking to make quick and adaptable changes should the need arise. We don’t credit ourselves with driving because it’s just what we do.

But how did we get there?

We all remember getting in for the first time, the inability to keep your foot still on the clutch, 20mph feeling like you were driving a supercar, and the horror of seeing other drivers on the road.

It’s very alien.

After a while a process starts to emerge, the gear change feels less clunky. We hold our foot at biting point without constantly being aware of it, and we start to notice what is happening on the road without the instructor telling us. We begin to trust ourselves internally that we can drive the car, or in other words our subconcious starts to drive the car, and our conscious mind concentrates on the external and reacts to the road.

So what are the parallels between driving a car and speaking in public, or doing the dreaded presentation?

Well, mentally there is zero difference between driving and public speaking. Too often my clients are checking internally if they will remember what they are saying, or they’re anxious to know if people will like them. They are focusing their energy on negative resources, and taking responsibility for what other people think.

What would happen if you had the same thought process when you got in the car and asked yourself; am I in the right gear? What if I crash? What if other car drivers behave erratically?

You’d quickly stall and start to panic.

When we get in the car, we must trust our skill and knowledge and react to the road.

When we speak in public, we must trust our skill and knowledge and react to the audience.

Public speaking, like driving, is about knowing your content or skill so well, you can forget it consciously and trust it will be there when you need it. This allows you to concentrate on the external;  and when you trust yourself and really commit your focus to the audience, what are you not thinking about?

You.

Maybe my other half was right.

What if you slow down, and take a moment to realise it’s not about you it’s about your audience.

Hide and Seek

Sometimes; when the mood strikes I break into a strange form of dance. It has no name or origin and might be better described as a collection of movements. When the moment comes my family recoil with a mixture of horror and amusement, and it doesn’t take long for them to lovingly remind me I have two left feet. This of course only encourages me, as I descend further into the depth of my imagination and inner clown.

We all have parts of ourselves that we only share with a chosen few. It maybe your funny little dance  or any other of your idiosyncrasies, but you’re happy to let go and be vulnerable because it’s a safe environment where you feel safe and loved.

However.

How many of us are willing to share our uniqueness with colleagues or strangers? This can be for good reason, we may feel we need to conform to the company ethos or what is expected of us. You want to be professional. Fine.

But look a little deeper and what is happening here is indictive of what we do in life generally. You suppress who you really are as you try to control what others think of you. This stems from a lack of trust that you are enough.  

This is particualrly pertinent when you have to do any form of public speaking in your job. You fall back on old patterns which hide your vulnerabilities and uniqueness as you strive for respectability from others. It becomes very difficult to listen and engage as all you’re concerned about is masking how you really feel. You speak in your telephone voice, you body language changes, your vernacular changes.

You change.

So what is the difference between being professional and sharing yourself?

Professionalism is a necessity, without it there is no discipline or structure to your work.

Sharing who you are is a necessity, without it you can’t listen and connect with people.

The truth is, you need both to succeed. I often talk to my clients about a relaxed concentration. It is the ability to know your stuff and trust it, but more importantly it is the ability to communicate it with ease, warmth and charm.

The ability to share when it matter most.

We are all individual. We are all unique. We all have something to share. The only thing that separates us is where we place our focus.

So the next time it’s your turn to speak-

Remember your funny little dance, remember what makes you- you.

I’m here to help- get in touch.