At The Pickering Group we hear it more than anything else: how can I be more confident? But what exactly do people mean by confidence? For some it means a lack of fear, a feeling that failure is impossible. For others it’s conquering their internal doubts and criticisms. For some it’s the exhilarating fantasy of walking in totally unprepared and nailing every presentation, which, sorry to say, is just that – a fantasy. For a few, it’s starting a YouTube channel dancing in their underwear, and we can’t help with that. Well, we could, but we don’t want to.
Two Kinds of Confidence
Confidence around public speaking comes in two forms: the confidence you have in yourself, and the confidence your audience has in you. It’s perfectly possible to win the confidence of the audience while feeling completely unsure of yourself, just as it's possible to have full confidence in yourself and lose the trust of the crowd. By embodying the behaviour of confidence - appropriate eye contact, relaxed and open body posture, calm voice – you’ll encourage your audience to believe in your competence, no matter what turmoil is going on inside.
I Still Want Confidence, Please.
Okay. You’ve worked on concealing your nerves and you look the part, but let’s really dig down. Recent research has produced some scientifically proven, evidence-based ways to calm your nerves around presenting. The Pickering Group has compiled these into a comprehensive guide, with clear and active steps you can take in the run-up to your big presentation, from a few weeks before to the day of, and beyond.
We’ll look at just a few of them now, and you can download the full guide for future reference here.
Know Your StuffIt might sound basic, but it’s all too easy to skim over things we’re not super clear on. Get yourself as familiar as you can with your subject. When you know it well, you’ll be able to confidently talk about it under pressure, no matter what happens. Feeling like you have some authority on your subject is a natural confidence booster. If you care about it, that’s even better, because if you want your audience to care about it you’ll need to embody that for them.
MindfulnessEvidence shows that being aware of your feelings about presenting can help reduce your anxiety. Just acknowledge them, don’t try to change them. Staying in the present stops you from dwelling on an uncertain future – and anxiety is all about the future. Mindfulness works best if it’s built into your daily life rather than a panicky last-resort on the day of the presentation, so we recommend starting your mindfulness journey now. If calling it a mindfulness journey sounds a bit airy-fairy for you, call it something else, like a Head Trip, or an Equanimity Quest, or Poise N The Hood. Calm and Headspace are good apps to help you get started.
Practice!It may sound obvious but you can’t feel prepared if you’re not prepared. For more guidance on how to rehearse your presentation effectively, see our article on practice techniques.
Freestyle ItPut down your notes. Scripted notes are a security blanket, but you can’t have a blanket without the word blank, which is what your mind will do if anything distracts you. Regurgitating a script doesn’t let you respond to your environment in real time and can lead to a stilted, unnatural presentation. Get off the page. If you know the material, you can do this, and if you don’t know the material go back to Step 1.
Make a PlanMultitasking is a myth. The brain can only really focus properly on one thing at a time. Minimise your distractions on the day by sorting the logistics in advance. Transport, parking, what you’ll wear. Pack chargers, clickers, spare batteries, a backup copy of your presentation. These little things can become sources of intense anxiety if they have to be solved last-minute. Free up your mind and your focus for your presentation.
Calm is a Four Letter Word
Has anyone ever told you to calm down? Did you get mad just reading that? It’s the phrase most likely to escalate an argument to new heights of not-calmness. Don’t try to calm down. It’s okay to be nervous, and trying to force yourself to feel calm has been proven to backfire. Instead try to convert your nerves into excitement. The body response to both states is really similar, so tell yourself you’re excited to do the presentation. A little adrenaline can give us focus and energy, so it’s ideal to have a few butterflies.
We’ve been doing it since we came into this world, so you’d think we’d be better at it. Breathing is one of the most effective ways to reduce your heart rate and feel more grounded. Plus you need it for talking, so that’s a bonus. Try this exercise: Breathe in for a count of 3, then hold for a count of 4, then breathe out on a count of 5. Do it ten times. This exercise can help you sleep too, especially if your presentation nerves are keeping you awake the night before.
These are just some of the techniques we discuss in The Pickering Group’s comprehensive, evidence-based anxiety management guide, which you can download in full, for free, here. The Pickering Group’s Presentation Skills courses and private coaching can help you find your spotlight by unlocking your confidence and helping you become a more engaging, persuasive speaker. It’s an evidence-based process that works. Join us for inspiring content on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, or learn more about our courses here.