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The Confidence Checklist

checklist of confidence, hand writing a list

For weeks there has been a background question flying around in my head. “What exactly does it take for people to get confidence?"
I realize I should know the answer to this, given I’ve been helping people re-think public speaking for 16 years.
But reading Russ Harris’s book “The Confidence Gap” has made me think again. I’ve already written a blog on his book. So let me do a quick update from that.

Confidence is normally defined as feeling of assurance, relaxed, free from fear. But if we wait for those feelings to arrive BEFORE we do anything we could be trapped waiting for that feeling. People often have the mistaken belief that people who are confident never feel fear. But they have learnt to transform their relationship to fear

So in order to develop confidence it may be far more useful to see confidence as action, rather than a feeling. (Con fidere – means Con “with”, Fidere “to trust”). As Russ says “the actions of confidence come first, the feelings of confidence come later. 

But this idea about what are the actions of confidence really started to bug me because I thought something was missing. I realised that its not just a matter of actions of confidence, we need the BELIEFS of confidence and to have some UNDERSTANDINGS about public speaking confidence as well.

 So what Actions, Beliefs and Understandings do we need for public speaking? And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve chosen 5 of each, it could have been 25 each but that would be unmanageable in a blog. So it’s not a comprehensive list. But I think they are important

5 Actions of confidence

1.  Learn to be the centre of attention
Develop trust that it’s ok to look at an audience and to be looked at by rows of blank faces.

2. Learn to love pauses
Practice that it’s more than ok to pause, to have silences. Can I move from panic pauses to Jacuzzi pauses? Audiences really need pauses to help them think. You need pauses to think. Pauses are good!

 3. Allow yourself to be in the present
Can I be in the moment? Can I just be there without rushing? Can I trust that the words will come? Can I breathe normally?

4. Practise chatting – see public speaking as a conversation
Too often we see public speaking as a performance. If we can see it as something less formal, like a conversation, then public speaking becomes more possible.

5. Practise self-compassion
We are SO tough on ourselves. Supporting yourself with an encouraging inner voice takes practise. (if we treated our friends like we treat ourselves we would have no friends). What is the point in NOT supporting ourselves?

5 Beliefs/attitudes of confidence

1. Develop an attitude that making mistakes is just human rather than a complete disaster. We need to get better at recovering from mistakes with grace, self-forgiveness and ease.
2. Develop a belief that it’s really ok for you to take your space in the world.
We allow everyone else to go up to present, to speak, to ask questions without a worry. We just let them do it. But when it’s our turn to speak we get in our own way. We are very harsh on ourselves. And often we have an air of apology that surrounds us “I’m sorry I’m here, I’m sorry I’m wasting your time”. We often rush to the end of their presentations so we don’t take people’s time up. Take your space!

3. Develop a belief that “I am enough”. (goes hand in hand with number 2)
4. Be clear about your values.
Know what is important to you. Acting in line with your values will help you to think beyond your fear.

 5. Believe that you can change how you feel about public speaking.
Sometimes we carry a story/belief that we can never change how we feel about public speaking. And the truth is that we can. But we have to open up to that possibility. We have to take that risk and to trust ourselves more.

5 things we should understand about confidence

Understanding more about the psychology of fear and audiences, biology and evolution helps to put our own behaviour into perspective.

 1. Understanding Audiences.
Audiences have blank faces. They listen passively. Study what your face and others faces do when you are in an audience.
2. Understand the legacy of Evolution creates a threat bias in our brains.
99% of our brain was created BEFORE we got language circa 70,000 years. That has to impact on our social behaviour. There are evolutionary reasons for our emotions. I don’t know anyone without an inner critic and as you probably know its very harsh.

 3. Understand how our brain creates/distorts reality.
We think we see reality but it’s worth understanding that our brain actually makes our world up. So when we are anxious our brain distorts what we see. We often see judgement in an audience that is not really there.

 4. Understand what makes us unconfident.

  • We have an evolutionary bias towards threat and that is great at creating anxiety,
  • We put excessive expectations on ourselves (I can’t make a mistake, I can’t go red),
  • Are you pre-occupied with fear? Sometimes we let fear win, so we avoid stuff that makes us scared.
  • Lack of experience - we may never done public speaking before or not much of it. Or, of course, it could be the lack of a GOOD experience around public speaking
  • Lack of skills. We may not have learnt what we need to learn

5. Know more about fear and more about the brain.
Confident Human Beings have fear but they have a transformed relationship with it. Understanding how to re-think fear is useful. Understanding what our brain does to us is also useful.
So for instance you can study mindfulness, learn to meditate, read books such as; ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers, “The Dance of Fear” by Harriet Lerner, Neuroscience from a Buddhist perspective “Buddha’s brain the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom” by Rick Hanson, and “The Confidence Gap” by Dr Russ Harris.


Thank you for reading this,
John Dawson