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 19 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
It’s not a complete answer to how to do everything but it’s a list of what to work on if you want to develop confidence around public speaking. It’s a little sneaky as it will help with general confidence in life as well
5 Actions of public speaking confidence
1. Learn to be the centre of attention
We need to develop trust that it’s ok to look at an audience and to be looked at by rows of blank faces. I’ve realised over the years of teaching that is an absolute fundamental to public speaking ease. We allow everyone else to be the centre of attention without thinking about too much but when it’s our turn we think we are being judged So reframing how you think about being the centre of attention is essential. It’s a key component of my courses.
2. Learn to love pauses
Some people hate me for saying this! But we need to be able to slow down and practice pauses, to have silences. Can you move from panic pauses to thinking relaxed pauses? (on my course I call them jacuzzi pauses) Audiences really need pauses to help them think and take what you saying in. 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? Again that’s about slowing down.
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 big/less formal, like a conversation, then public speaking becomes more possible. I want you to see public speaking as a chat. When we chat we put far less pressure on ourselves
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). 99% of people coming to my courses are incredibly tough on themselves. Start coaching yourself with a kinder voice.
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. And audiences will trust you more if you handle mistakes well.
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! This is also linked to changing how you see being the centre of attention.
3. Build clarity about your values.
Know what is important to you. Acting in line with your values will help you to think beyond your fear. What’s bigger than your fear? Standing up for something that is bigger than your fear is called courage. Leaders are not without fear, but they are focused on change
4. 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. Trust yourself more. Trusting yourself more is the fundamental building block of confidence. Can I trust that it’s ok to feel a little nervous or shy when I walk into a party? Can I trust that just because I have fear that it doesn’t mean I have to stop? Can I trust myself that blank faces in an audience are not critical of me but just normal audience faces? (See below). Actively trusting yourself more builds confidence. It also means
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. Understanding blank face is a real fundamental shift that a public speakers need to make. It’s where my teaching starts and it’s amazing how few people know this..
2. Understand the legacy of Evolution creates a threat bias in our brains. I know not many people write about evolution and public speaking confidence but it’s really important. 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. Notice how much we dwell in fear and threat. Fear became a great story teller to keep us away from threat. So lots of our thoughts about fear are trying to keep us safe but we imagine all sorts of bad things that never happen We have a wonky brain That’s why we shouldn’t believe all our thoughts! Mindfulness skills and learning to be fully present help us detach from our thoughts.
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), This is a key part of building public speaking confidence is when we put far less pressure on ourselves.
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.
Or perhaps come on a public speaking course….
Thank you for reading this, I really hope this is helpful. Please let me know what you think!