It happens. You are asked to fill in for your boss’s big presentation. You are new to a project and have been asked for an update. You are in a meeting when you are called on to speak or share your opinion. These are all situations where you might experience a sudden drop in your confidence. Yet, they are critical opportunities for you to shine. What to do? How to keep cool and stay grounded? How to look and sound confident even when you aren’t?
Here are some ideas you might try in these cases:
Keep breathing. Instead of taking a quick breath and holding it, exhale and release tension from your body. Take in another quiet breath. Repeat. Two or three cleansing breaths, or as many as you need, should keep the discomfort from overwhelming you. You could even say to yourself, “this is fine. I have a plan. I know what I am talking about.”
Stay focused. Stay in the moment. Don’t think about yourself or looking stupid. Think about what is being asked, and why. Think about what you know or what you can contribute.
Speak with a full voice and firm inflections. Even if you are a little unsure of your answer, speak it with assurance. If you answer with a timid, weak voice, you are going to undermine any answer you provide. Make sure your statements don’t sound like questions. Even if you are forced to say you are not sure, say that with assurance!
Mind your body language. Watch that you keep your arms and hands relaxed and open. The natural tendency is to close your arms, hunch your shoulders, or cover your chest with your arms. Just stay open and you will look more confident.
Concentrate your efforts on what you do know or think. Don’t start to worry about what you don’t know or say what you don’t know. Say what you do think. Even if you must state it as an opinion, you do have something to contribute.
Turn the presentation into a discussion. Everyone in the audience may have a piece of information, an idea or a question about the topic. Instead of droning on (or reading your boss’s slides) start a discussion. You might begin by asking everyone what questions they have, and then answering them as you go through the presentation. Or turn the whole thing into a Q&A session and focus on getting the answers to the audience.
Ask a question to move the conversation forward. If someone is asking for your thoughts, you might answer briefly, and then ask what they think. They probably have some ideas of their own, and that might unleash a great conversation.
Provide a qualified or partial answer. If the situation calls for an opinion and you aren’t quite ready to commit, you might say this is a “first reaction” or “preliminary opinion,” and then state your thoughts. You could also say you are still “fact finding” and would appreciate any facts the listeners could share.
Clearly these strategies won’t work in every situation, but on those occasions where you need to speak without having all the facts, one of these could buy you time or save the day. Whenever you can, take the proper amount of time to prepare yourself thoroughly with study and rehearsal.
I would love to hear from you. How do you speak with confidence in challenging situations?
Author Gail Zack Anderson, founder of Applause, Inc. is a Twin Cities-based consultant who provides coaching and workshops for effective presentations, facilitation skills for trainers and subject matter experts, and positive communication skills for everyone. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Web site: www.applauseinc.net