Probably the biggest single factor is your attitude. Those people who want to work on becoming more confident will be, while those who spend time and energy telling themselves “I’ll never be confident”, won’t be.
If you are at the stage where you want to build your confidence, let’s look at six strategies that will help you. We will use the example of building your confidence in order to give an effective presentation, though these tips can be adapted to other situations.
Tip 1. The fear of the unknown
Often our nervousness is based on the fear of the unknown, so the more we make it a ‘known’ situation, the easier it will be for our nerves to subside.
Find out as much as you can about the situation. For example: where is the presentation being held; how long will you be speaking for; what is the room layout; how many people will be there; what do they know already about your topic; Is the equipment there and do you know how to use it; etc
Tip 2. Know what you need to know
For a presentation it is crucial that you really know you what you are going to talk about. It’s hard to be confident if you don’t know your topic. Practice your presentation many times so that you are completely comfortable with your material.
Tip 3. Take some action
The more you practice any skill the more confident you feel about it. One of the main reasons we feel nervous about speaking to groups is that we don’t do it very often. In the words of Susan Jeffers “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
If you are not given opportunities to speak very often, then make them. For example ask if you speak at every staff meeting; join a committee so you can address the group; offer to introduce and thank other speakers.
Tip 4. Relax
There are two main ways to get yourself into a relaxed state:
Firstly by using relaxation techniques. If you are familiar with disciplines such as meditation, grounding and yoga then practicing these before giving a presentation can help you get into a relaxed frame of mind. Alternatively try having a therapeutic massage beforehand, or lie down and listen to pleasant, relaxing music. A simple exercise is to stand up, tense your head muscles and relax them; then tense your face muscles and relax them; then tense your neck muscles and relax them, and so on down your body. Do this three times.
The second way is by doing some form of exercise. For example running, swimming, dancing or playing tennis beforehand, will start to release the tension you have built up in your mind and in your body. If you do this, you are more likely to approach your presentation feeling energized rather than drained by your nervous energy.
Tip 5. Mentally prepare
The top sports people have learnt the value of not only physical preparation but also mental preparation in order to do well. We can also use this as a strategy.
a) Visualise success. Just as an athlete may visualise crossing the winning line first, so we can visualise exactly what we want to happen. We may see ourselves walking onto the stage, giving a confident and effective presentation, see the faces of an appreciative audience, and walk off to a heartfelt round of applause. If we visualise this over and over, when we actually get to the point of giving the presentation we can feel like we have done this many times before and that each time it went well. Having this ‘knowledge’ can increase our feelings of confidence.
b) Act ‘as if’. Think of someone you admire and whose confidence you would like to have. Then analyse what they do.
When giving a presentation how do they stand? How do they move around? Do they interact with the audience? How much do they know about their topic? Do they look at ease? And so on.
Then when you practice your presentation, act as if you are them. It is as if you are ‘borrowing’ the courage from them, and you can ‘fake it till you make it’.
c) STAY, i.e. Stop Thinking About Yourself. Focusing on yourself will only increase your nerves. If you spend time and energy thinking “What if I forget what I’m going to say?” “What if I blush” and so on, you will feed your nervousness.
Confident speakers on the other hand spend their time and energy focusing on the audience and how to meet their needs.
If you can see your role when speaking as helping the audience understand your message, you will be able to focus on them and not on yourself.
Tip 6. Use a mentor or coach
Find a person or persons who can help you build your skills and confidence. Someone who has the skills already and who will encourage you to take bigger steps than you might otherwise do on your own. You can achieve much more when someone believes in your ability, especially at the times when you don’t believe in it yourself!
Building your confidence won’t happen overnight, it will take time. However, if you are prepared to put in the time and effort, the results can be truly amazing.
I have seen many people increase their confidence through using these techniques. The sense of confidence, achievement and empowerment they experience is a joy to behold. This too can happen to you.