When you deliver a message with confidence and self-assurance, your listener perceives you to have credibility and authority. However, it can be difficult to exude these qualities when you are nervous, even if you are an expert on the subject matter. Many people who become nervous focus on the words they use in delivering a message, not considering that words only compose 10% of the message we deliver. 30% of the message is composed of the tone of voice we use, but the vast majority of the message (60%) comes from our body language.
The first step in exuding more confidence is to make sure that you know your topic well. If you are giving a speech, make sure you have practiced it at least 10 times, and you are able to look up from your notes. If you are going to a party, have a list of topics prepared to make small talk. Surf the internet to read news stories, reviews of books and movies, and even the upcoming week’s weather report if you worry you will run out of topics to discuss. If you’ll be socializing with people you have only met a few times, perhaps you could ask a close colleague or friend to refresh your memory about some of the people there. Does Jane play golf? Does Jack have a son in college?
The second step is to create a list of key body language areas that you know will demonstrate confidence and that you feel comfortable using. For example, making eye contact, keeping your hands at your side (rather than fidgeting or exhibiting a nervous tic), sitting or standing upright, etc… To help you come up with your list, think about your favorite leaders or people you admire. Look up videos on-line of them speaking and observe their body language. Are there any gestures that they are using that you would feel comfortable trying out? For example, if you tend to sit in meetings with your arms at your sides and your hands under the table, perhaps you noticed an image of someone with their hands on top of the table, steeple-fashion, (a real power gesture). If you feel you could pull this gesture off, practice it several times in a mirror, and in your next meeting, try it out before making your contribution.
The third step is to visualize success. About a week before the event, take a moment each day to imagine yourself showing up at the event, greeting people, talking, and exuding the confidence and self-assurance you dream about. Visualize your body language. Are you standing straight up, making eye contact, shaking hands firmly? Did you look interestedly at the person speaking to you, nodding along with them in agreement? Notice that in your visualization you focus on the positives of what you are doing. “You imagine yourself with your hands at your side” is better than saying to yourself “you are not fidgeting.” The positive imagine will be reinforced more in your mind and it tells you what to do rather than creating anxiety about what not to do.
While a change in your self-confidence will take time, just as in any skill, the more you practice it, the better you will become at it. These small steps can lead to big changes and big successes!