There will be moments when you feel the very opposite of confident, even if you consider yourself a naturally confident person.
Like a cruel twist of fate, these moments tend to come right before you’re asked to step outside of your comfort zone. Not only are you facing a challenge that feels as difficult enough as it is, you’re missing the emotional equipment to tackle it head on.
Imagine you’re about to deliver an important presentation. You’ve practiced over and over again and let’s face it, you know your points back to front. In front of the mirror, you look great! Yet, somehow, you’re nervous. What if you slip up and make a fool of yourself? What if the audience doubts your credibility?
No one likes this feeling — the slight dizziness and faint sickness in your stomach. Surely it’s possible to take strategic actions that will help you regain control over your confidence levels.
How can you vamp up your inner confidence? On the flip side, how can you give off an air of confidence while your insides are doing the heebie jeebies?
It begins and ends with first impressions
When you think about bad first impressions, you instantly conjure up images of walking into a room, fly undone and toilet paper stuck to your shoe, heaven forbid.
While you’re right in saying that this would definitely give off a bad first impression, first impressions (good and bad) are actually more commonly made by subtle cues that you may or may not be aware of.
If you train yourself to be aware of these cues, it’s more likely you’ll be received as the confident person you want to be.
For better or worse, first impressions are as stubborn as hell. As Whitney Johnson puts it, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work. “We make judgments [about other people] in a nanosecond.” And once that impression is formed, it’s “very, very hard to change it.”
With a confident first impression, you’ve set the tone for a confident execution.
Don’t worry, if you’re wondering what makes for a confident first impression; It’s not as hard or complicated as you think. Here is how to do it.
Start with a confidence-boosting pre-game ritual
It’s the night before a big event, and you can’t seem to silence that little voice inside your head telling you that you’re not good enough and you should definitely be very, very nervous. To help quiet that voice’s unhelpful input, start by prioritizing practicality and preparation.
Start by scouring your wardrobe and getting your outfit in order. How do you want to look tomorrow? What do you want people to think about you? What sort of people will you be mingling with? Pick something that suits the setting and be sure to balance comfort with style.
Lay it out so it’s ready to go, check for wrinkles and stains, and finally, try it on to make sure it looks as good as you thought!
From there, plan out the other parts of your morning. What time will you wake up? What are you going to eat? How will you hydrate?
Once you’ve thought through each and every detail, take it one step further by doing as much as you can the night before. The more you get done now, the less room there is for things to go wrong tomorrow morning. At all costs, avoid putting yourself in a situation where you’ll have to rush at the last minute and add to your stress!
Assume power poses (even if you feel silly!)
There are a bunch of different postures out there that are intrinsically linked to power. While you might already know that the simple act of repositioning your body sends nonverbal messages about your confidence to your audience, it gets even better than that.
Not only does positioning your body in powerful stances make others perceive you as powerful, it makes you feel more powerful yourself. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, explains this as a biological response. Both humans and animal express power through their bodies. When we’re feeling unsure, we hunch over and hold our body close to ourselves — crossing our arms is one example. When we feel on top of the world, we sprawl out.
The most powerful of powerful stances tend to be expansive, for this reason, we recommend sneaking away to do them in private. If you’re wondering what magical poses these might be, take note that there isn’t one given stance that’s the be-all-and-end-all. Instead, focus on trying to strike an expansive pose. How can you position your body to take up the maximum amount of space?
Studies say that just two minutes in a high power pose will rise your testosterone and cortisol levels, thereby relieving stress. As Cuddy puts it, our bodies change our mind. We recieve our own nonverbal messages as much as the person next to us receives them.
Embrace distraction and check in with your body
You’ve prepared for this. If you have notes, you’ve been over them. If you have talking points, don’t worry, they’ll come back to you. Chances are you’ve been thinking about this event for weeks, or even months now.
Right before you enter any setting, there’s nothing more you can do to prepare. At this point, your best bet is to embrace distraction and think about something other that what you’re about to do. Can you switch off for a moment or two? Do you have a friend or coworker around to distract you?
Not only can mental breather do a world of good, we find it helpful to check in with your body. Studies say that the simple act of focusing on your breath can bring you calm and focus before a nerve-racking event. Try expanding and deepening your breath cycles — you might be surprised to feel how much difference it makes!
We also recommend checking in with your surroundings. By seeing and noticing what’s happening around you, you’ll automatically feel more grounded. Remember, don’t take it too seriously — there’s probably less to be nervous about than you think!
Stick to your purpose
As you walk into any setting, you want to look as though you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.
Put simply, walk with certainty, conviction and authority. Do what you need to do without allowing for too much interference. We find it helpful to mentally remind yourself of your main goal or purpose right before entering the room.
- If the audience remembers just one thing from your presentation, talk, or interview, what do you want it to be?
- Who are you trying to reach and what message do you want them to receive?
- How can you make your presence memorable (in a good way of course!)?
Within this, be mindful. Don’t forget to balance your goal-oriented mentality with politeness and small talk. You want to come across as purposeful, not dismissive.
Be mindful of your body language
While you probably sneaked off to do your power poses, we recommend you practice some of them (albeit slightly less exaggerated) amidst your big event.
First and foremost, stand up straight! By putting your shoulders back, you’ll exude confidence and enhance your presence.
Where possible, you should aim to be expressive. By using your arms while speaking (go for the full length of your arms, not just your elbows down), moving your body and showing animation on your face, your presence will be dynamic and contagious.
It sounds obvious, but don’t forget to smile! You’ll instantly come across as warm and approachable, inviting other people to engage meaningfully with you. It will also gently remind you to not take this whole thing so seriously, you might actually have a good time!
Say fewer umms, so’s and likes and I means
Studies show this habit started way, way back. Think about when you were a child and your parents asked you a question; he expectation was that you answer as quickly as possible. Through this social conditioning, we’re taught that silence should not follow a question. We use words like um and ah to show that we’ve heard someone and are about to respond.
Unfortunately, filler words are typically associated with nervousness or uncertainty. Statistics say when we use filler words, we also break eye contact with our audience. It’s both the hesitancy and lack of eye contact that gives off the impression you’re not convinced of what you’re saying.
You’re also taking away from the importance of your point, as filler words are said to be distracting to the audience. Influential and charismatic speakers, like Martin Luther King or Barack Obama, rarely use these words. Notice how strong and concise their speeches are. What sort of impression do they leave on you?
It’s difficult to leave this habit behind but we encourage you to start by embracing silence. Before responding to anyone, repeat Pause, Think, Answer in your head.
You can even trying replacing filler words with a nod of the head. That way, you’ll have time to articulate your response without feeling as though you’re leaving the other person hanging.
If that doesn’t work, pick a friend or family member that’s always around for a chat. Ask them kindly to point out every time you say one of these filler words. With constant accountability, you’ll begin to drop the habit.
When you meet someone new, particularly in a work-related or formal setting, many of us have the tendency to want to list off all our qualifications and achievements. Subconsciously, you’re trying to wow them with all that you’ve done.
Try to switch your mentality and instead focus on creating a meaningful conversation. How can you connect with this other person in a meaningful way? Ask open-ended questions, find common ground, and be thoughtful. It’s through these strategies that you’re more likely to engage in a conversation that’s memorable and long lasting.
These are simple cues to help you make a great first impression, boost inner confidence, and show the world how amazing you are.
Elevating your confidence for the long haul demands consistency and practice. Be mindful, and have patience with yourself when you notice you’re engaging in negative self-talk.
Remember, if you leave a confident first impression, statistics say you’re more likely to be given the benefit of doubt later on. If you come across badly from the get-go, people seem to be far less forgiving. Rest assured, it won’t be the end of the world if you trip up halfway through your big event!
Above all else, remember that everyone, no matter how well accomplished or put-together, has moments of doubt and uncertainty. It isn’t about always feeling fearless or confident — because you won’t — but it is about learning how to use the tools at your disposal to work through your challenges and come out on top anyways.