If you have ever been in an audience when the speaker has clearly been suffering from nerves you will know that one of two things two things usually happens. Either you will start to feel empathy with the presenter and so you will start to feel sorry for them - which isn’t really how you want to be feeling about a person who is presenting! Or you begin to conflate the confidence of the presenter with the quality of the content – so either you start to wonder whether the content is going to be any good for you, or you won’t really want to pay attention.
So it is vital that if you are presenting you take a few minutes to warm up and for your nerves to settle so that you are confident from the outset. So what is the best way to do that?
We have identified two different elements to confidence: surface confidence and deep confidence. Surface confidence is about your ability to employ tactics and techniques to increase the level of confidence you have in the moment – so the ability to turn on or turn up confidence when you need it. But we have also identified that a really effective type of confidence to develop is deep confidence - more about that in our next blog.
So what exactly is confidence? Confidence is a state, and we all go through various states throughout the day – we may have times when we are nervous, anxious, happy, tired, in a flow state. Whatever the state, it is a combination of 3 things:
- emotions (feelings)
- thoughts (generally experienced as memories)
- physiology (how we use our body language).
The good news is that if you change any one of these components you have to change your state – and the easiest things to change are thoughts and physiology. The good news is that if you change your thoughts and you change your physiology it WILL have a positive impact on your emotions.
So what can we do practically to develop more confidence?
This is the one single thing that we focus on most when we train people in public speaking - their basic breathing. When you get into a nervous state or you are worried about giving a presentation or speech you can often start upper body breathing, and you end up using only half the capacity of your lungs. The impact of that is that you start speaking faster, and a woman may go up an octave and start speaking higher. You have less oxygen going into the brain, and you may have constrictions in the neck area.
So you need to be aware of your breathing and make sure that you are breathing properly from your diaphragm. One way to check this it to put your hands on your stomach and see if they rise and fall as you take a deep breath. Breathing from your diaphragm will make you feel more grounded, a lot more comfortable and in a much more resourceful state to be able to present effectively. It is worth noting that it is very difficult to feel calm and confident when you are upper body breathing… but very hard to feel nervous and anxious when you are breathing from your diaphragm.
Often just before people present they look down at their notes for some time, going over what they are going to say. But if you look down for too long your physiology is closed and you will start to go into a stressful state. Rather than look down you need to trust your unconscious that you can present effectively. Just sit back in a chair and spend 30 seconds to a minute looking up. You will start to become more aware of your breathing and your mind becomes a lot calmer. And you want to be in a calm and confident state before you present.
These are great for a situational lack of confidence. You can find Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose videos on TED and Youtube. Amy found that confident people adopt a certain physiology. So she wondered if you are not confident but adopted the same physiology how might that make you feel. What Amy found was that the physiology of confidence has an impact on your brain chemistry. If you adopt these ‘power poses’ for 2 minutes there is a dramatic, tangible and measurable improvement on the levels of two hormones in your brain. The state of confidence is generally linked to increased levels of testosterone combined with reduced levels of cortisol. Amy found that these Power Poses can create up to a 20% increase in testosterone levels and up to a 25% decrease in cortisol. So they allow you to fake confidence until you actually become confident. So if you have a big meeting or presentation and you are aware that you are not feeling too confident, find somewhere private and a adopt a power pose for just 2 minutes and it will absolutely have an impact on raising your confidence level.
If you want to find out more about presenting with confidence, or Amy’s power poses, our book The C3 Model of Influencing TM Field Guide is available on Amazon.