Confidence is often cited as one of the most critical factors affecting professionals when it comes to presenting and speaking in public. In fact it’s one of the biggest hurdles we help people to jump every day at Mindful Presenter.
Regardless of status, experience or dare I even say confidence itself the most common priority people tell us they have before one of our coaching sessions or workshops is, ‘To feel more confident on my feet presenting to a group’.
I’m not a psychologist but what we see every week suggests to me that confidence is little more than a perception and a belief. The exciting thing about that mind-set is that as a belief is nothing more than a thought we have repeated over and over again to ourselves it’s not necessarily true and therefore it’s something we can change.
I don’t want to denounce either the validity or complexity of low self-confidence because I have not only experienced its debilitating grip myself in the past I see its crippling impact on professionals every day when presenting their ideas. It seems to me that the contributors to low self-confidence are many and varied and not least limited to childhood, upbringing, our world experience and environment.
Most of us know what confidence looks and feels like
Remember the first time your parent let go of the back of your bicycle when you were a small child and you went soaring into the wind; in that moment you felt invincible. Strangely only moments before, the very thought of ever riding the bike all by yourself seemed impossible and you were probably at the point of subconsciously feeling useless.
How about your first kiss?
I had one or two friends who claimed it was no ‘big deal’ for them at the time but those of us who knew better felt very uncomfortable by the fact that not only did we really not know what to do but that even if we did it was probably something we would struggle with.
Then we did it and it felt so great we never wanted to stop.
Learning to present is rather like learning to kiss for the first time; I don’t believe it’s something that most of us are taught.
Like many things we observe first and then try to copy what we’ve seen.
I’m not sure about kissing but I do know that there are an awful lot of presenters out there you really shouldn’t consider copying.
We may have had similar limiting beliefs over the years about not being able to pass our driving test, get the job, promotion or even be a good father or husband but many of us did it in spite of our beliefs.
We see a very interesting phenomenon at play in our workshops every week.
When you ask someone who tells you that they have very little confidence to tell you what high confidence looks and feels like most people can do so very easily.
When you then spend a little time encouraging and supporting them to physically demonstrate that behaviour most people can do so very effectively. In the process of adopting the posture, movement, breathing and even facial expressions that they perceive as high confidence suddenly they feel confident themselves.
On a confidence scale of 1 to 10 with 1 representing the lowest level of confidence to the point of feeling really anxious, time and time again we see people claiming to be a 3 rise to a 7 or 8 within moments.
Some people evaluating the exercise from the outside in may suggest that it’s not real, is nothing more than acting and that it’s not sustainable.
Our experience at Mindful Presenter for the most part is that they are wrong on all counts.
It’s very real
Regardless of our thoughts or accumulated beliefs I believe we all inherently know how to look and feel confident and the fact that most of us have felt it at some point in our lives we know how to relive it.
I believe the most distant and briefest moment of confidence we may have experienced is firmly stored in every nerve, cell and fibre of our being and we can call on it again in a heartbeat. All we have to do is have the presence of mind and courage to make the effort to do so mindfully.
It’s easy for me to believe because we see remarkable transformations every day in our coaching sessions and workshops.
Some people call it acting and that’s understandable but I prefer to call it focus. As human beings we each have an unfathomable depth of intellectual and emotional gifts that we simply don’t use as often or as effectively as we are able to.
Focus is one of those gifts
We have each been awarded the ability to focus on what we want at the exclusion of all other distractions but we don’t always take advantage of it. Focus isn’t a switch you turn on and off at will, at least not initially. It’s more like a mental muscle which needs to be used, flexed and exercised and the stronger it gets so do we.
It’s my belief which we go as far as to demonstrate every day at Mindful Presenter that confidence is a muscle. We each have one but just like our physical muscles if we don’t exercise it then it slowly atrophies to the point where we become very weak.
Is it sustainable?
Imagine you were smothered in grime and dirt and you wanted to get clean.; having a shower would go a long way to helping you achieve your goal of getting clean wouldn’t it?
You’ve had the shower, you are all shiny and clean and because you’ve achieved your goal you decide never to have another shower ever again. Do you think you may accumulate the dirt and grime again?
You may consider it a strange analogy but to me for confidence to be sustainable it’s a muscle you have to exercise every day in the same way that you will have a shower if you wish to remain clean every day.
That reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:
“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar
Seeing is believing – or is it?
That’s a saying we have all heard many times before but when it comes to presenting I prefer to look at it this way:
You’ll see it when you believe it
We witness another interesting paradox every week at Mindful Presenter when we consider confidence.
Often we will have a delegate stand to present and when we ask them afterwards how they felt on that confidence scale of 1 to 10 with 1 representing the lowest here is what we find.
Many people tell us that they feel very low in confidence, i.e. a 2 or a 3 yet when we ask the other delegates what they saw and felt from the presenter in terms of confidence there is a complete mismatch. The presenter may feel like a 2 or 3 yet it’s not uncommon for the audience to believe that the person is far more confident than they feel they may well say they saw a 6 or even 7.
Whilst we may feel low in confidence when we receive feedback like that we need to acknowledge that we often appear much more confident than we feel. As we do so our audience will not only continue to see us as more confident than we feel we gradually become to feel more confident ourselves in the process.
“A person is limited only by the thoughts that he chooses.” James Allen
Last year I wrote a series of articles called ‘The Art and Science of presenting’ and in Episode 1
‘Every structure needs a robust foundation and presenting is no different, it’s a bit like building an Aboriginal tipi. A tipi is constructed using many poles but it’s the 3 largest poles that are the support for the other poles.’
At the time I referred to those three poles as planning a framework, envisioning the outcome and crafting the performance. These remain critical to the foundation of successful presentation.
The 3 largest poles required to strengthen our confidence as presenters are:
Hold in your mind an image of what a confident presenter looks like in terms of the way they stand, move, breathe, gesture and even own their space. Once you have that image in mind instruct your body to emulate it.
Focus like imagination is a faculty of the mind and can be used very effectively to present with more confidence by what you choose to let your mind dwell on. Try picturing the presentation, yourself and your audience exactly as you would like them to be and then feel the difference.
Language begins long before the presenter opens their mouth to utter a word. It’s the dialogue we are having with ourselves in our mind. Stop all of the habitual mental noise that doesn’t help you by consciously making the effort to speak positively to yourself.
Identify your strengths
The starting point for many professionals looking to improve their presentation skills is to immediately try to fix everything they perceive to be wrong.
That’s understandable of course and we should address our personal challenges but it isn’t always the best place to start.
I have never come across a presenter who doesn’t have at least one core strength even though he or she may not know it. I believe our first task is to identify and acknowledge what those strengths are before we pull ourselves apart. Once we have found them we need to harness, develop and exploit them.
I can make you a promise that even though you may not see it for yourself it’s certainly there and the moment you find someone to help you to recognise it your confidence will soar.
I don’t really believe that when we are born and we offer our first cry to the world as the doctor or midwife slaps our bottom that the louder the cry the more likely they are to say, ‘You certainly have a confident one there Mrs…’
My view is that it’s a learned skill and as we learn so much as we travel through life anyway we can call on those achievements to unearth and remember what confidence feels like. Everyone is good at something and not so good at others and calling on those things you already know you are good at can go a long way to restoring and building your confidence.
As much as we would like to we simply can’t control every outcome. The conscious effort and energy many presenters expend in trying to do so can have an adverse impact on their confidence.
Our job is to mindfully prepare, craft and practice our presentation as best we can and then trust that our preparation will serve us well.
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If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.
Image: Courtesy of flickr.com