Confidence is a funny thing. It seems complicated and elusive.
But if we think about it, there are two main types of confidence. There's the confidence we have in ourselves, that intrinsic self belief, or self esteem. Lack of this confidence can seriously cripple us, make us feel we are not worthy of effort or time or even of being loved. I'm not an expert in psychology, so I'm not going to say too much about this. I've got some theories, from reading numerous books, and from developing my own confidence over many years, but this isn't what I want to talk about today.
The other type is confidence to do a particular thing. Drive a car. Cut hair if you're a hairdresser. Balance the books if you're an accountant. You weren't let loose on the road by yourself the first time you got behind the wheel. You didn't start your level 2 NVQ in hairdressing by cutting hair on your first day, and you didn't turn in a full set of management accounts on the first day either. These are all skills you had to learn.
And this is where confidence gets complicated. You might be a bit nervous when you start to learn something new, but if it's something you always wanted to do, or something you've always had a natural flair for, then you're confident that you can master the skill. You might have bad days, when you think it's too hard, but the motivation to succeed gives you the confidence to carry on. But if it's something you believe is just too hard, or you think you don't have a natural ability, sometimes we let that lack of belief get in the way of doing something we really want to do.
Public speaking is one of those things. People tell themselves they're no good at public speaking, or that they don't have the confidence to do it. Or both of those. But public speaking is a skill, just like any other. There are things to learn about what makes a good speaker. Anyone who wants to can learn these things. Yes, some people are naturally better than others, just like some people are naturally better at playing the piano than others. And while the one with the natural talent could be a professional musician, the keen learner can still deliver a perfectly good rendition. So the naturally talented speaker might make a living on stage as a keynote speaker, but anyone can deliver a message so that people will listen.
With the skill side sorted out, the confidence develops. As Dale Carnegie said right at the outset of his seminal book, “the first thing for the beginner in public speaking is to speak”. Experience is the best teacher, and you can't learn to speak without practising. Much like playing the piano or driving a car – hours of practice make a difference.
But the funny thing about public speaking and confidence is, the more confident you become at speaking, the more confident you become as a person. Win-win.
I once read, but can’t remember where now, there are five realms of confidence
Give me information, I want to learn. Put me in a room full of people, I want to talk to them. Ask me to fix the photocopier because the paper jammed, and I want someone else to do it. I‘ve little confidence in my abilities to solve this problem (Luckily I have a son who’s a great fixer.) So think about where you have the most confidence, and where you have less. But don’t be afraid to just do something if you want to, because experience is the best teacher.
I'd love it if you would share how speaking has helped you develop confidence. Please tell your story in the comments below.
Back in July I told the story of my first public speaking experience. I hope that might have helped you to jump in the deep end yourself and give it a go. But if not, how else do you get over that fear?
You might think that I don’t understand just how terrified you feel about speaking in front of an audience, because I did it so long ago and have learned that the experience is not that frightening after all. And in respect of standing in front of an audience, you’d be right. But there are other things that terrify me, but I still do them. Why? Why would I put myself through something that scares me so much, why not just avoid the issue?
Well, let’s take a couple of examples. Firstly, I don’t like driving. Maybe I’m not terrified of driving, but it definitely makes me anxious. I’d rather avoid it if I can, and usually travel by public transport as much as possible. But there are times when the journey is such a pain by public transport. To my dentist surgery for example. It’s either two bus journeys and a fifteen minute walk, or one bus journey and two fifteen minute walks. And then the same back. Or it’s a ten minute drive. Obviously, in this case, the pay off for taking the car far outweighs avoiding the drive. (Plus, I’m going to the dentist! I’d sooner avoid that too, but the payoff of keeping my teeth outweighs the trauma of going to the dentist).
Or another thing, I don’t like flying. Should I give in to that fear and not go on holiday to Florida? Or do I try to relax, not think about what could go wrong, get on the plane and enjoy some Florida sunshine in January? I want the winter sun, the fun times with my family, so I get on the plane, even though I’m afraid.
So the upshot is, if the payoff is worth conquering your fear, you will do it. So ask yourself, what is the payoff for getting over your fear of speaking? It could be
And really, if I can face my fear of planes crashing, you can face your fear of standing in front of an audience. After all, public speaking won’t kill you – and it’s a myth that people are more afraid of public speaking than dying.
I’d love to hear how you’ve conquered that fear. And if you still want to work on it, drop me a line so we can talk about how I could help. Lindsay.firstname.lastname@example.org
How to conquer fear of public speaking in one easy lesson
So many people say ‘public speaking, aren’t you brave? I could never do that!’ So maybe it would help if I told you how I got into it?
Many years ago, as a quiet, not very confident civil servant, I joined the trade union. Up to then, I’d never been one to put myself forward, or seek attention in any way. (I know! Hard to believe!) But there lurked a quiet ambition, a desire to do something notable, and a throwback to my dad ‘s trade union principles maybe. Thanks to a colleague pushing me to stand for committee, I began to get involved. And once involved, I wanted to properly get stuck in. Then came the opportunity to go as a delegate to the national conference. What better way to find out more and begin to make a difference? Again, I was nominated, voted a place, and the tickets booked. In my naivety, I didn’t realise how unions worked. Our branch put forward a couple of motions.
So the branch chair said, ‘We’ll brief you on what to say.’
Me; slightly panicky, ‘What do you mean, what to say?’
Branch chair, ‘You’ll need to put the argument for the motion to the conference, don’t worry though, we’ll brief you.’
So there we are, thrown in the deep end. Had to speak – I’d taken a delegate place, meaning someone else couldn’t do it. The union were paying for me to go. It was important to persuade the conference to adopt the motion for the branch members. So I had to speak. In front of a conference audience of a few hundred.
What did I learn from the experience?
Well, first of all, the importance of preparation. Everything is easier if you’ve prepared properly. I took notes of the briefing the more experienced union members gave me. I made sense of the content, and put it in words I would use, to make my message authentic and therefore more convincing. I didn’t read them from a script – I made bullet pointed notes to use as an aide memoire. I rehearsed.
Secondly, I learnt the importance of looking confident. Even though the butterflies were going crazy when my name was called and I walked up to the lectern to speak, I walked purposefully to the front. I spoke in a clearer, louder voice than ever before. I focused on the moment, using the notes I had, keeping my purpose in mind. I must have done something right, because the motion was accepted.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I learned that I could do it. I learned that standing up and speaking in front of an audience wasn’t as scary as most people think it is.
So my advice to those of you who really wish you had the confidence to speak in front of an audience is, just do it. Next time someone wants you to share your knowledge, skills and experience, agree to do it, don’t be scared. Once committed, you’ll do whatever preparation you need to so that you can make a success of it. And then you’ll be proud of your accomplishment, realise it’s not so bad and be even more confident next time.
What do you think of this as a strategy? I’d love to hear about your experiences. If you feel you need a bit of support though, drop me a line, I’d be happy to help.