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
Ever said something and then regretted it? Of course, we all have. Whether it’s a mean comment in the heat of an argument with a loved one, or what we thought afterwards was a stupid comment, and we said it out loud in front of people. Or what seemed to be an even bigger mistake, speaking out at work, and losing a job as a result.
I’ve done all of the above. Losing a job seems to be a pretty disastrous consequence, but I don’t regret saying what I did. It was for a small charity, and I pointed out some things that needed changing. I was right about the things that needed changing, and the trustees seemed to agree with me. They also thought that the changes included not having me on the payroll, for reasons I never understood. But no matter, I was right about the changes, and I survived losing the job. In fact, so many wonderful things have happened since, that I’m not even sorry I no longer work there.
But what if you don’t speak up? What about those times you didn’t say something, and wish you had? Yes, there might be times when you decide for the greater good to keep quiet. It’s not those occasions that are the problem. But if you fail to speak up for what you think is right through fear – fear of the consequences, lack of confidence or inability to put your argument – then those times have a serious impact on your self esteem over the longer term.
Because in those instances, you’re not being true to your values. You’re making a decision that you don’t deserve to put your point of view across, or that no-one will listen, so what’s the point in saying anything, or you’re allowing the fear to have power over you. None of those are great feelings. If you allow them to stay with you and affect your behaviour for any length of time, then they will eat away at your confidence, self esteem and happiness.
For a long time, I would move on, leave a job, rather than stand up for what I thought was the right thing. And I worked in the charity sector, so I told myself that I was working in organisations that were a good fit with my values. On reflection, I was kidding myself that working for a charity was going to make me happy – there’s more to it than that. (It was certainly better than working for the government, but still wasn’t the right thing.)
As a friend recently pointed out, you can always apologise for something you’ve said, but you usually can’t go back and speak out about something after the event – the opportunity has passed.
Of course, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of speaking up, and we’ll take a look at some of these in another post. Meanwhile, I encourage you to consider your values, what is really important to you, and how does your work support or undermine these.
If you want to know more, download our guide to assertive behaviour.