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
- People – meeting new people, relationships
- Things – mechanical things, gadgets
- Information – learning new information
- Places – getting to new places, comfortable going somewhere new
- Activities – doing physical activities, biking, trekking, bungee jumping
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.