3 Tips for Public Speaking Confidence
Public speaking confidence is something that a lot of people have difficulty with. This blog post will give you actionable tips to help you look, sound and feel confident on stage. These three aspects are fundamental to being able to get your message across to your audience with power and clarity.
- Looking confident
- Sounding confident
- Feeling confident
For the first two maybe we can ‘fake it until we make it’, because they are more about how you look from the outside, but the third one, feeling confident, is an inside job, and that is not so easy, because whereas faking how you come across may convince others, faking how you feel is about convincing yourself.
How to Look Confident on Stage
Happily, you don’t have to feel confident to look or sound confident to seem confident. You just need to focus a moment before you start to find a solid stance, establish good eye contact and use your hands to support your voice.
And these are all rehearsed physical attributes that we can practise in public speaking courses and they are therefore all the subject of other articles on presentation skills and not the central focus of this one.
Sounding Confident on Stage
Equally, sounding confident also has technical aspects: consciously projecting the voice for larger environments; slowing down when speaking and paying attention to your vocal variety (louder and quieter, higher and lower, faster and slower or even stopping altogether - ie pausing).
These are all things you can do to ‘seem’ more confident, but what about ‘feeling’ more confident?
Feeling Confident on Stage
My father, a professional violinist, used to reflect that having the ability to control your nerves in public is a quality you only realise you used to have once you have lost it.
The point is that all performers feel nervous and fear that they may fail, go wrong or just not get through to the end.
That is normal. Therefore the aim for a presenter should be to learn to embrace and handle nerves, not to try to banish them altogether.
Remember: feeling confident is not the same as not feeling nervous.
In fact, if you are not feeling any nerves when you stand to speak, you should start to be really worried, because the chances are that your nerves are still hiding in there somewhere and they may creep up, jump out and surprise you at the worst moment.
Any presentation totally lacking nervous energy will usually be perceived as flat and uninspiring, whereas most good presentations will ride better on a little bit of adrenalin, making them come across as alive and energised.
The great news for all of us speakers and performers is that your audience can rarely tell the difference between fear and passion because to them they look very similar – they are both expressions of energy.
So confidence in Public Speaking is not about banishing nerves, it is about learning to handle and use them to advantage.
Steps to feeling more confident
1. Build on Your Good Experience When Speaking
For most of us the anxiety, fear of failure, or some version of imposter syndrome never goes away, and yet despite all of these feelings, we find we can still manage somehow to get through to the end of our presentations. This in itself should give us a little more reassurance, knowing that having gotten through it once, we know we are likely to get through it again.
Therefore the most valuable tool for building confidence is experience, knowing you have been here before and have managed. Therefore think of previous situations where you have succeeded.
They may be smaller examples: a short introduction given at work, a few lines in a school play or any situation when you have stood up in front of others and had to ‘deliver’.
That is obviously fine if you have had some positive experiences to build upon but what if you have no good track record from previous presentations, or worse, your only experiences have been bad?
Fortunately there are other things you can do to guarantee a good result.
2. Start Small
The key to success in most things is to start small.
You might feel totally lost without your notes or slides, so trying to get rid of everything in one go is likely to be a step too far.
Instead, ask yourself: can you manage just the first 30-60 seconds without notes?
Can you create a very simple flexible introduction that gives you a few moments to project competence and confidence to your audience, while still being simple enough for you to manage without having to read or memorise word for word?
If you commit to keeping it simple, it becomes easier. In fact, keep simplifying until it feels manageable.
So if your introduction ends up as no more than:
‘Hello…today…my name…’ that is a start.
The first step is to limit yourself to no more than 3 clear points or headings for your introduction – that could be:
- Why we are here
- What the audience will gain from the presentation
- Why you should listen to me
So that might be as simple as:
‘The purpose of my talk today is to …. (i.e. why we are here)
and by the end of my talk, you will have more understanding to help you to … (what you will gain)
My name is … and over the last …..years I have been involved in this subject’ (Why you should listen to me)’
If it feels like all you can manage is the opening before you step back into the reassurance of your notes or slides, that is quite okay, at least you have made a good first impression in those first few seconds.
Over time, when you feel a little more comfortable, you could allow yourself a little more freedom to expand on that opening, or start to focus on the short sections that bridge or connect one part of the presentation to another.
3. Focus on the Ending of Your Presentation
Typically your next area of focus would be the conclusion. Hopefully, if you have researched and prepared your presentation properly, the conclusion should be very clear to you and it will give a very strong impression to your audience if you are able to deliver your key findings, while not reading and being able to look your audience directly in the eye.
You may want to finish on one major key message or you may want to use your conclusion to sum up the main benefits (again, where possible, keeping it to no more than three points).
Therefore the aim is, rather than trying to force any feelings of nervousness to disappear, you gradually build from a simple beginning, gain a little confidence and then gradually expand the knowledge that you have been here before and you got through okay and that those nerves actually helped create the necessary energy.
Approaching Public Speaking Confidence From Within and Without
In conclusion, as we attempt to address our nerves and anxiety, we can approach from two directions, from inside and from outside.
Working from the outside we can focus on the physical attributes for ‘looking confident’ and ‘sounding confident’ and at the same time, we can lower the sense of overwhelm by breaking things down into simple steps and routines, so that we can start to ‘feel’ more confident in what lies before us.
Working from the inside requires stepping back, trying to gain a wider perspective and not being too caught up in the confusion of the moment, hence:
- Looking for reassurance in how we have handled similar situations in the past
- Planning a simple flexible opening that we can deliver with confidence
- Being clear about the purpose of the presentation and being able to sum that up at the end.
If we accept that the main manifestation of nervousness is a sense of feeling overwhelmed and rushed, of everything rushing and losing a feeling of control, then whatever we can do to slow things down, step back and simplify the process is likely to help.