The word confidence conjures up different emotions in everyone.
It is a powerful word and so often used to describe a characteristic in human behaviour.
“Don’t ask her to make the presentation, she’s not very confident in those kinds of situations.”
“It’s easy for…. they are so confident. I could never do that.”
“I hate networking, I’m not confident enough to walk into a room and approach strangers.”
“He’s so confident, I find it intimidating.”
“They used to be so confident, it’s so sad to watch how they behave now.”
However, confidence is not a characteristic. It is not something we are born with. It is simply something we learn and create for ourselves.
You might say that some babies appear more confident than others early on when trying out new things. Genetics must play a part in this, but confidence can also be developed, with help, from an early age.
As a very shy child, in the shadow of my bolder older sister, I tried to blend into the background most of the time. Whenever I was asked to do something that was slightly out of my comfort zone, I would refuse saying I didn’t want to do it and then I would sit somewhere quietly alone, wishing I had had the confidence to say yes and do it. I spent a lot of time regretting that I hadn’t taken opportunities that were offered to me, and I was pretty sulky as a result! I felt ‘less than’ in most situations and worried that this would never change.
But it did change.
I made a conscious decision when I went to university to reinvent myself. This was possible as no-one there knew me and didn’t know my older sister. They didn’t know that I was shy, so I decided to present myself as confident. I had realised that people found sarcasm quite funny – it hadn’t been intentional at first but, when I realised that I made people laugh, I kept trying it out. I found that I attracted people with my direct approach and dry humour. Sarcasm isn’t a particularly good form of wit, but it seemed to work! And when you’re 18 years old, it isn’t that important.
Many decades later, I have very much given up the sarcasm, but I am still known for my rather direct, pragmatic approach to life. I am often taken shopping with friends as they know that I will be honest with them when buying clothes. But only before they have bought something – never after. That is just tactless, not honest!
Nowadays, when I meet people for the first time, they say I come across as confident and intimidating even. I have found the ‘intimidating’ description rather puzzling over the years, but I realise that it is probably something to do with the fact that I still identify as shy! And this can mistakenly come across as aloof or rude even – which can lead to the conflicting impression I give off.
So how do we learn or develop confidence over the years?
- Practice, practice, practice
You can build confidence by making sure that you are prepared – whatever the situation is.
If you are presenting, then make sure you know the content well and practice the presentation several times.
If you are going into a situation where you know no-one, have a few opening sentences prepared which you can use when you meet someone. Be bold – go up to someone who is also alone and introduce yourself. They will be so grateful that you had the courage to approach them first.
Fake it till you make it – just pretend to be confident. People will believe that you are – they don’t know any different, unless you show them that they are wrong.
- Remember that everyone has self-doubt – you are not alone.
Keep telling yourself that, even the people you admire the most will suffer from self-doubt. They were not always successful and confident, and they will have had the same fears and doubts that you have now. But they may know how to cover these doubts up or they may know how to work with them and use them to their advantage.
- Body language.
If you hold your body strong, it will make you feel stronger and more confident. It will also make you appear confident.
- Stand up straight.
- Hold eye contact with the person you are speaking to (just don’t make it too intense!).
- Try not to fold your arms and have an open posture.
Practice this at home.
If you come across as confident, your audience will relax and will listen to what you say.
- First impressions do count
If you present yourself as nervous and uncomfortable, then your audience will feel uncomfortable. They will make a snap judgement about you before you have even started speaking or performing.
Recently I went to an amateur gig where 4 bands performed. It was billed as their end of term show – we knew that they were not professional musicians, and this was something they all enjoyed. I personally find these kinds of events quite stressful as you want everyone to do well, succeed and not embarrass themselves. The one thing I noticed was that you could tell from the moment the band presented themselves, whether you were going to enjoy it. If the lead singer spoke confidently, you really didn’t mind what their voice sounded like as it they had already put you at ease and allowed you to enjoy the performance even if it wasn’t perfect. For those who opened with a shaky, nervous voice presenting the band, it made you feel tense and the feeling lingered.
Present yourself with confidence and you will give a good first impression.
- What happens when it goes wrong?
Occasionally, even after you’ve worked hard to build up your confidence, you might find that something will happen which will crush it. Someone might be critical of you, you might receive a bad review for your work, or you might overhear someone talking negatively about your performance.
Whatever it is, remember that you might take one step backwards, but you have to remind yourself of what you have achieved.
That is when you have to dig deep, control your reaction, and do your absolute best not to go back to where you started.
So, what does confidence mean to me?
To me, confidence means that I am able to move forward in my life, in the way that I choose. I try not to listen too much to negative noise that goes on around me. I concentrate on doing things that I enjoy and that make me feel good, even if I am not that good at them!
Confidence also means being able to say when you don’t know the answer to a question, asking for help when you need it and admitting when you are struggling.
Confidence also means accepting that you might not be the loudest person in the room, the funniest, the most attractive but that the people around you like you for the person you are.
Go on, try it out!