Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Readers & I share small speaker confidence-boosters

I think of speaker confidence as a muscle, something you have to train over time to make it strong and resilient. But readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook reminded me that sometimes, just like a muscle, a quick move or two at the last minute also provides that rocket-boost for your bravery. I asked readers: "What's something small you do to boost your confidence when you're going to speak or present in public (before, during or after)?" And most of their responses fell into the "before" category--sometimes with seconds to go:

    • Beth Cruisin B Skwarecki I have a 2 second mini-visualization: The audience is staring at me. I smile!
      Yesterday at 2:07pm · 

    • Shayla Phillips-mcpherson music...get my vocal cords relaxed or use a song as my anthem...
      Yesterday at 2:20pm · 

    • Bronwyn Ritchie smile. remind myself I'm prepared
      Yesterday at 6:08pm · 

    • Sandra Vandenhoff Slow down breathing.
      23 hours ago · 

    • Jeannette Shields pray....a lot!!!!
      20 hours ago · 

    • Claire Duffy I recently asked my friends the same question. "arrive early enough to go through it in the foyer" was one good response.
      17 hours ago · 

    • Cherisa Zafft Play something with a good beat that makes me happy. When I begin a speech happy, the audience can tell!
      9 hours ago · 

My list? I agree with the readers--getting yourself in the mood, feeling prepared right before you go on, and smiling at the audience all help me rev up and feel confident right before I talk. But over time, I've also learned that working on confidence in between speaking gigs also helps me call on it at a moment's notice. Here are my longer-term exercises for the confidence muscle:
  1. Figure out what's getting under your skin, and address it. If you can identify what's undermining your confidence, you can find a way to deal with it. Make a list of your worst confidence-busters, then make a plan for each one. Work one at a time, master the problem and the fix, then move on to another.
  2. Stop your inner critic from talking. Henry Ford said it best: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're probably right." Those are good odds, so think you can. 
  3. Practice. Where would you rather mess up as a speaker? I'd rather mess up in a practice session than during a real speech, any day. That way, I can figure out what trips me up and fix it--and go into my presentation knowing I've already slayed the worst dragons. One of the great ironies of speaking is that the speakers who look the most extemporaneous are the ones who've practiced the most. How much should you practice? Until you'd rather dig a ditch.
  4. Start small. If you haven't spoken up in a meeting, plan ahead and figure out where you can dive in, then speak up. Hint: Asking a question makes it easier to interrupt and join the discussion, or practice disagreeing in a productive way.  Do it again. If you haven't done a presentation, start by doing it for one colleague to see if you can make your case. Then do it for two more people. Then a small roomful. 
  5. Start short.  A short stint speaking is always easier than a long one when you're aiming to build your confidence. (It's over faster, for one thing.) Try one of my 4 stepping stones to get speaking practice, all short opportunities that will help you get real-time practice before you try a stem-winder of a speech.
  6. Smile. The readers have it right: Whether you play an anthem, do a meditation that ends with a smile at the audience, or just do something that makes you happy, a smile will engage your audience and spread the chemicals that signal your body to relax and feel good. It's the easiest way to boost your bravery--think of it as a one-second charge forward.
Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.