When I was 27, I was hired by a communications company to train doctors and specialists to learn the art of public speaking. The common misconception is that if you’re an expert in a field, then surely you can speak on that topic too, right? Well, as you can imagine – that’s not actually the case!
Let’s back up for a second: I was hired to coach them to be expert speakers. Did I mention I was just 27?! Though I went through a rigorous, 6 month training by an amazing mentor and trainer, (Mark Mcgrath, who is a really big part of why I am where I am today!) needless to say, I will not go into all the details of how hard it was for me to believe I could do this. It was a challenge!
Back to the doctors. It was time for my very first training, where the plan was for me to fly to Miami and train 25 neurologists on communication. I was absolutely terrified! There was no way I could show up, and then be the expert. Wouldn’t they know it was my first time training? I felt intimidated because not only were they smart, but they worked on the brain for God’s sake!
I’ll never forget what Mark told me as I worried: “Sundie, you are not a doctor. No one is asking you to be, but you are an expert in your field. These doctors have never spent 6 months working on presentation skills alone.” Then he said, “Go out and buy an outfit you feel great in, look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you are an expert. Then when it’s time to present, walk up to the front of the room, find your center, connect with your first pair of eyes . . . and begin. The rest will follow.”
It’s no surprise that he was completely right! Over time as I applied the skills I learned, my confidence grew and grew. It didn’t just grow my confidence professionally, but it also changed me personally.
In fact, when I heard Amy Cuddy share in her TedTalk the idea of, “Fake it ‘till you become it,” I couldn’t believe she was talking about the exact thing I had personally experienced back in Miami all those years ago! In her talk, she goes on to share that if we change our confidence externally, then over time, we’ll begin to change our inner confidence. The result? We’ll begin to look and feel more confident.
Since that weekend in Miami, I’ve dedicated most of my personal and professional experience to learning and training on confidence. Over time, I’ve learned that there are 5 key skills you need to know to lean into confidence.
These skills are a great foundation, and can be used in many settings in our lives, like when you are networking, leading a team meeting, delivering a presentation, talking 1 on 1 with your manager, interviewing and really, any interaction in your everyday life where you want to show up confidently.
Let’s dive in!
Eyes: 1 to 1, Finish the thought.
Connect with people using your eyes. Especially when you’re speaking to a group, look directly at one person in the room or the table you’re at, connect, and where there is a natural pause you move to another person. Keep doing this as you talk. The outcome is simple: each person you look at will feel like you are really connecting with them.
Voice: Project to animate.
Our voice keeps people interested. If our pitch or volume is too high, people check out. The same if our tone it’s too low or loud. People want variety with natural highs and lows. For example, if I am motivating a group, I might want to speed up and when I am making a point then slow down again to make the next point. Another example: make sure you are heard, and don’t end your sentences on an “upswing.” This makes you sound like you are questioning yourself. It’s the difference between “Hello, my name is Sundie?” versus, “Hello, my name is Sundie.” BOOM! End the sentence.
Hands: Use them and drop them.
Augment what you are saying with your hands. Try to avoid locking them in one place like crossing in front, behind your back, or in your pockets. This one is interesting because I notice people naturally use their hands until they are expected to be “on.” Then they forget they have hands all together! Keep that natural use of your hands even in front of people.
Posture: Move with Purpose.
This one is amazing when you nail it! Plant your feet straight, hips width apart with a strong posture and then move when it has a purpose, for example: I might move across a room or a stage to emphasize something. The key is to not move to create energy, as that’s actually a distraction. Put your energy into your voice, and be intentional about what you are doing with your posture and stay in control of it.
Connectors: Search in Silence.
First, what are connectors? Connectors are the filler words we use like uh, um, so, and, or okay. I like to say our brain is a search engine and when we are looking for what to say we go into the connector zone to find our next thought. It actually becomes a nervous habit. Instead, train yourself to own the pause and search for your next thought in silence. There is power in a pause!
If you are thinking “How do I do all of this?!,” You don’t! Pick just one to focus on for now. Begin by intentionally working on, thinking through and practicing one until you feel it has become a habit. You’ll notice the change! Here’s a tip: practice in low hanging fruit settings, like when you’re out to dinner with friends. Here you can think to yourself, “I am going to work on using my eyes and connecting more intentionally during conversations tonight.”
I told my 16 year old daughter recently that when she walks down the hall at school, walk tall and look people in the eye, then give a slight smile. When she tried it, she said it makes her feel like she is in charge of her life and how she feels . . . not others! If she can do it, so can you!
One last thought: while you work on these skills, practice, show up . . . be okay with yourself regardless of the outcome. If you have breath in your body, friends and family that you love, that is enough.