A few years ago, I was hanging out with some of my younger cousins and surprised the “country girls” by wearing a snazzy pair of zebra print purple heels. They asked me how I managed to walk in those shoes and I informed them that I “walk with authority.”
It’s amazing how a clothing change or a new pair of shoes can make you feel more confident. I wrote about success on the debate team being somewhat wrapped into my power shoes, but what are some other changes you can make in how you walk and move that can boost your confidence?
Carry Yourself Well
How you hold yourself plays a role in how you see yourself. So the first place to start in making changes to your body language is to hold yourself a little higher. To appear more confident, you need to act more confident.
- Posture is the most imperative part of carrying yourself. Put your shoulders back and keep your spine straight.
- Hold your chin up when you walk. Looking down at the ground while walking is an indicator of unhappiness.
- Make eye contact and smile to strangers. Not only is this a sign of confidence, but it also makes you feel better when you smile.
Movements Send A Message
Any movement you make can send a message. These messages can be positive or negative, so one of the most important body language changes you can make is to be aware of how you’re moving.
- Putting your hands on your hips is an indication of being mad or having lost patience. Even if you feel like you’re just in a resting position, the message sent is one of disapproval.
- Try not to make fidgeting gestures like shaking your legs or tapping your nails against the table. Not only will your nails create an annoying sound, but it indicates impatience.
Your Hands and Arms Serve as a Door
The movements made with arms in communicating tells a lot about the openness of a speaker. Those who cross their arms “close the door” to others feeling welcome to chime in or discuss.
- You can make gestures open by holding your hands apart with your palms pointing upward.
- Clasping or wringing your hands in front of you or touching your hair or face is a sign of anxiety or being unsure.
The good news - you can control your own body language. Remember you have complete control over the way you carry yourself which translates into the way you are perceived. How will you walk with authority today?
Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:
I love to talk to people. It wasn't always like that for me but now, if you end up in line with me, I will at least issue you a 'hello'. Being naturally inquisitive is part of the reason that public speaking has always been easy for me. Like all speakers, there are initial nerves but once I find a comfortable groove, it’s pretty easy to interact with an audience.
It’s not like that for everyone. In fact, I’m often surprised at the number of people who are successful speakers, but call themselves introverts. It’s not an easy thing to "break out your shell" in front of a group of people that you don’t know.
Shy speakers need to gain a bit of ground before they get comfortable and it will take them a bit longer to find their groove when giving a presentation. Here are some other tips for shy speakers.
- If you’re making hand written notes for your presentation, use an ink color that is calming. Stress-reducing colors will help bring you a sense of calm. Using an ink color like red will trigger your brain to make "stress-inducing" decisions and when you’re nervous about speaking, you don’t want to add additional stress to your brain.
- Encourage yourself. On your index cards or speech notes, include little words of encouragement. Put a note in the margin that says you’re doing a great job or that you've reached your favorite part of the presentation. It may be just what you need to read right when you need to read it
- Avoid "off the cuff" speeches when you can. Shy speakers are calmed by the ability to prepare and practice. Even if you’re doing a quick thirty second introduction of yourself, the sky speaker will need a moment or two to prepare. When asked to give remarks on the fly, don’t be hesitant to ask for those preparation moments. Those moments will give you some calm.
- Don’t be afraid to use a comfort item. I cannot speak properly without a pen in my hand (never the clicky-top kind though). A lot of speech preparations tell you to "use your arms and hands" which is a great tip, but those movements can sometimes come out looking jerky or robotic. Holding something in your hand, like a pen, can help your hands feel balanced and aid in letting you make more natural movements when you speak.
Of course, the biggest weapon for the shy speaker is to practice, practice, and practice.
Are you a former "shy speaker"? How did you kick the habit? What tips would you give someone looking to improve in their speaking confidence? Are those tips different when you're making a speech over a conference call or do you think the same delivery techniques can apply?
I am going to ask very nicely that no one judge me. I have expressed my love of really horrible reality television a number of times, but today I’d like to share a secret shame with you. Toddlers & Tiaras is my favorite show to watch with my husband. Not because we’re taking notes on how to win against all these other glitzy pageant queens but because we like to play the “Is it appropriate” game. While we both have encountered outfits or parental decision making that makes us cringe on that show, there’s also something to be learned.
I know, I know – I sound like one of those clichéd mothers that puts their daughter in pageants to relive their own glory days, but tell the TLC crew it is so she can learn communication skills (these are often the women with the cringe-worthy parental decision making skills). Here’s the part where I need you not to judge me. These mothers who spend way too much money on bedazzled skirts and spray tans are gasp right. Being in front of judges is one of the greatest tests of your communication skills. Suddenly, all of your abilities are on display – can you walk without tripping? Can you smile? Can you make eye contact? Do you look like you know what you’re doing? Your audience, board members, presentation panel, or team is a lot like a panel of judges. So do what the toddlers do and remember “pretty feet” and these five tips.
- Eye Contact. Holding the audiences eye is important, but you don’t want to keep your focus only on the people who are front and center. Spread the love and constantly scan and make eye contact with as many people as you can, even the people in the back.
- Speaking Clearly. If I say “it’s because some people don’t have maps, everyone, like, such as” don’t deny that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Speaking clearly is one of the most important parts of your presentation. If you’re mumbling or speaking in circles your participants won’t learn anything from you. Speak up for the people in the back.
- Personality. Don’t be a dud! When you’re onstage in front of an audience, it’s imperative that you sparkle and stand out. You want to be remembered – and no, you don’t need the fake eyelashes and glitter, you just need to have a great time. Speak with cadence to your voice, don’t read off your PowerPoint slides, and always move around the stage.
- Dressing the Part. Sorry everyone, but how you look is very important up on stage. It’s a way for your audience to relate to you. You should know the kind of people who will be attending your conference. For example, the conferences I have been to have always been business casual, and the speakers dress on the same level.
- Confidence and Fun. The truth is that when you’re up in front of an audience it’s all about just having a good time. You need to enjoy yourself, be passionate about the topic you’re speaking about or what you’re doing on stage. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, no one else will either.
The whole idea of making a presentation might seem overwhelming to you but I promise you, if a four year old wearing her body weight in sequins and fake hair can do it – so can you.
I went back a few weeks ago and watched my wedding video. We had a wonderful ceremony and like most weddings it wasn’t without its problems. The AC stopped working in the reception hall, which in the middle of June means everyone is going to sweat like mad. My friend from high school had to leave in an ambulance after accidentally putting her hand through the glass window pane and passing out in the bathroom – something I didn’t know until well after the wedding. (She’s a really great friend). Aside from those things, we were also the catalyst for what has become the worst best man speech of all time.
No, I’m not being mean, if you ask him, he will agree with you, and if you ask him what went wrong he will tell you.
“I was winging it.”
No, you didn’t read it wrong – my husband’s best friend made it up as he went along (for 30 minutes) about really nothing.
Personally, I think you should never wing it. Even if it’s a situation where you’re speech is something that everyone isn't looking forward to.
I understand that not every speech can be planned.
- Always have an idea of how you're going to introduce yourself. You should always have a standard greeting for yourself and your company, that way you're not stumbling through "umms" and "ahhs" as you try to think of things on the spot. This is also known as your "Elevator Pitch".
- Think about the subject being covered and what your knowledge of the subject matter is. If you were asked to "weigh in" for a brief moment, what would you say? You don't have to write this down, but at least give yourself an idea of what your take would be so you would be prepared if someone were to say, "Hey you, what do you think about blogging/social media/etc".
- Do some research. Learning more about a subject is always a great idea -- and if you think that you might end up having to weigh in on a subject you don't know much about it, take about ten minutes and Google it. It'll pay off in the end.
No matter what you're about to attend (wedding, graduation speech, networking event) you should always remember that you are not a bird, so stop winging it.
What do you do to get prepared when anticipating having to make a speech?
Confession: I hate cucumbers and tomatoes. There is just something about the texture and that jelly like seed pod thing in the center that just grosses me out. I am such a picky eater in the first place, but you start trying to fancy up my salad with crap like cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, that just became the garbage cans lunch and I'm going hungry.
Second confession (two in one post!): I love pickles and bruschetta.
What is that? I had this realization about myself and my food choices last week and I simply can't understand it. Throw a cucumber in some vinegar or toss some Roma tomatoes with basil and garlic and I will be the happiest girl in the world. Why? Simple - someone took something I dislike and added a lot of things that I do like (salt, garlic, warm and toasty bread). Those simple additions can take something that would make me walk away from a meal and chow down.
It's a principal you can apply to one of the most hated things in all the lands - public speaking. Figure out the things you don't like and add elements of things you really look forward to. Here's a couple of examples:
- You hate being the center of attention, but love a team atmosphere. Instead of the typical 'stand in front of a room' presentation try doing a collaboration type of presentation. Let people make comments, ask questions, and build off a main idea that you have presented. Instead of doing a thirty minute presentation and then taking brief Q&A, do a five minute presentation and spend the rest of time getting your audiences input.
- You hate using a podium, but love attending round table meetings. In this case, consider setting up something more like a town hall meeting and using limited visuals if possible. Try to put yourself on the eye level of your audience by sitting down on a stool and shifting around as you speak to make eye contact.
- You hate using PowerPoint, but love a visual element in presentations. Try a different kind of visual presentation -- like using a short video or even the old school white board. PowerPoint, strangely enough, can make a lot of people uncomfortable so even though it might be considered "old school" to not use one, you have to find what works for you. Just remember that it is never okay to read from your presentation slides.
Just like cucumbers and tomatoes, public speaking can be considered a hated part of every day society, but by adding in some things you like, you might never think about the bad things.
My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) is a charming story about a young girl with a bad accent who takes speech therapy in order to prove herself as a society lady in London. It’s a great movie – classic Audrey goodness and in an age where films about speech therapy are winning Oscars again, it’s not just about good entertainment.
Eliza Doolittle had a rotten accent and some pretty reprehensible mannerisms. Despite her charming qualities, she can never be presented to society as a lady without some *ahem* fine tuning. With the help of Henry Higgins – Eliza finds a voice that was hidden under her bad mannerisms and atrocious speech. While the musical adaptation is lots of fun, the movie does teach us a very important lesson about phonetics.
Phonetics, for those of us that don’t know, is the study of how you articulate and sound when you pronounce certain words. The sounds we grow up hearing and the language that we speak can affect our phonetics. Those of us with accents are often searching for ways to improve our pronunciation. In case you don’t have a Henry Higgins close by, here are some things you can do to help improve the way you speak.
- Listen more effectively. In order to say things in a clearer fashion, you must be able to listen to the conversations around you. One of the best things to listen to is an audio book – the people reading those books are paid to have excellent pronunciation.
- Practice. It does make perfect – so practice the words you struggle to pronounce. If you just don’t think you’re getting it just right, have someone pronounce it for you, or try this pronunciation tool.
- Twist it up. Get yourself a list of tongue twisters and set yourself five minutes a day to read them aloud. Reading them over and over will teach your mouth and tongue how to say words that might otherwise be difficult. Your tongue is a muscle and this is the perfect work out.
When it comes to public speaking there are a lot of things that you can do to improve the way you pronounce your words. When you pronounce words better, you can speak clearer, and help your audience understand the message you’re trying to communicate. If all else fails, remember that the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.
When I was in college, I competed in a lot of debate tournaments. I never went on a tournament without my boots. My debate coach called them my “butt-kicking shoes” and he always knew that I was going to do well when I wore them. There was just something about them that made me feel confident. Anytime you do a presentation, it’s always about confidence. You know your subject inside and out but that doesn’t mean that you can’t struggle with the idea of speaking in front of a group of people. If you want to make yourself feel a little confident, here are some things that you can do. They are very easy and will only take a few extra minutes.
Familiarize yourself with where you are going to be speaking. If you’re on a conference call, find a quiet place away from the bustle of your office to give your presentation. If it’s not a room you’ve used much, take a look around, know where things are. You never know when you might need to know where an extra outlet is located and knowing the layout of the room will make you feel much better.
Wear something you love. This sounds so trite, I know, but if you are wearing something that makes you feel great, you’re going to feel great. That’s how it was with my boots. Some women might have a lucky skirt or a man who has a lucky tie. Even if no one is going to see you on the presentation, it will make you feel a little more “take on the world”.
In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t always win my tournaments, but I always felt good while I was doing them. Do you have any silly things you do to get yourself feeling confident in the face of a presentation?