As I wrote in a post last week, I used to be so shy I was scared to speak to anyone – even my friends. And yet, last week I gave a talk to a room of strangers, and I’m currently planning a workshop, more presentations and one-to-one training. What changed? Well, it didn’t happen over night, and it’s still happening. Building my confidence is something that I work on every day. Here are a few tips…
1. Find Out Where Your Comfort Zone Ends… and then step just outside of it!
If something makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, and there’s no actual danger to your safety – DO IT!
I am scared of heights. Here is a photo of me in May 2002, abseiling off the top of the local college. I barely slept for two weeks before I did this abseil, and climbing out of a skylight onto that roof on a cloudy Saturday morning, I was nearly sick. But how fantastic and confident do you think I felt, when my feet hit the floor afterwards? For months, possibly years afterwards, I was telling people I had done this – and more importantly, telling myself: you abseiled off the top of the college; of course you can do this thing that’s tiny in comparison!
2. Remember Your High Points.
I was given a certificate for this abseil. It was just something printed off that morning, with my name written on in marker – but I had it in a frame on my wall for ages. I have the photos on Facebook. They remind me that even when you’re so scared you can’t keep your legs still, you can still achieve amazing things. And if I can do that, what else can I do? I am a single mother; I have survived a near-fatal mental breakdown, an abusive relationship, premature labour and almost three years of raising a child alone. Reminding myself of these things tends to elicit a certain amount of “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”
When I did my first radio appearance for 5 Things, Simon texted me afterwards: “could you do me a favour and try not to do so many ums? They’re difficult to edit out!” The second week, I made sure I knew my topic better. A few weeks later, he suggested I not write out a script, but instead make a bullet-pointed list. I went with that, and hopefully now that I’ve had a couple of months of practise, people can hear a difference. With my podcast, I talk to myself as I wander around the house during the day, deciding what to say and how to say it. Then, by the time I come to record it, I’ve already said it a few times and know what comes next. When I did my presentation last week, I only practised a few times to avoid it sounding too rehearsed, but I did my practise in the couple of hours before the presentation, so that it was all still fresh in my mind. Whether you’re scared of talking in public or talking to your child’s teacher, practise what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it. Looking in a mirror helps, but is not necessary. The first time you do it, you get that sicky, shaky feeling and you worry you’re going to burst into tears or pass out or something. If you keep pushing yourself into positions where you can practise it, it will get easier. And eventually, you’ll be able to go on live TV and chat to Philip Schofield about your nervous breakdown.
4. Fake It Til You Make It.
Watch this Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. Then watch it again. And again, and again, and again. What is so inspirational about this talk is that Cuddy has lived it – she knows that feeling of “I’m not supposed to be here.” But she faked it, and she made it. These techniques really work – from putting a pen in your mouth to make yourself feel happy, to putting your arms out in a “power pose” before a job interview or presentation. I’ve tried it myself, and so have several friends and family members.
5. Be Yourself.
If you’re nervous, you’re nervous. You can conquer that over time. But it is a hundred times easier to be confident as yourself than to try and be confident while pretending to be someone else. It’s one thing to “fake it til you make it” but quite another to pretend to be an entirely different person. That might feel like an easier option in the short term, but longer term, it’s harder to pull off. I wore fake hair for years because I felt I could hide behind it and be someone else but as it turned out, fake hair was not who I was. When I first removed it, I felt like I didn’t know how to be the “real” me but now, I wonder how I ever pretended to be that person for so long.
6. Tell Yourself You Can!
We all have that negative self-talk, that voice in our heads going but what if… Tell it to get lost! Talk over it with I can definitely do this, this is happening, everything will go brilliantly. You don’t need to say it out loud if you don’t want to (not a great idea on a crowded train), but consciously thinking positive responses to your negative self talk will eventually shut it up – or at least reduce it to 3am apearances once a month. Think of it as a mantra that you think to yourself on the way to anything you’re a bit nervous of: this will go great; everything is fine; I’ve got this covered. Try not to include any negative, such as not or won’t in your positive thinking though; instead of this won’t go wrong change it to this will go really well. It helps, I promise