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Monday, 28 July 2014

How to Look Confident

How do you look when you speak in front of a group?
  1. Not confident enough? Then you probably look as if you don't believe what you're saying. I meet plenty of people who feel this way.
  2. Too confident? You may come across as arrogant, and not seeming to care what the audience wants. I meet few people with this problem.
However, a level of confidence that's somewhere in between those two extremes is a powerful thing indeed, putting your audience at ease and allowing them to share your enthusiasm and conviction for your information and message.

I'd say Barack looks pretty confident here.
Cheating
But looking confident means being confident, right?

Wrong. A stand-up comedian stepping onto the stage at the Comedy Store in London on a Saturday night feels nervous; they don't know for certain that it will go well (and if it doesn't, it will be very unpleasant indeed). So what do they do to maximise their chance of success? 

The answer's simple: they fake it. Even thought their heart's beating ten to the dozen, they step out with a big smile, grab the microphone and bellow: "Hello Comedy Store! How the devil are you? Look at you sir, what a fantastic shirt!" etc. They assume the role of the confident comedian, of the person the audience expected, and in doing so, they give the audience faith in their laughter-inducing ability. Consequently the jokes are funnier, and the comic is able to relax and be truly in the moment, where the magic of stand-up comedy happens. 

Importantly, this only works because they've prepared correctly. Stepping out with a big smile but then failing to deliver the first line correctly because you haven't rehearsed properly makes the confident entrance irrelevant. 

Larger Than Life
It may seem counter-intuitive (or even insincere), but by assuming the role of the confident speaker, you can make it self-fulfilling. As you're probably aware, the first few seconds of any speaking are crucial; eye contact, a big smile and a friendly "Hello!" help create a very positive first impression, engaging with the audience and conveying the message that you care. The huge benefit of this is goodwill from the audience which gives you permission to:
  • make a few mistakes
  • take risks
However, the person who ignores the audience as they start (and faffs about with their notes and fails to show any kind of happy emotion) doesn't connect with the audience, but instead conveys the message that they don't care, and possibly that they don't even want to be there. This impression means that any mistakes actually reinforce it, instead of happening despite it. Big difference.

So, remember that you know your stuff, and that this is your chance to deliver like the confident speaker they want to see.

Act confident, become confident.

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