Regardless of the topic, there was something in their posture, their stories, or their eyes that commanded the audience to listen intently to each word. Every presenter’s style was immensely different: some told emotional stories that stirred memories connecting us to them, others kept an audience rolling and entertained. Having had to overcome prepresentation jitters on a number of occasions, and as someone who always thinks twice before speaking, even during meetings, I came to realize that a key part to speaking is confidence.
Let’s face it: dumb things can ramble around in your brain and make their way out of your mouth. Knowing this can make getting up in front of an audience rather debilitating. But, when I’m watching presenters “perform” in front of a crowded audience or even listening to colleagues presenting during a meeting, I realize that the truly engaging and relevant leaders seem to say all the right things and possibly even throw some wrong things in there as well.
The difference is confidence. The engaging speakers aren’t afraid that they may say the wrong thing. They are passionate in their delivery and shrug off the missteps.
We are all born with confidence. But, we often lose it along the way to adulthood. Children are naturally confident. They’re not afraid to ask and get what they want. Natalie, my 10-year-old, has perfected the technique of asking other mothers for a sleepover or play date. She’s not afraid to approach adults and has clearly learned that power is also about influencing others, not just me.
Many behaviorists believe that confidence is subjective and while you may be confident in one situation, you may lack it in others. I’m fairly social, borderline introvert-extrovert from the famed Myers Briggs personality test, and love being around other people. Public speaking, though, is definitely a learned trait. As painful as it is at times, I find that the more I do it, the more I’m able to slowly overcome my anxiety and generate more confidence to speak in front of an audience.
My a-ha moment came not from having the confidence that I have something important to contribute but from having the confidence that I just might say the wrong thing. And that’s OK. Here’s the thing: we’re all afraid of screwing up, of saying something dumb or exposing the inadequacies that we’re all desperately trying to hide. But, life would be so dull and boring if everyone were perfect. Some of the greatest presenters laugh at themselves and make us laugh with them.
Those are the speakers and the stories we remember. They’ve connected with us on a basic, human level. They aren’t afraid to let us see who they really are, flaws and all. Their confidence comes not from an inflation of their intellect but from a position of relatability. We see ourselves in them. We agree with them. We aspire to be like them.
And that’s the reward of having confidence: being able to state your position and positively influence your outcome. That makes us better in our jobs and better in our personal lives. Who doesn’t want the power of confidence?