Public Speaking With Confidence

What is it about public speaking that robs people of their confidence? They stand up in front of a group and all of a sudden their shoulders drop, they fidget, and it’s blatantly obvious to everyone that they don’t want to be there.

Sure, you can chalk it up to self-consciousness and the fear of being judged. After all, when all eyes are on you, how could you NOT feel like you’re being judged? But you can push past those feelings of inadequacy. You can train yourself to feel and look more confident when you speak.

How To Speak Confidently

It doesn’t matter what size your audience is—whether it’s one person or an auditorium full of listeners—you have to speak with confidence. Confident speakers are more engaging, they’re more trustworthy, and people respond to what confident speakers have to say. We spend a lot of time talking about speaking with confidence in our Presentation Skills Training workshops because it’s something so many people struggle with.

What we most often see is people lack confidence because they don’t exhibit confident behavior. Ironic, isn’t it? But the truth is, if you behave in a confident manner, you will look and feel confident, too. And here’s something else: There are a ton of people out there who are missing the mark when it comes to speaking confidently because they are making five basic mistakes:

  1. They Don’t Practice. Confidence comes from comfort, and comfort comes from repetition. Every presentation you make—Every. Single. One.—requires practice. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can “wing it” or that you know the material so well that talking about it will come naturally. It won’t. People who don’t practice what they’re going to say (and how they’re going to say it) will always look unprepared. How can they possibly feel confident?
  1. They Use Passive Language. Have you ever walked away from a presentation feeling like you don’t know what to think of what the speaker said? They had a message (or at least you think they did), but it really wasn’t clear or decisive. I call it being wishy-washy. And it’s usually because the speaker doesn’t use powerful, decisive language. There is a lot of “I think” and “I believe” and ideas delivered passively. Confident speakers sound authoritative. They use words and phrases that are active rather than passive. Do you know the difference?Here’s a quick lesson on passive voice versus active voice: In a sentence where the subject performs the action, the voice is active. (“I deliver a presentation every week.”) In a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb, the voice is passive. (“A presentation is delivered by me every week.”) Can you see how the active voice is firm and confident? A passive voice is just…wishy-washy.
  1. They Avoid Eye Contact. Your eyes are your most important communication tool. They show if you’re happy, sad, afraid, distracted, or nervous. And they will give you away if you aren’t feeling confident.Eye contact is how you connect with your audience. It’s how you include them in the conversation and influence their attentiveness. The most effective way to make your audience feel included in the conversation is to establish eye contact. When you avoid eye contact you appear untrustworthy—and you definitely don’t look confident in what you’re saying.
  1. They Don’t Use Gestures. Anytime you give a presentation, you should speak naturally. If you can master this, your body will move in natural ways, too. Too often we see people forget how to move their bodies as soon as they’re handed a microphone. They freeze or they fidget or they run their fingers through their hair. Would someone doing any of those things look confident to you?Stand up, put your shoulders back, and stride across the stage as you speak. If you’re drawing the audience’s attention to something, point to it. If you’re indicating something is big or small, use your hands to emphasize it. Those are natural movements—and when you speak naturally, you appear confident.
  1. They Don’t “Walk the Walk.” Even if he’s delivering bad news, a confident speaker believes in what he’s saying. He has the data, he knows the material, and he is certain of what is coming out of his mouth. You will never feel confident if you’re speaking off the cuff. If you’re unsure of the subject, how can you be confident talking about it? If you’ve never worked in plastics manufacturing, how confident would you be if you were asked to give a presentation on it?

Loosen Up for Public Speaking

Have you been making these mistakes in your public speaking? Remember that confidence is a state of mind. Tell yourself that what you have to say is important and people are interested in hearing it. Act confidently to boost your confidence. Your own mindset is often the biggest obstacle to overcome.

What other tips would you offer to people who lack confidence in their presentations? Leave your feedback in the Comments section. And for more useful public speaking tips, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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