Keys to Presenting with Confidence
When we work with clients for the first time, we typically ask them to describe how they want to be perceived during meetings, presentations or interviews. We’re looking for adjectives, and we get a great variety of them: strong, powerful, real, believable, knowledgeable, smart, insightful, among many others.
The most common one we hear is that people want to be seen as confident presenters. There’s no magical answer—we can’t offer a guarantee to people that if they stand up straight, make good eye contact, open with a funny joke, or avoid non-words that they will automatically seem more confident.
In some situations, confidence comes up as a personal or professional challenge to a client—they received feedback in an evaluation that they don’t project enough confidence, or that (here’s a good term) they need a stronger “executive presence”. At EMS, we use our own proven techniques to help speakers look, sound and feel more confident, but this month we took the liberty of watching some of our fellow presentation coaches on YouTube see how they approached the topic.
When Margaret Thatcher was first a member of parliament in the U.K, she found that people were put off by her speaking style, specifically a tendency for her voice to get high and shrill when she would get excited. When Ms. Thatcher decided to run for prime minister, she specifically worked with a coach to lower her voice so she’d be seen as a stronger leader.
Laura Sicola uses Thatcher as an example of the importance of tone and intonation to evoke confidence from an audience—saying that it’s important to sound like people expect us to sound. She uses the example of a funeral director, whom we would expect to sound empathetic, caring and trustworthy. She also imagined how it would sound if actress Fran Drescher, known for her nasal voice and heavy New York accent, was the voice of Darth Vader, the one made famous by the rich baritone of James Earl Jones?
An internal focus.
Confidence comes entirely from within, explains Caroline Goyder, and breathing patterns play a vital role. Your diaphragm is the king of confidence, she says, and the center of all personal expression. Breathing from the diaphragm is both calming and an aid to authentic expression, as is knowing when to talk and when to stop talking. How we use air is the core of her ideas about projecting confidence.
We talk about this a lot, and it’s nice to see our colleagues talk about it as well. Ms. Goyder tells us that the voice is an instrument, and that we have to practice using it on a daily basis in order to finely tune it to work for us. Just as a musician can get many types of sounds out of a saxophone, you can learn to get many types of expressions and intonations from your voice.
Interestingly enough, most experts seem to agree that HOW we say something can be more important than the words themselves. Yet when most of us are planning our presentation, we focus the bulk of our time on the message, on our PowerPoint slides, and on getting our words to flow the way we want them. Sicola wonders aloud: what if we spent more time practicing use of voice and body language instead of just getting up there winging it, “hoping that it will be good enough?”
While Goyder talks about the calming role that breathing can play, another Ted Talk delivered by Austrian Till H. Gross says that we need to put ourselves into anxiety-causing situations on a regular basis to broaden our comfort zones. Gross encourages people to try things that feel uncomfortable or insecure, specifically suggesting that we lie down in the street for 30 seconds. (He literally shows photos that people around the world have taken of themselves lying horizontally on the pavement.) He explains how he felt the first time he tried it in a crowded train station, and how his body gradually calmed down once he’d done it for a while.
Rhythm and Intonation.
Sicola says that we begin to size someone up the moment they tell us their name, and she advocates a specific way to say your name — first name goes slightly up, then a slight pause, then last name goes down. Goyder says that the most powerful person in the room is the one with the most relaxed breathing pattern, telling us that the inhale is for thinking, and the exhale is for speaking.
Credibility and Authenticity.
We regularly hear that this is an area in which our current crop of presidential candidates struggle. To project confidence, it’s important to come off as believable and credible. There are many factors that go into this. Scott Rouse, who has a background in advanced interrogation training, shows us how we can tell the difference between a forced smile and a real smile. Ms. Sicola talks about expressing the emotions that match the words we are using—sounding excited if we say that something is exciting, for example. As Ms. Thatcher learned, being a leader meant sounding like one.
Allan Pease talks about the ways that the position of your hands makes a huge difference in projecting confidence, focusing first on the handshake as a means of personal interaction. Then, he does an exercise using the palms of his hands to show how subtle changes can be perceived differently, giving out directions with his palms up (preferred), palms down (seen as more directive), and fingers pointed (seen as more authoritative.)
Pease also talks about the gesture of bringing the fingertips of your hands together into a steeple-type gesture as a way to both feel more confident and project more confidence. We’ve never been a fan of that gesture here at EMS, and we typically discourage it (since no one uses it UNLESS they’re presenting,) but it seems to work for him.
Rouse, however, tells us that there are no absolutes in body language, saying that we have to listen with our ears, with our eyes, with our heart and with our gut to really get an accurate read on body language. The title of his talk—How to Kill Your Body Language Frankenstein
—suggests that we may have learned to misread many gestures and movements, and that we need to relearn what they mean.
We invite you to watch these videos yourself and share any ideas you find that seem to hit the mark for you.
Laura Sicola, TedxPenn, June 2014
Want to Sound Like a Leader? Start by Saying Your Name Right
Caroline Goyder, TedxBrixton, Nov. 2014
The Surprising Secret to Speaking with Confidence
Allan Pease, TedxMacquarie University, Oct 2013
Body Language: The Power is in the Palm of your Hands
Scott Rouse, TedxNashville, April 2014
How to Kill your Body Language Frankenstein and Inspire the Villagers
Till H. Gross, TedxDonauinsel, Oct. 2014
How to Become More Confident -- Lay Down on the Street for 30 seconds