As the world begins to open up more consistently, opportunities to stand up in front of a group of people to deliver a presentation are increasing. For many, this is not a perk. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 73% of the population has glossophobia, or public speaking anxiety.
The butterflies in our stomach and sweaty palms can crop up when we’re standing in front of a crowd to give a speech, or when we’re at the head of a table about to make a pitch to a conference room of executives. Our nerves may even be a factor when we’re meeting one-on-one for a job interview or with a supervisor for our annual review. Regardless of the occasion, a sense of insecurity and anxiety can hold us back from performing at our best. Here’s the good news, though: we can act more confident than we are and take back control of the moment.
Body language matters. When we feel anxious or lack confidence, our posture shifts to help us hide or pull back. We slouch. We dip our chins down. We may even hold our arms across our chest in a move that conveys we’re closed off. If you want to look confident, you’ve got to hold a confident posture.
Stand straight. Push your shoulders back. Chin up. You won’t just look more confident, by the way, you will be more confident. A study published in Health Psychology found that participants that adopted a posture of confidence tended to report higher self-esteem, better moods, and lower fear than their slumped counterparts.
Make Eye Contact
You don’t need to stare down the person you’re speaking to the entire time. That can seem forced, and frankly, it can be a little uncomfortable for both of you. You do, however, want to make eye contact. Experts suggest an 80/20 rule: make and maintain eye contact about 80% of the time. Speaking in front of a group or crowd? Make (and hold) contact with multiple people in the crowd as you speak. It pulls in your audience and holds their focus – plus it makes you look confident.
Speaking too fast doesn’t say “I’m excited” as much as it says “I’m uncomfortable and I want to get this over with.” Slow down. Watch your pace and speak in a normal cadence. Breathe deeply and settle into a rhythm that allows your audience to hear and process what you have to say.
You want to be heard. Yes. That’s true. Projecting your voice to fill the room in a comfortable fashion is important. Being too quiet doesn’t just make it difficult for your audience to hear what you’ve got to say, it can make you appear nervous and insecure. On the other hand, speaking too loudly can also be a telltale sign of anxiety.
Rein in the Fidgets
Nervous energy can manifest in jittery leg bounces, pacing, hair twirling, finger tapping, and other fidgety movements. This can take some practice to overcome. Sometimes these are unconscious manifestations of our anxiety. We aren’t choosing to fidget. We’re just tapping our fingers and bouncing our leg because we have to do something with the energy our anxiety is building up within us. Practice quelling the urge to fidget. Focus on what you are saying and what you are hearing. Take deep breaths to calm and refocus yourself. Make deliberate, appropriate movements that accent your points, not distract from them.
Work The Silence
You don’t need to fill every space with sound. You don’t need to let a moment of no audible exchange kick the feelings of awkwardness and anxiety up a notch. Silence can be powerful. Let a moment of quiet settle in and give space for your audience to process what you’ve just said or to consider the question you’ve asked. Use that moment to collect your thoughts and refocus yourself.
Dress For It
Yes, you want to dress for the setting you’re going to be in. If you’re speaking in front of a room full of executives dressed in business attire, you’ll want to skip the casual look. That said, you also want to be comfortable. It’s hard to exude confidence when you’re thinking about how your shoes pinch your feet and your suit feels confining.
Wear something appropriate for the venue and that you feel good in. It’s simple, really. When we feel good about how we look, we’re more likely to show some confidence even before we begin to speak.