“Can you make me a confident speaker?”  It’s the question we get here at MillsWyck Communications more than any other.  And the answer we give is surprising to most In Search of Confidencepeople.

No.  Not according to Webster’s definition I expect you believe.  You want us to change your feelings.

But the answer is a resounding “Yes!” according to our (and Dictionary.com‘s) definition. (side note: did you know that dictionaries differ on their definitions”?!)

People (and Webster) associate confidence with feelings.  They want to feel good – probably without anxiety – about an upcoming performance.

But we can’t change your feelings.  Feelings are complex and internal.  Your reaction to circumstances is beyond our control.  Plus, I think most people will have anxiety regardless of their preparation or skill.  Many professionals who perform for a living (athletes, actors, and maybe even highly successful sales professionals) feel anxiety and nervousness long after they obtain competent skill.

But the definition of confidence that I ascribe to comes from its root: com fidere = full trust. Faith.  Belief.  Quite different from just a feeling.

Can we get you to a point where you will never be nervous?  Doubtful.  But we CAN get you to a place where you have full trust (faith) in your abilities to perform and do what is required to excel at speaking in public.

The core of the change is the difference between a true faith in abilities that have been proven and an emotional state that is likely based on events and comments that are not fully versed in truth (I had one client who avoided every speaking opportunity from the 4th grade until well into his 50s based on a very insensitive and hurtful comment by a teacher during an oral presentation in grade school).

How then do we obtain this full trust and faith?  You’ve got to prove it to yourself in three steps:

  1. Commit to pursuing it.  I’m amazed at the number of people who have put off learning to speak for decades.  Many never get around to it.  The attitude and desire to overcome the fear is the greatest variable in actually becoming confident
  2. Learn how to speak well.  It’s hard to have full trust in your abilities if you don’t know what is expected.  If Tom Brady didn’t know their playbook thoroughly, they’d not be very confident as they received the center snap, would they?
  3. Do it.  There is no substitute for concentrated practice (see last month’s newsletter!).  You don’t learn to drive a car, play golf, become a parent, or speak well by reading alone.  You have to put the knowledge to practice, review your behaviors, and make corrections.

Commit. Learn.  Do.  Then, usually long before you expect it, you realize that your approach and training have prepared you for the moment.  That client who had avoided speaking for decades spent three sessions preparing for a huge meeting and a 10-minute speaking part.  Now equipped with the knowledge of exactly what to do and several iterations of good practice under his belt, this previously-intimidated speaker responded after the event, “I have to say, I was probably the best speaker there.”

Now THAT’s true confidence.

This article was published in the February 2015 edition of our monthly speaking tips newsletter, Communication Matters.  Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today!  

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