I’ve seen it over and over again: the person in the office with self-confidence is the one that gets the plum assignments. The promotions. The raises. The recognition. The others, who sit back quietly, get left behind (and sometimes resent it).
For a long time, I was one of the resentful folks. I had a hard time speaking up in group situations and I hated presenting. The first time I had to give a major presentation to a group and interact with them, I went to the bathroom repeatedly and threw up until I was dry heaving because I was so nervous and so unconfident.
What I’ve learned over time is that the person that appears confident is often not as confident as they appear. They just simply do a few things well. They walk in a way that appears confident. Their eyes seem alert. They stand tall. They have a faint appeal that you can’t quite put your finger on. You feel fine talking to them, but not to most people.
They’re not wired differently than you. They just do a few clever things.
Over time, I’ve figured out how to make many of those things quite natural for me – and most of the techniques I use are somewhat unusual. Here are ten of them. Each of them will help if you have problems with appearing confident, as I sometimes do.
1. Pick a spot.
When you first walk into a room, look around with your head completely level. Find a spot in the room that’s exactly at your eye level. It can be something on the wall, an object hanging from the ceiling, or something else. Pick something you’ll find visually interesting, if you can find anything. Once you’ve found your spot, remember it. Then, whenever you’re nervous, sweep your eyes to that spot.
What this does is it allows you to keep your nervous tic of staring at the floor or looking away from someone – something that can be very hard for an introvert to break – and redirect it in a bit of an optical illusion. By keeping your eyes up at eye level – which they will be if you look at that object – you appear to be looking at another person. That is a subtle cue of confidence – you’re looking for others, thus you must be socially accepted.
Obviously, you shouldn’t stare at the object, but knowing it’s there and looking at it from time to time when you’re nervous is a vast improvement over casting your eyes down, which signals a complete lack of confidence.
2. Improve your posture with duct tape.
Yes, duct tape. Masking tape or electrical tape or even Scotch tape will work, too. You’ll need a friend or a spouse with this.
Stand up as straight as you can, with your back vertical and your arms at your sides, relaxed. Then, have a friend take a strip of duct tape and run a three inch strip down your back. The top of it should be on the center of one of your shoulder blades and end three inches below it. Then, that person should put a second strip, starting at the center of your other shoulder blade and going straight down for three inches. Take a third strip and apply it horizontally, connecting the tops of the strips, then a fourth strip connecting the bottoms of the vertical strips. You should have a rectangle on your back, nearly square in shape.
Here’s the thing. As you go through your day, every time you attempt to slouch, that tape will tug at your skin, resisting a poor change in posture. It’s not painful (unless you have excessive hair back there), but it is enough of a physical reminder to cause you to naturally keep a good posture.
This works great before a big meeting, but it also works great for training by doing it every day for a few weeks. You’ll naturally exercise some muscles in your back, making them stronger, and allow other muscles to relax and slightly weaken. What will happen is that your muscles will begin to find that a position of good posture is the natural one and that’s how you’ll begin to sit and stand.
Good posture gives the appearance of confidence, and this is a great little way to create that appearance.
3. Carry a flask – whether you drink or not.
I was at a conference chatting with a really solid presenter from Oracle whose name I can’t recall right now – let’s call him “Jim.” After a really great presentation, I started chatting with Jim and discovered that we knew a few people in common, so after the chat, we agreed to go get a drink together.
On the way, we both needed to stop to use the restroom. When I was finished, I walked out to see Jim taking a big slug out of a flask he had pulled out of his front pocket. I jokingly said, “Whoa, cowboy! Getting an early start?” He smiled, swished the liquid around in his mouth for a minute, then spit out some blue stuff. He grinned and said, “Listerine.”
It was a trick of his. Whenever he was about to meet with some people, he’d head to the bathroom, take a slug out of his flask, swish it around for a bit, then spit it out. He’d follow it with a bit of water to get any bad taste out, then look in the mirror to make sure there wasn’t any food in his teeth.
Doing that simple routine made him feel better. He could be sure his breath didn’t smell at all, his mouth felt squeaky clean, and he was also confident there was no food on his face or in his teeth. All around, it really gave his confidence a bump.
Good advice. I actually started just keeping a travel bottle of Listerine with me, but this is a great use for a flask since they’re designed to fit well in a pocket.
4. Go for a thirty minute fast walk three times a week.
Walking improves your health. We all know it – and it’s absolutely true. Thirty minutes walking instead of watching a television show will help you lose weight, feel better, and all that.
But it has an extra confidence booster in it as well.
If you make an effort to walk as fast as you can on your walks, the speed of your natural, normal walk will increase, too. It’ll feel more natural for you to go faster, so you will. You’ll strengthen all the appropriate muscles and, soon, the way you walk across a room will look much more confident than before without any conscious effort on your part.
5. Memorize a person’s eye color with one extra adjective.
I have a hard time looking people in the eye. Mostly, it’s because my eyes sometimes have problems focusing well, especially in the evening, but there’s also an aspect of low confidence there, too.
I’ve found a solution that works well in both regards. It gives me a reason to look people in the eye on a regular basis (making me appear confident) but not too much (making me appear creepy).
All I do is this. When I first meet a person, I look into their eyes until I can describe their eye color with one noun and at least one descriptive adjective. Their eyes are “cloudy blue.” Their eyes are “mocha brown.” Once I’ve figured it out, I’m free to look away.
Then, if I can’t recall immediately their eye color, I know I should look back. In practice, this means that I tend to look at their eyes directly several times early on in our conversation, but not too much at one shot. Instead, I alternate it with the first trick, swiveling my eyes to an object at eye level in the room.
What does this do? It creates an impression that I’m interested in what they’re saying and also fully engaged in the larger event – very confident – when in truth I’m not confident at all.
6. Keep a chamomile tea bag in your wallet.
Chamomile tea is an effective natural relaxant. It is the single best natural way I’ve found to calm myself down in any situation that makes me nervous. If I feel awkward, I’ll just find some hot water, put it in a cup, dunk in a bag of chamomile tea, let it steep for a couple minutes, then drink it down. Calmness washes over me.
It really helps with appearing confident, too. I tend to get quite nervous during social events – and it shows. I talk too fast, look away, and generally hide from conversation. In short, I need to calm down. When I’m calm, my speech gets a bit slower, I’m less nervous around other people, and I’m more willing to engage others – all signs of confidence.
Chamomile is a natural calming agent that’s pretty much socially acceptable in any situation, so it’s a great “secret weapon” to have in your pocket.
7. “Hi, I’m Trent Hamm.” Period.
Whenever I would introduce myself to people, I often found myself saying things like, “Hi, I’m Trent Hamm and I work on this project and I wrote this document” or something to that effect. In my nervousness, I felt the need to include what amounted to a short resume with my name.
I believed at the time that it would do a good job of laying out who I was to people, but what it actually does is shows that you’re not confident already in who you are. If the other person doesn’t know who you are, they’ll either ask for information – or they’ll hold it in and believe they should know who you are. In either case, you seem more intriguing and in control.
So, next time you introduce yourself, stop with your name. At the very least, it opens the door to more conversation.
8. Hit Google News.
Whenever I enter a group, I usually stop and check the news to see if any major events have occurred really recently. This gives me something to break the ice with almost every time – I can simply use a major news event or a popular culture event to open with.
I usually read the top stories and see if there’s anything of strong general interest there. If it’s a slow news day, I’ll check the entertainment and sports news. In some groups, I’ll check other news sections, too – technology works well in some groups, and business and money news works well in other groups. If I see something interesting but I don’t understand a big piece of it, I take another few seconds and hit Wikipedia to give myself enough context that I’m not clueless.
Having a current event or two in my head gives me something to say when I’m standing there wondering what on earth I should be talking about. Quite often, the person who comes up with conversation topics is often the person who comes off as confident, as many other people are often standing around just as nervously.
9. Take five deep breaths.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a situation or you’re about to step out into a room where you have to start speaking very quickly, just pause for a moment and take five deep breaths.
The intake of a lot of oxygen does several little things to your biochemistry, all of which are helpful. It lowers blood pressure. It increases alertness. It reduces anxiety. In short, it’s a very simple thing that helps in almost any situation that makes you nervous.
I find that any time I know I’m going to be speaking soon, I do this. It always helps, without fail – I feel better right after doing it.
10. When in doubt, ask a question.
So, your breath smells good. Your posture is good. You naturally walk with confidence and introduce yourself with confidence. You do a bit of small talk with current events. Then….
The best thing you can possibly do is lead the conversation. The best way to do that is to simply ask a question and then listen to the response. Ask them what they do. Ask them about their biggest project. Ask them what they think of the meeting, or of the last speaker. Ask them what hotel they’re staying at and if they like it.
Then, listen to what they say. Almost always, you can follow up on something there. You can relate your own experience or thoughts. You can ask another question. You can dig into information that you actually want to know more about.
Line this up with the other techniques (the eye technique and good posture) and you’ll look confident no matter how you feel inside.