How to Maximise Your Speaking Confidence

There was a time, not all that long ago, where if you’d asked me to get up in front of a crowd of people and speak, I would have politely replied with two words (I’ll let you work it out for yourselves). ‘But, what will people think of me?’, in fact, ‘I don’t want them to think of me, because I’m sure that whatever they think it will be along the lines of, ‘what on earth is she talking about, she knows nothing’’.

Oh, good old imposter syndrome. Yes, I’m a trained actress.. Give me someone else’s words and I’d be away with the fairies because, quite simply, they’re not my words. But if you’d asked me to speak my own? Nah, you’re alright.

Yes, I still get plagued with it now. Every time I speak at an event, go to a networking ‘do’ (shudder), or work with new clients, I have that wonderful little voice in my head that tells me, once again, that I know nothing and ‘why should anyone want to listen to me?’. Joy.

But (and this is a big ‘but’, like the biggest of big) – I’ve found ways that help me tackle that voice in my head, ways that make it look like I’m confident on the outside, even if on the inside I’m still absolutely bricking it.

A few weeks ago I went to friend’s birthday where I only knew the birthday girl herself. Of course she’s going to be talking to everyone and not spending all her time with me (cue Amy the introvert). But even there I was able to take some of these tools and use them to talk to her other friends that I didn’t know (gasp) in a somewhat loud and trendy pub in the middle of South West London.

So whether I’m in a pub trying to persuade someone that they definitely want the salt and vinegar crisps over the cheese and onion or whether I’m on stage presenting at an event, if Amy the introvert strikes there are a few little changes I can make to appear more courageous than I’m actually feeling.

1) Breathe.

Ah yes, that important life force that keeps us alive, yet sometimes we end up forgetting to do. I bang on about it, but it is so important. Trying to breathe into my diaphragm (my stomach going out as I breathe in and it going back as I breathe out) really helps to settle those nerves as opposed to breathing into my chest which only exacerbates it. Breathe helps to ground my body and voice too – when I’m connected to my breathe, I tend to be more physically and vocally relaxed.

2) Body Language.

When Amy the introvert comes out to play, it’s time for ‘acting small’ body language to go away. In all seriousness, when we get scared or frightened we tend to physically protect ourselves. Think crossing arms and/or legs or hands in pockets. It’s a perfectly natural thing to do, but actually it’s really useful to fight that urge and keep our feet and hands where people can see them!

3) Connection & Passion.

We’ve all been that person, forced into polite conversation about how cold the weather has got again and how the snacks are not up to scratch. That feeling that you get where you’re thinking, ‘please don’t let this sentence end because I don’t know what to say to you next’. That squirming, cringey feeling inside where we just want to run away. I’ve found it really useful to make sure that I’m talking about something I actually want to speak about. Whether I’m speaking to someone else or in front of an audience, it’s got to be aligned with me and how I perceive the world before I can start sharing with other people. Otherwise they’re going to pick up subtle hints that I couldn’t really give two figs about what I’m saying and I’m simply not going to engage them in the way I want to.

If you’re stuck in a conversation, think of asking them if they’ve seen the TV show you’re obsessed with at the moment or if they’ve been to your favourite restaurant. Honestly, it’s amazing how people light up and how a connection is made as soon as we start talking about something real.

4) Remember, nerves are natural!

This is sometimes the hardest one to grasp and keep hold of in the moment. Actually realising that the feeling in the pit of my stomach and the faster beating of my heart are ok to have. They show that I care. That’s how I know that I’m passionate about what I’m doing or speaking on. That’s where the breath work comes in to help slow the heart rate down, relax the body and open out those pesky hands and feet. Where we connect with those around us.

Sounds simple, but these things took me a while to put to use and get comfortable with doing. Now it’s become second nature, but I still have times when I revert to my old self. Ultimately, it’s worth trying them out, one by one and seeing what works and what doesn’t for you.

To share how we perceive the world, to let others in and allow them understand what we think and feel and to share what makes us most inspired and excited is a gift. We all have the magic within us to do so. It’s about finding the right key for us to unlock it.

Amy Leighton