Four Simple Ways to Build Confidence in Yourself
Trying to prevent my legs from shaking, I walked up to the front of the class. I held a printed-out speech in my hand for comfort and then set it down on the make-shift lectern (music stand) in front. I looked around the room and saw that the class, and the teacher, were all staring at me, waiting for me to speak. I took a deep breath and then repeated from memory the speech that I had spent hours practicing. I stumbled a few times. I mixed up a few words. But after that experience, I told myself that public speaking was something that I needed to work on.
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash
Even from my first, relatively successful speech, I lacked confidence. Only after having spent 10+ years in Toastmasters, honing my public speaking skills, and exposing myself to a variety of situations (MC for a wedding, hosting parties, impromptu birthday toasts, and more), can I say that I have confidence in my public speaking skills.
Was it just a matter of giving speeches for 10 years? No, it was based on the following four strategies that I used to accelerate my learning and gain confidence.
1. Practice. Share. Fail a Lot. Get Feedback. Improve and Repeat. (a.k.a. the Agile Approach)
Like a lot of people, I had a fear of public speaking. That fear, I realized, was based on my lack of understanding of how to do it well. As a result, I joined Toastmasters. For those of you that have never attended Toastmasters, you are provided a manual, a.k.a. the Toastmaster program, that you work through at your own pace. The program has changed since, but the first manual I completed had ten speeches, with each speech focused on specific public speaking skills. For example, the first speech was all about introducing yourself. One speech was all about body language. Another speech focused on researching the topic.
My first speech was awful. My next few speeches were less awful. And the only reason those speeches were less awful was that I did not repeat the mistakes that I had made in my first speech (but I made different mistakes). I realized that I had to accept the fact that to get good at something, I had to get through enough ‘failures’. Once I made all the mistakes I could have made, and eliminated them, I then started to become ‘good’ or at least not as bad as I was before. In this case, as I had a better understanding of how to speak, my confidence grew, because now I had the tools to go into any situation and know what to do and say.
2. Learn from Others
In an environment such as Toastmasters, one of the benefits is to hear the feedback that members give to other members giving speeches. Perhaps you have a similar situation? Watch what others are doing. Then examine what you would have done differently or better. If someone else provides feedback, listen to what they have to say, and note down where their feedback was different from yours.
Hearing the feedback from other members, about other members, accelerated my public speaking skills because rather than make those same mistakes, I avoided the ones I had already heard but had not made myself. By not making those mistakes myself, my confidence never took a hit, at least specifically around those mistakes.
3. Seek out a Mentor to Help you get to the Next Level
When you have made all the mistakes you can make in your line of work, that’s when you think about getting to the next level. For me, it was about how I could take my public speaking to the next level, not just in not making mistakes (i.e., being technically proficient), but in doing specific things that will help motivate my audience to take some action (i.e., inspire and elevate my audience’s understanding)?
That answer came through several mentors I had in Toastmasters, though they never realized that they were my mentors. Remember lesson two? I watched and noted down the specific actions and words that my mentors (who were more successful speakers) were using in their speeches so that I could adopt and experiment with them in my speech.
Having a mentor that is a few years ahead of you means that you can learn from the mistakes that they have made, and learn from the successes that they have achieved, in essence, accelerating your skills and building your confidence that much quicker.
Another benefit to having a mentor is having someone trusted to provide you with feedback that you listen to, rather than ignore. Many times, our ego gets in the way of improving and building confidence. We tell ourselves that we are already great, or do not need someone to help us, but sometimes that is exactly what we need.
4. Take on New Challenges
Okay, so you have developed your skills to a level where you have the confidence to go into any situation. You learn from the mistakes of others. And you have engaged mentors to help you get to the next level.
Where do you go next?
Many Toastmasters around me would get to the highest level (Distinguished Toastmaster — the highest designation you can achieve), and then plateau. It is a lot like someone having the Project Management Professional (PMP) designation, but knowing little about managing projects. They went through the motions of getting the designation, but after achieving it, stopped learning and challenging themselves.
I never wanted to plateau, even after achieving my Distinguished Toastmaster designation, so I took risks and challenged myself all the time. I created a speech that rhymed — for context, most Toastmasters do not memorize speeches, but because this speech rhymed, I had to memorize the speech word for word. I participated in Pecha Kucha: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. Each slide would be shown for 20 seconds, and then automatically switch to the next one, which meant my speaking had to be crisp and succinct. With each challenge, I posed myself came different mistakes I had never made before, which humbled me. But each challenge also came with new skills that I had never honed before.
Essentially, I never felt that I had ‘made’ it and I continually pushed myself to make sure I was not complacent.
- Accept the fact that you may fail a lot, especially early on in the process (and be pleasantly surprised if you do not). If you make all the mistakes you can make, you are naturally going to get better not making those mistakes in the future.
- Learn from others, if possible. Much better for them to make the mistake than for you to make the mistake yourself.
- Engage a mentor to help you get to the next level. You can only learn so much by yourself.
- Take risks and continually challenge yourself so that you are not complacent. Each new mistake you make is an opportunity to improve yourself further.