Gaining confidence through our body
As well as psychology we can also gain confidence through our physicality.
There are five core elements of gaining confidence in public speaking:
- Body language
An audience will make conclusions about you on the basis of our body language.
But our physical behaviour doesn’t just affect perceptions of us; it also influences how we perceive ourselves. We can take control of this to make us feel more fearless. We do this through using physical primers.
When we feel confident and powerful, we naturally expand our body; when we feel insecure and powerless, we slump. We achieve greater confidence by taking up more space; this can be done through;
- Welcoming posture; opening our shoulders out
- Strong gait with a straight back
- Taking a wider standing stance with firm placing of the feet
- Head held high
- Warm engaging smile
- Try not to fold your arms or cover your body – it closes you off from the audience and reduces your confidence
So by mimicking a powerful stance, such as standing tall with our hands raised above our head in a victory pose for two minutes before our public speaking, we can alter our hormone levels and feel more powerful. Positive postures like these help condition our brain to being in a confident mind set
Exercise: Before public speaking, employ this two-minute ‘power pose’ to help us configure our brains to feeling positive.
- Eye contact
Making eye contact is a very simple and very powerful tool for appearing confident. Often when we’re out in public we get used to avoiding eye contact with people, as this can make us appear too direct. But when speaking in public we want to harness that – we want to train ourselves to hold people’s gaze.
Keep our eye contact focussed. Tip: We must think of our eyes as lasers – by the end of the pitch everyone’s retinas should be burned off.
Remember to play all corners of the room, and make direct eye contact with individuals as much as possible. We want to treat the audience as one single group but also make that personal eye contact with separate people.
Warmth is very important for developing a connection with an audience and appearing confident. If we come across as arrogant, nervous or dismissive then the connection is much harder to make. Warmth makes us appear much more comfortable in our own skin.
What does warmth look like?
This can include smiling, laughing, open body language, and engaged eye contact.
It’s important to note is that you can’t fake warmth. Human beings are very good at spotting inauthentic warmth. When you aren’t feeling warm towards an audience you cannot help but show that in micro-expressions in your face – particularly your body language and general demeanour.
So, if we want to be warm towards someone, we must think thoughts that underlie that warmth.
We want to think in our heads: the audience want me to do well. They are my friends. They are interested in what I’ve got to say, and I can’t wait to share my brilliant work with them.
Confident performers change the emotional state of the audience they are performing to. And they do that by injecting energy into the room. This makes an audience sit up and take notice off a performer. We feel them lean into what we’re talking about.
How do we create energy?
Firstly through the performance onstage, but we can also get the audience to do something physical and/or verbal. We must ask ourselves these questions:
Can we break the fourth wall and engage the audience directly? Change it from a one way travel, to a dynamic conversation?
Voice is so important when appearing confident to an audience. Here are a few simple tips to having a confident sound:
Be careful not to rush
Remember to speak clearly. Often when we’re nervous in public speaking we rush through our words. Instead we want to speak calmly and at a pace we’re in control of.
Vary the pace
We must try to use light and shade in our voice, and avoid talking in monotone. Be animated – make sure that energy comes through in our voice. By directing it upwards through our chest and outwards towards the audience we’ll have more authority.
Control our breathing
Breath from the diaphragm at the bottom of our chest cavity rather than the top of our lungs. That will allow us to take the maximum amount of oxygen into our body, which will help energise us and calm any nerves.
We can use silence and pausing
Silence isn’t just the absence of saying anything. Silence and pauses are powerful tools for boosting your material and ultimately appearing more confident.
Ultimately we are in control of your voice – we can go fast, slow, loud or quiet but we must be in control of it, just like everything else. If the audience feel we are in control then we can appear more confident.
Just as we include body warms-ups before public speaking, we can also use vocal and breathing warm-ups.
Exercise 1: Use the out breath to sound each of the vowels in turn. Let each go without force, flowing smoothly from your relaxed throat. For example:
- ‘A’ is going to become ahhhhhhh… as in ‘are’
- ‘E’ is Eeeeeeeeeeeee… as in ‘easy’
- ‘I’ is Iiiiiiii… as in ‘eye’
- ‘O’ is Ooooooo…as in ‘Oh’
Now try the consonants. Go through the alphabet.
Exercise 2: Hum on one note on one out breath feeling the resonance vibrate. Extend the hum to sliding up and down a scale without strain.
Exercise 3: This will help focus on your breathing. Breathing exercises help achieve a state of calm and focus.
- Stand with your feet a comfortable shoulder width apart.
- Consciously release and relax your shoulders.
- If you’re holding your stomach in, let it go. Place your hands on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Count slowly. As you inhale feel your belly expand as your diaphragm moves downwards to make space in your lungs for air.
- Breathe out through your mouth to the count of five and now feel your belly move inward as your diaphragm moves upwards to expel the breath.
- Do several rounds of inhale and exhale while making sure you keep your shoulders, stomach and legs relaxed. Increase the count to six or eight if you wish.
Exercise 4: Pull a variety of over the top funny faces in the mirror. You might feel silly but it relaxes your facial muscles and allows you to sell your genuine self in front of others.
Once you’ve mastered these techniques, our article on how to speak with authority is a great place to look for more ways to improve your public speaking.