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How to Sound More Confident

January 17, 2012

I have been coaching one of our managers lately on how to appear more confident in front of groups.

I am uniquely qualified to coach him because I am oh-so-familiar with self-confidence issues, as they played out many times in my early career. I would freeze up, quake in my boots, get dry mouth, gastric problems – you name it. But somehow by the grace of God I was able to overcome it.

“But how, Brad?” you ask, with quivering lips. “How? How? How?”

My greatest lesson in confidence came from a boss named Jill.

Jill was a commanding presence – over six feet tall, with jet black hair and an extremely outgoing personality. You could practically hear theme music playing as she breezed down the hallways, everyone’s eyes drawn to her fluid figure. But her most magnetic feature was the way she spoke. With great facility, Jill could master any business conversation utilizing  a curated portfolio of the latest management buzzwords and slang. It made her sound smart and justified, and just condescending enough to make you admire her.

After working with her for a few weeks, I naturally began to mimic Jill, using the same cutting-edge acronyms and management jargon while projecting a newfound commanding tone of voice:

“Well of course Bob didn’t close the deal! At the end of the day his freakin’ RFP wasn’t actionable and corporate just didn’t have the bandwidth to juice the numbers enough to bounce the dead cat.”

Really, it was the same mundane sales cycles I was talking about, but what excitement I could now bring to the hallway conversations! My co-workers started looking at me differently, as if I suddenly knew what I was talking about.

Ironically, my confidence began to build as I realized that I really did know something worth speaking out about, and soon my inner confidence caught up to my external facade.

If you are a leader in any capacity, then it is your obligation to engender confidence from your team. Here are four quick tips on getting there fast:

1. PROJECT YOUR VOICE. I was at a restaurant recently where the young waitress spoke with this soft, high-pitched voice, like Mickey Mouse. “Would you like a salad with that?” she asked in her squeaky falsetto. I wanted to throw a roll at her for allowing herself to behaving so timorously in public, when I knew darn well there was a fully-grown woman’s voice in there somewhere. No one respects a whisperer or a mumbler. If you want to be taken seriously, open your mouth and enunciate every word. Take voice lessons, or theatre, if you have to, or stand in an empty auditorium and practice speaking to the wide open space.

2. Stand up straight and tall. Just like your mother said, your body language and posture reflects how you think of yourself. Plus, you’ll look taller.

3. Maintain eye contact. Simple, but essential for making people believe in you. Don’t keep looking down at your paper, or off to the wall. Look people in the eye while you speak to them, as if you really believe what you are saying. They’ll start believing you too.

4. Keep up the energy in the room. You don’t have to be a charismatic personality to maintain a high stream of energy. You can offer something as simple as acknowledging people for jobs well done, and starting a round of applause. Everyone appreciates being appreciated, and it keeps up the excitement.

By the way, Jill was fired after a few months. It was determined that she would not be replaced, so I moved into her office. No one had promoted me, but it just seemed appropriate, with my newfound confidence and all. I believe that was a turning point in my career.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2012 7:39 am

    Bradley, thanks for this post! I like your advice- simple but very effective. I had someone that I told, “you look like a deer in the headlights during meetings.” Maybe I will recommend your post to her!

  2. Phil permalink
    January 17, 2012 8:18 am

    Good post, Brad. I, too, had a Jill who left an indelible mark on my management style early on. She was short and blonde, but persuasive and commanding all the same. I always recall thinking that if she were a man, she would have been perceived as highly effective and appropriately assertive. In the early 1980’s however, many described her using an unflattering 5 letter word starting with a “B.” Always struck me as unfair. Glad that times have changed!

  3. January 17, 2012 8:31 am

    Projecting your voice and clearly enunciating is KEY! I am right there with you, Bradley! It makes ALL the difference!

  4. January 17, 2012 8:40 am

    Good stuff. I sort of wish you’d thrown the roll, though. 🙂

  5. January 17, 2012 10:03 am

    I love number one, and something that I have been working on. Thanks for the great advice.

  6. Susan DiMickele permalink
    January 17, 2012 10:11 am

    Simple yet powerful advice. I’m going to send this around to a few members oft team. Jill sounds like quite a character. She’ll probably never know how much she inspired you (in fact, she probably never intended to inspire you!)

  7. January 17, 2012 12:04 pm

    I’m with Nancy – wish you’d thrown the roll. And now I’m terribly worried about Jill. Did she ever get another job? Is she still radiating self-confidence after being sacked? Wowza, what an ending.

    But that voice thing? Yes, that is key. And another good place to learn how to do it physically is to be a choral singer – lots of what I learned about singing well carried over into public speaking/preaching. Stand tall, breathe from the diaphragm to support the tone, look to the back of the room (and also maintain eye contact, of course :>) and let it fly. Good advice, Bradley. Thanks.

    • January 18, 2012 6:01 am

      Oh, I’m sure Jill is doing just fine. She was always one to land on her feet.

      Good idea on the singing lessons. 🙂

  8. January 17, 2012 3:47 pm

    Moving into her office? Really???? Now that’s overconfidence!

    • January 17, 2012 4:26 pm

      I was amazed at the same thing. I read it two or three times to make sure I got it right.
      Kudos to you, Bradley. That took cajones! Pretty awesome actually. 🙂

    • January 18, 2012 6:00 am

      So, I look back on this and shake my head. What was I thinking, moving into that office? And it was a *corner* office! Much of that move had to do with the particular environment of this business, the fact that my whole department had been fired along with Jill (everyone except me) and that I was kind of left alone for a while by my new boss to do my thing… I didn’t think anyone would care. And they didn’t.

      A few months later I got consolidated into another department and moved upstairs to a far inferior office. But I had definitely made my mark there.

  9. January 17, 2012 4:27 pm

    Posture and eye contact are so key. And the amazing thing is, when you start to sound and act more confident, you’ll actually turn into a more confident person.

  10. January 17, 2012 5:30 pm

    seeing eye to eye
    brings connection

  11. January 18, 2012 12:48 am

    This is spot on. I used to be uneasy when I came to public speaking. What I found out was the more I put my self into situations where I had to convey my message to get what I wanted the better I felt about doing it. The old saying goes practice makes perfect.

  12. January 18, 2012 11:22 am

    i am sure that i would be served up and eaten alive in the business world. however, i am totally in favor of eye contact.

  13. January 18, 2012 7:55 pm

    Bradley,

    Just recently found your blog. Thanks for this post, and your other posts. You make some great points about sounding confident. Those are also very applicable to preaching, which I’m always trying to improve at.
    Peace!

    • January 5, 2013 3:30 am

      Great post, thx for sharing

  14. January 21, 2012 1:03 am

    Learning to speak is so important, and so many people don’t do it. When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, I had a stammering problem – when it came time to read out loud in class, the kids were brutal! So, I went home and got out 2 books, #1 – The Dr. Seuss Sleep Book and #2 – 101 Famous Poems. I read each one every night, deliberately and slowly pronouncing each word until I could read them with ease (It took about 2 years for me to master “the Bells” by E.A. Poe, but Moose Juice being mixed with Goose Juice and the Hoop Soup Snoop Group came sooner). Even in non-leadership areas, being able to talk, stand straight, maintain eye contact and be an encouraging presence are important.
    Thanks for the great post, and yes, my vote is with the others, next time throw the roll…and maybe the plate, too.

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