Building confidence in yourself can be a huge personal challenge. It's frustrating, demoralizing and lot of other counterproductive feelings. Sometimes I'll get a student who does amazing scene work, but then look sheepish and defeated, as if he just disappointed everyone. I then point out all of the good things and remind him to "put it in the win column!"
Similarly, sometimes I lead a meeting or give a presentation and feel like it didn't go as I expected, even though colleagues are thanking me for a job well done. I say, “I’m glad that’s over,” but what I should be doing is acknowledging all of the positive feedback and saying, “That was a success!” You can’t really build up your confidence – to go from less sure of yourself to more sure of yourself – unless you recognize your successes when you have them.
In public speaking, you can think “Gulp, everyone is looking at me!”
Or, you can think of your center seat at a table, the podium or where ever, as a place of power, of knowledge and respect. After all, they want something from you.
To help reinforce this idea of "owning your space," in my workshops I use a picture of the Chinese dragon, Lung. Lung traditionally symbolizes power and fearlessness. I place it on the floor at the head of the room and ask people to “Step up to the dragon’s perch.” If you think of it as a place of courage and poise, you will become more confident over time.
You’ll have a great meeting or presentation and put it in the win column!
Being nice to yourself can be hard. How many times have you left a meeting or difficult conversation thinking, “Ugh, I could have done better!” If you’re a human like I am – go humans! – probably often.
Of course, being aware of one’s weaknesses is the first step to self-improvement, but focusing on them can force you into a downward spiral of shame. It’s the difference between “I can do that better,” and “I can do that better...I’m bad at my job...I’m bad at everything! I’m the worst! I’m going to eat a pint of ice cream!”
Actors and writers are often called their “own worst critic.” That makes sense. We invest a lot of time and emotional energy into creating something deeply personal and then send it out into the world to be judged. If we don’t think it’s perfect we see it as a reflection of our own inadequacies. The problem is that we don’t give the other voice in our head – the competent one who just created brilliant art – equal time at the microphone.
Nataly Kogan from Happier Inc. calls it a “crisis of confidence.” Remember Don Music from the classic Sesame Street sketch? He’ll never get it. Never!
Research professor at the University of Huston Graduate College of Social Work, Brene Brown, explains in her TED talk there are several things you can do to break the dead-weight of self-inflicted criticism. One of the most powerful is talking to yourself the way you would a friend.
If she feels she messed up in a meeting, you wouldn't say “You’re the worst!" A kinder friend would help separate the emotion from the facts. “Yes, you showed the wrong slide at the wrong time, but you gave a thoughtful and knowledgeable presentation and everyone loved it!”
We all make mistakes, or think we make mistakes. To avoid them from defeating our self-confidence we must listen to the part of us that responds to disappointment with empathy, not defeat.
Speaking a foreign language can be incredibly difficult. But I’ve worked with many English-speaking clients who face the same challenges non-native speakers do. Like speaking too quickly, navigating unfamiliar words, and lacking the confidence to deliver their message with style and poise. Dr. Seuss can help with that!
Maryam, a computer science post doc at MIT, was concerned she was talking too fast. She felt that while presenting scientific papers to her peers some concepts were getting lost in her accent.
Her primary language is Farsi. When we sat down to look at her speech patterns, I assured her she had already mastered the technicalities of the English language. The next step was to face the same challenges everyone does who wishes to deliver information with confidence, clarity and strong personal presentation. Slow down, articulate, and as a college theater coach once told me, “stand there and mean it.”
This is good advice for all kinds of speaking situations.
To slow Maryam down we read “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” by Dr. Seuss and walked through the unfamiliar language. Reading the wibbley-wobbely words forced her to recognize her pace and deliver each thought with clarity.
On the first day we made a recording of her reading from a technical textbook so she could hear what her presentations sounded like. At later sessions we ran exercises that focused on breathing, diction, volume and pace. We regularly replayed the first recording to track her progress.
After our last week of working together she delivered a paper at a science symposium and got glowing reports from colleagues who praised her improvement.
It’s comforting to know that what might seem like an intimidating problem – shuffling your native language around the idiosyncrasies of the English language – can be addressed using the same techniques everyone can benefit from. Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?