You won’t seal that deal with an investor or client if you don’t come across as confident – but if you don’t feel it, you can fake it
Confidence can be a fragile thing, even for the best of us – just ask any top sportsman who’s struggling for form. A lack of it can put a crimp on every aspect of life, but especially in business, where you’re expected to wow potential clients and investors regardless of how you really feel inside. But there’s good news – you can pretend to be confident, and if you get it right, no one will know that you’re not. ‘In the short term, faking confidence is the best way of displaying confidence,’ psychologist Graham W Price tells RISING. ‘Firstly, it helps you to achieve a better result. Secondly, the more you fake confidence the more you feel it.’
Anxiety ignores rational thinking – but it does take notice of behaviour
1. Act The Part Visual and verbal cues are vitally important for projecting confidence. You may not even be aware you’re getting them wrong, but a simple mental checklist can make sure you get them right – and taken together they’re an instant fix. Visually, you want to send out signals that you’re at ease with the situation. Sit or stand up straight, without being stiff, keep an open stance (so no crossed arms or legs), make eye contact and remember to smile. Dress smart but be comfortable, and wear black if you’re likely to sweat. Verbally, you need to project your voice without shouting and concentrate on speaking in an even tone, without any cracks in your voice. ‘We don’t call it faking it,’ says Price. ‘I prefer the term “acting as if”, and all of these techniques are vitally important parts of the act. But the phrase “fake it to make it” is relevant, because if you fake it well enough you’ll “make it”, whether that’s getting a big presentation across right or sealing an important deal.’
2. Rehearse Key Meetings In Your Head It is possible to build confidence over time – more on that in a minute – but in the short term there are things you can do to clear your head and instil some positivity into your brain. Visualisation is as important in business as it is, famously, in sport, and all you have to do is find a quiet spot, close your eyes and spend five to ten minutes playing through what’s about to happen, in your head. ‘Visualise being confident, impressing people and the result of that – people being impressed,’ says Price. ‘You can also train your brain to recall your visualisation using anchoring: practise connecting your thumb with your forefinger while visualising and then repeat that to remind yourself of the positive outcome when you need confidence.’
It’s OK to feel nervous – you just have to be able to accept that this is how you’re feeling
3. Wave ’Em Like You Just Don’t Care ‘Use power gestures,’ Price says. By this he means things like punching the air, raising your arms and clenching your fists – things that will get you pumped before you’re due to perform. ‘These aren’t things you’d do in public, unless you’re a sportsman warming up or trying to get a crowd behind you. But it’s at least as effective as visualisation, if not more so. Unconscious beliefs drive anxiety. As a result, anxiety pays no attention whatsoever to cognition – it ignores rational thinking – but it does take notice of behaviour.’ Meditation can also help if you practise it regularly, because clearing your mind of all conscious thought can help combat nerves – the enemy of confidence.
4. Answer Three Simple Questions Nerves lead to stress and stress inhibits performance in big meetings or when presenting on a stage. But do you know the best way to combat nerves, stress and anxiety? Accept them. ‘It’s very powerful to act confident while accepting the feelings that counter confidence,’ says Price. ‘It’s OK to feel nervous – you just have to be able to accept that this is how you’re feeling. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. If you resist it, you will always feel uncomfortable, which just makes it worse. If you convince yourself it’s OK to feel this way you’re more likely to do things outside your comfort zone.’
One technique Price uses during executive coaching sessions to build confidence is to ask three simple questions about feeling uncomfortable. ‘One: is it harming me? I can guarantee you that no one in the history of the world has ever been harmed by feeling uncomfortable,’ he says. ‘Two: can I bear it? Short of extreme pain, yes you can bear it. So three, in that case: if it’s not harming you and you can bear it, what exactly is the problem?’
5. Face Your Fears In the short term you can fake it, but growing in confidence over time is about making a plan, stepping outside of your comfort zone and making it a habit. ‘One approach is to join Toastmasters and learn to speak in public,’ says Price. ‘Most people think, “I couldn’t do that,” but actually you can, and if you’re brave and break through barriers it gets easier the more you do it.’
This comes back to the fact that stress and anxiety ignore conscious thought. ‘Developing confidence is better achieved through behaviour than it is through techniques such as neuro-linguistic programming, which is all about thought,’ Price adds. ‘As an example, if you have a phobia of dogs you can do all the work in the world on developing a mindset to overcome that phobia, but it won’t make a scrap of difference. The only way to overcome that fear is to walk past a dog.’
WHAT NEXT? Graham W Price is an executive coach as well as a psychologist, and he can help you – for free – if you watch his webinar on being more confident, motivated and successful.