Many people have told me that I exude confidence – that when I walk into a room, my presence fills the space and I captivate the attention of whomever I’m addressing. This is wonderful to know, since that means my act is working wonderfully and nobody has a clue that I’m trying desperately not to vomit. Being a self-critical introvert, I’m far more comfortable in solitude and as such, I get nauseated and panicky when I have to interact with large groups of people. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that have helped significantly.
I attended a creative arts high school, and although I wanted to study visual arts, my parents and guidance counselors convinced me to take drama instead. They believed doing so would help me develop a greater sense of self confidence, but no. No, they were wrong. What those years spent in drama classes did teach me was how to pretend to be confident: how to don symbolic masks and costumes and play roles as needed.
Since I can’t share gems of wisdom about how to become a more self-confident person (because those would be steaming piles of bullshit), I can at least offer a few tips on how to project a confident appearance, even when your heart is pounding through your chest and you want the ground to swallow you whole.
Posture is Key
This is a trick that I learned both in theatre classes and in ballet school: before you walk into a room, take a moment to envision yourself as a marionette. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards so your posture is straight and tall. Raise your head slightly, drop your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths.
When you step through that doorway, the image you’ll project is one of grace and self-assurance, and people acknowledge that on a very primal, subconscious level.
You can go back to your cringing, anxious slouch once you slink back into the shadows, but for the time being you’ll carry yourself as though you were royalty.
There’s a reason why actors put on costumes when they’re playing roles: the clothes we wear really do have an impact on how we feel about ourselves, so by donning costumes, people can really immerse themselves in the roles they’re playing.
If you’re going to be in a situation where you need to project an air of confidence, then create a Super Suit costume for yourself. It doesn’t need to be the polar opposite of what you usually wear – that might prove to make you feel more self-conscious and thus nullify the intended effect – but rather an outfit that makes you feel amazing about yourself.
If you don’t like the idea of committing to an entire costume, then choose an accessory of some sort that can be a source of strength to you, and that you only wear in situations where you need to draw from it. Think of it like a super-charged good luck charm or talisman. This can be a pendant that you wear beneath your shirt so only you know it’s there, or a stone that you carry in your pocket and can reach for as needed*. Bracelets, brooches/pins, and ties can work for this purpose, or even something as simple as a special pair of socks. Whatever feels right to you, as long as it does the trick.
*Guys, be careful about tampering about in your pockets too much during a speech or presentation, seriously. A power crystal is great to carry with you, but too much fiddling can be a bad thing from the audience’s perspective…
Pause Before Speaking
Many anxious people tend to babble when we’re nervous, so the key is to slow right the hell down, especially when it comes to responding to questions or comments from other people. If you’re giving a presentation, try to keep your voice measured and even, and when people ask questions, really listen to what they’re asking instead of worrying about how you’ll respond.
Take a moment to mull over what they’ve asked, and then consider how you’ll respond before you start speaking. Doing this not only allows you a couple of seconds to formulate your thoughts, but gives the questioner the impression that you’ve taken the time to really think about what they’ve asked instead of blurting out the first thing that slammed into your mind.
Figure Out what to Do with Your Hands
Most people don’t know wtf to do with their hands, whether they’re walking around a party full of strangers, or giving a TED talk. You’ve likely seen them jamming their hands in their pockets, crossing their arms over their chest, or gesturing wildly in an attempt to compensate for their awkwardness.
Keeping your hands lightly folded over one another in front of you, just above waist height, is pretty much ideal. This “return to center” position is a great launching point for making the occasional gesture, and then slipping back into neutral.
This folded option tends to be the one that’s most comfortable for women, while men seem to prefer steepling their fingers into an “A” at chest height, but those are generalizations.
Note: If you are making gestures, make them fluid and subtle rather than sweeping. No “jazz hands”.
Imagine yourself as a lighthouse tower, with a huge beam of light pouring out of the center of your chest. Choose a hue that you find both inspiring and calming, and imagine it flooding out of you as though a star were bursting out of your sternum and going nova.
This seems to work especially well when giving inspiring presentations, or trying to convince a board of directors that what you have to say is, in fact, absolutely brilliant.
Remember to Be Yourself Whenever You Can
There’s a line from V for Vendetta that has always resonated strongly with me, and that is: “You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it”.
Far from just being a witty line, it rings with a lot of truth, and I’m saying that from personal experience. When you put on an act often enough, it can be difficult to drop that façade and be who you really are. It’s important that you remember to take off the costume and embrace your authenticity as often as possible.
Having a group of close friends that love and accept you exactly as you are is wonderful, because you can leave all pretenses behind when you’re with them and just be REAL. They don’t need the big grin and perfect posture: you can be your nail-biting, angst-riddled self while you all indulge in Magic: the Gathering tournaments or whatever makes your little heart skip around in delight. It’s a huge relief to be yourself with those who support you and adore you for your quirks, not just despite them.
Cultivate heartfelt relationships with these people so when you have to don a mask, you can do so with full awareness that once you step off the stage, you can retreat back to safe space and just be you.
Do you act confident while hiding your more shy, awkward side? Leave a comment to share your own tips on how to exude confidence when you need to.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.