In 2015, Monica Lewinsky gave a TED Talk on the public shaming she suffered following her affair with former president Bill Clinton. Before the talk, she was extremely nervous.
She knew that millions of people would hear her speech and was terrified that she would screw up, further damaging her reputation. But in the end, the audience gave her a standing ovation and an endless stream of glowing online reviews.
The lesson? Don’t let your lack of confidence hold you back from giving public speaking a shot. Just remember, while there’s a lot at stake, it’s a great opportunity to get your ideas out into the world.
The truth is, public speaking is a skill that anyone can learn. For example, in Kenya, a 12-year-old boy named Richard Turere invented a system to keep lions from killing his family’s cattle.
He had realized that the predators were afraid of moving lights and created a network of lights that switched on and off in sequence, frightening the lions away. The tool became wildly popular and he was invited to give a TED talk.
At the time, Turere was shy, spoke very little broken English and had a difficult time describing his invention coherently. But even he, after just six months of training, was able to come to California and give an amazing speech, captivating the audience with his story and his charm.
You might think that speaking with confidence is only something you need to worry about if you give a lot of speeches. But did you know that your voice and how you speak also says a lot about your self-confidence in everyday life?
How you speak is important. It tells others you believe in yourself and that you’re worthy of respect. Becoming confident in your speech can help improve your relationships, allow you to reach your goals, and give you the boost in self-esteem you need to embrace your dreams in life.
The real benefit of speaking with confidence though, is that it’s one important way that you embrace and build upon your personal power. Your words, your tone, and your boundaries while communicating with others are indicators of whether you’re claiming and honoring your personal power.
If you want to improve your confidence when speaking to absolutely anyone, there are many strategies you can apply to improve your skills. Learning to speak confidently is just like learning any other skill. You need to know the right methods and tricks, you need to practice often, and you need to learn from your mistakes.
Let’s dive in.
Take it Slow
Most people make the mistake when speaking in uncomfortable situations, of talking too fast. This is especially true when you’re already nervous about the situation. Speaking quickly tells everyone listening that you’re nervous and lack self-control.
Think about how slowly you talk when you’re in conversation with your friends. When addressing a larger or unfamiliar group, adopting this same pace will help them feel more relaxed, and like you’re engaging with them, not hurling words at them.
When you’re practicing and speaking in everyday life, slow down. Adopt a relaxed pace to your voice. The more you pay attention to your speed, the more you’ll become aware of when it’s racing too quickly, and you can adjust accordingly. Speaking slowly also allows you more time to think about what you want to say, and it shows others deliberate confidence.
Pause Before Speaking
A mistake that’s often made in a conversation between two or more people is rushing to speak as soon as the other person finishes their thought. This speech pattern clearly shows that you’re just waiting for your turn to speak and not considering what the other person has said. When you jump in right away, you appear overly eager and may leave the other person wondering if they were heard at all.
When talking with someone else, pause for a second or two after the other is done talking, before you say what it is you want to say. When you take your time, you come across as more relaxed and confident, which also gives the words you’re saying more authority. A conversation isn’t a race to get through as quickly as possible. Take your time, and you’ll find others will follow suit.
Eliminate Verbal Pauses
We all do it. We have those words that creep into our speech when we’re looking to fill the void. Words like “um” and “like” are sprinkled throughout your speech, and you might not even know how often you’re saying them. When you use these words to fill space in your speech though, you sound uncertain and lacking in confidence.
Practice by recording yourself in conversation with someone or the next time you have to make a presentation at work. Listen to the recording and count how many times you say these filler words.
Now that you’re aware of your problem, you can focus on dropping these words from your speech. When you start to hear one creeping in, slow down and pause. It’s better to say nothing than say one of these meaningless words. When you pause more, it also allows people to catch up to you and anticipate your next words.
Practice Speaking with Authority
When you’re speaking, your voice shouldn’t pitch up at the end of a sentence unless you’re asking a question. One way you lose authority and sound uncertain is to speak as if you’re unsure about what you’re saying. Raising your pitch is a sign that you’re unclear or uncertain, which can make you sound less confident.
Practice doing the opposite of this inflection. At the end of every sentence, focus on pitching your voice slightly downward. How does this sound? What difference does it make to what you’re saying? Even when you ask a question, this downward inflection adds confidence to your speech. Try it and see what a difference it makes.
Work on Your Pauses
Deliberate pauses can add authority and confidence to what you’re saying. Strategically placed breaks add emphasis to your points or words. They also vary your speech patterns, which makes it more interesting for the listener. In shorter sentences, try adding a pause halfway through. In longer sentences, break it up into thirds.
Pauses are useful for getting the listeners’ attention as well as making your point even more evident. And using pauses purposefully, communicates that you’re confident in what you’re saying.
Work with Your Breath
Your breath comes in a slow, steady pace. When you want to speak with confidence, your speech should have that same slow, steady pace. By working with your breath, instead of trying to get all your words out in one go and quickly inhale to keep going, you’ll relax your pace and sound like the confident person you are.
Practice taking breaths that fill your lungs deep down, not just at the top. Your lower ribs should expand when you breathe deeply in this way. This type of breath takes longer to inhale and exhale.
This is the breathing and the speaking rhythm you want. Practice speaking with your breath to see how it affects your pace and helps you project more confidence to others.
Loud Does Not Equal Confidence
Talking loudly is often mistaken for showing confidence, when in reality it just shows that you don’t respect your listeners. While it’s essential to be heard, especially in a large group, speaking loudly isn’t as important as the rhythm of your speech and the pitch of your voice.
Talking loudly often results in a pitch that resembles screaming, which is never pleasant to listen to for long. Instead, you want to adopt a cadence that’s smooth and rhythmic and a pitch that’s low and steady. This will make you sound more confident.
Again, recording yourself is a wonderful way to see how well you’re doing with this. Listen to yourself talking. Does your pitch go up and down dramatically? Does your rhythm feel smooth or choppy? Practicing your speech is a way to work on not only what you want to say but how you want to say it.
If you’re going to be speaking to a large group, or if you have a long day or night of smaller conversations ahead of you, it’s essential to stay hydrated. When you’re not sufficiently hydrated, your vocal cords become easily irritated, which can rob you of your confidence.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day and always have some water close by when you’re speaking, to enhance your voice and keep you feeling confident.
Relax Your Body
When you’re tense, the muscles in your jaw, neck, throat, and shoulders are all affected. These same muscles influence your tone of voice. Relaxing these muscles is vital if you want to sound confident.
Start with a deep breath. As you exhale, open your mouth slightly, relax your jaw, and push the air out in something like a sigh or a yawn. Swing your arms, stretch your neck, and loosen your jaw to relax all these muscles too. When you’re speaking, as you feel these muscles start to tense back up, focus on releasing that stress and staying relaxed.
When you’re speaking to others and you see a sea of frowning or blank faces, smile. You’ll quickly notice that many people will start smiling back at you. And when you smile, you’re showing that you’re confident in what you’re saying and will appear more composed and friendly.
When you smile, it also enhances the quality of your voice and helps you keep a more even pitch and rhythm. Practice speaking into a mirror to feel how smiling influences your confidence.
Get Rid of Qualifying Phrases
Modern speech is filled with phrases and words that add nothing to the conversation but have become ubiquitous. Many of these are also phrases that show you’re not confident about what you’re about to say.
Examples of these include, “I’m sorry,” “Well,” “I mean,” and “This is just my opinion.” We say these things to apologize for what we’re about to say, which begs the question, why should anyone continue listening? These tics are common when people are nervous or hesitant about how others will respond to their ideas.
But when you say what you mean without these qualifiers, it lends authority and confidence to your meaning. You don’t need to say it’s your opinion. Offer your viewpoint with authority and get rid of these unnecessary filler phrases that rob you of your confidence.
When you’re speaking to a group or talking one-on-one with others, showing appreciation for others’ participation, ideas, and contributions, will convey your confidence from the onset. Acknowledging those who came to hear you is an effective way to start a talk.
Thanking others for sharing their insights with you shows you’re open to new ideas. Showing gratitude to those who helped you prepare or move forward conveys that you’re confident in your progress. Don’t be afraid to let others share in your newfound confidence.
Throughout your speech, people need time to process what you said and reflect. Using silence is a way to allow for this as well as show you’re confident in what you’re saying. Learning to live with silence, and not fill it with unnecessary jabbering or verbal pauses is the sign of a truly confident speaker. Practice in everyday conversation at using silence to help you make a point or to allow your listener to think.
Stand Up Straight
Just as smiling affects your voice and speech, so does your posture. And how you hold and carry yourself tells others a lot about how confident you’re feeling. Even when you don’t feel all that confident, standing tall and keeping your head high can make you feel surer about what you’re doing.
Good posture is essential to speaking with confidence. When you stand straight, you can breathe more deeply, which allows you to project as well as watch your pace.
Practice standing tall with your feet firmly planted hip distance apart. Distribute your weight equally across your hips. Avoid swaying, pacing, or tapping, as these detract from what you’re saying and show a lack of confidence.
Lift your chest, which exposes your chest and torso. Roll your shoulders back and relax them. With your head held high, look in the mirror. This pose is reminiscent of the Superman stance, and for good reason. It embodies power and confidence, which is what you also want to project to your listeners.
Work on Eye Contact
When talking with a larger group, work on making lasting eye contact with one person at a time while you speak. Fix your sight on one person in the room for at least six seconds. After holding your gaze in this spot for what probably feels like a little too long, move on to someone in a completely different area of the room. This type of lingering eye contact makes your listeners feel like you’re talking just to them and also conveys confidence.
You should avoid scanning the room or gazing over the tops of people’s heads. Don’t keep looking back at the same people over and over, because this can make them uncomfortable. While you may have heard that looking at the back of the room can help you feel less nervous, this move can cause your audience to disengage from you very quickly.
Don’t speak at others, speak to them. Most people, when you make eye contact with them, will smile or offer other positive reinforcements, which can also make you feel more confident.
Move Your Hands
Your body language is just as important as the words you choose to say. Using a variety of gestures conveys energy, confidence, and warmth to your audience. Your gestures should be purposeful and related to your talk rather than distracted fidgeting or nervous habits.
Use your hands in ways that add to your message. Practice in front of a mirror if you’re unsure of what would be appropriate.
Focus on the Situation
When speaking, it can become easy to get lost in the present moment. When you’re so focused on what you plan to say next, you forget about relaxing, breathing, or slowing down. Focusing on the present and what you’re saying right now is the only way to stay grounded and sound more confident in your speech.
Listen to your voice, and focus on each word like you really mean it to keep all those other bad habits from creeping back in.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you want to improve your speech and sound more confident, you’ll only achieve this by practicing. The more you practice, the less nervous you’ll feel about using your new skills.
Practice allows you to work out what you want to say ahead of time, which also leaves you with less to consider at the moment. If you have to make a speech to a large group, practice with a microphone or podium, whichever you’ll have at the event so that you can feel comfortable with your hand placements and posture.
Record yourself to listen for your pitch, pacing, and pauses too. Nothing will help you improve more than practice will, so use every opportunity you have to work on feeling more confident in your speaking.
Learning to speak with confidence can help you improve your relationships with others, move ahead in your career, carry out important goals in your life, and share your knowledge and views with others. It can also help you reclaim personal power that you’ve lost by not being confident in yourself and honoring your own needs and priorities in life.
Like all skills, learning to speak with confidence is something you can master over time and with practice. There are many components to effective communication, including your voice’s pitch, tone, and rhythm, as well as non-verbal cues like your facial expressions and posture. Even learning to use silence and pauses can help you make your point more confidently to your listeners.
If you want to be more confident in what you’re saying, you must believe the words you’re using and communicate a message that’s important to you. Above all else, you must be true to your values and beliefs if you want to interact confidently with others.
Practice these skills and you’ll have all your listeners believing in your confidence in no time.