Originally published for Fast Company October 5, 2021
I was speaking with a client recently about having executive presence and what exactly that means. My definition of executive and leadership presence has always been, “being relaxed enough to be your most authentic self.” But after discussing hybrid, virtual and in-person presentations, we determined that while relaxation can breed confidence, it does not always guarantee confidence.
There will be times when you’re presenting to a group or have a significant role in myriad other critical communications and for whatever reason, you’re not feeling confident. Perhaps this just isn’t your day, or maybe you’re off your game because of something that happened in your personal life.
So how do you find that self-assurance and exude confidence when it really counts?
Assume the best about yourself
If you go into any meeting or presentation with negative self-talk, it really does affect how you present yourself. The way we talk to ourselves, our inner dialogue, is just as important as what actually comes out of our mouths. If you keep telling yourself, “I am not prepared for this; I am having an awful day; Everyone will judge me; I am an imposter; I am not good at this,” etc., your weaknesses will show.
If you assume you are brilliant and change the narrative, “I am good at this; I do have something to say; I do have a lot to offer; No one can think the way I do,” it will not only change your self-perspective but also how others perceive you. Now your strengths are showing.
When you assume the best about yourself, you are changing your inner monologue and increasing your confidence. While a lot of people might say this is a fake it until you make it approach, it is actually the opposite. When you assume you are brilliant, you are forced to highlight the authentic parts of yourself that you know are good and are unique to you only. So be kinder in how you think about yourself. No one else can do you like you. You are brilliant.
Start from where you are—especially with your facial expressions
If you’re having a dreadful day and approach your audience (whether you’re walking into a room or logging onto a virtual meeting) with a big fake smile on your face, everyone will know there is something wrong. When we smile inauthentically, we are bearing our teeth. If you saw a giant bear bearing its teeth at you, you would either freeze in your tracks or run for your life.
The same feeling occurs (to a lesser extent) when you force a smile on your face. The person on the receiving end of your aggressive smile instinctively wants to back away from the situation (and you) because they sense something is off.
Rather than hiding the fact that you aren’t in a great place, start from where you are. This does not mean you should come into the meeting in a rant or rage. Instead, start in a neutral place. Rather than trying to muster a lot of energy, a big smile and saying, “Hey everyone! Glad to start this meeting,” start with a neutral face. And if your energy is low, just keep it simple: “Good morning, everyone. Let’s start this meeting by…”
Beginning any meeting from an authentic place will allow you to gain confidence because you’ll be able to focus all your energy on the message and content, as opposed to fixating on hiding negative emotions.
Know your blind spots
One of the biggest confidence busters is being caught off guard or not knowing what to do in certain situations. If you start to look for patterns in your past, you will begin to see they do exist.
For example, one client I worked with was complaining that they felt ambushed by their team in every meeting because the team would unearth issues that had been happening for weeks, but my client wasn’t made aware of them until the meeting took place.
The client kept saying, “It makes me feel like I am a bad manager.” This client is actually a top-notch manager but because this was their blind spot, their confidence dwindled in the first few minutes of every monthly meeting.
To remedy this predicament, each team member emailed this manager a week before the meeting with points they want to address. One simple email allowed the manager to prep for the meeting and not be caught off guard—they knew what was coming at them. And as soon as they eliminated this blind spot, they could exude confidence.
When you keep track of what causes you anxiety or makes you feel less confident, you’ll be able to take action to eliminate your blind spots and lead with conviction.
Confidence, like every other skill, is something that needs perpetual attention and practice. Anyone can be confident. It’s just a matter of allowing yourself to get there by talking to yourself in the right way, being authentic, and targeting consistent issues that chip away your confidence.
–Vanessa Wasche, Owner & Founder On Point Speaking