How to Build Your Self-Confidence for Public Speaking
It is often quoted that the fear of public speaking is one of the top ranked fears. If you experience anxiety, nervousness, or fear at the thought of speaking public, take a moment to consider how your self-confidence is affecting the levels of anxiety, nervousness, or fear you are experiencing. Boosting your self-confidence can go a long way in reducing those feelings.
Self-confidence by definition is “confidence in oneself and one’s powers and abilities”1. Easier said than done, right?
All of us at some point in our lives have felt less than confident. For some of us, it occurs more often than not.
When it comes to public speaking many people struggle with fear, stage fright, and lack of self-confidence.
You may feel your self-confidence lessen when you:
The reality is that every single day we are presented with situations and events that have the potential to chip away at our self-confidence.
How we approach those situations has a direct effect on the status of our self-confidence.
For public speaking, you need to understand what affects your self-confidence and what tools you need to boost or maintain it.
Check Your Mindset and Attitude - It Affects Your Self-Confidence
In her groundbreaking research, Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset2, delves into what makes one person more successful than another.
She found that individuals who believed intelligence is set has a fixed mindset. These individuals often have a harder time learning something challenging because they believe a person’s ability to learn is determined only by IQ.
Whereas people who think intelligence is fluid and can improve have a growth mindset. One who is growth minded are open to learning new things, are confident they can learn new things, and typically learn at a faster rate.
Think about a time when you had the opportunity to learn or do something new that was either outside of your skill set or comfort zone.
How you did respond?
Did you say something like “I don’t know how to do this, but I am willing to try to learn.” Or did you say something like “I don’t know how to do this. I can’t learn this. I am not good at this type of stuff.”
If your response was similar to the first one, congratulations, you have a growth mindset. And along with it, pretty good self-confidence.
If your response was like the second one, you have a fixed mindset and most likely have low self-confidence. Every time your response focuses on what you can’t do rather than being open to trying, you are reinforcing that fixed mindset and building barriers to having a high self-confidence.
Every time your response focuses on what you can’t do rather than being open to trying, you are reinforcing that fixed mindset and building barriers to having a high self-confidence.
Now apply this if you’ve ever been asked to speak in front of a group. What was your first reaction? Was it - “No way, I can’t do that! I would look like a fool. I am not an expert.” Or was it - “Even though I will be nervous and unsure if I will do a good job, I am willing to try and do it.”
The first response is an example of a fixed mindset. Even if you do decide to give the presentation, you are most assuredly setting yourself up for failure. And then reinforcing your fixed mindset.
For the second response, by acknowledging your nerves and inexperience along with the willingness to try, is an example of a growth mindset. Someone who is open to trying and learning new things accepts that they won’t be perfect the first time.
Sometimes in life you need more than just a growth mind. You need grit or the determination to keep at something no matter how hard.
In her book, Grit3, Angela Duckworth clarifies what grit actually is. Her research has revealed that individuals with grit have four traits: Passion, Perseverance, Purpose, and Hope.
In the context of public speaking, consider these traits and how they affect your confidence.
Identify the Skills You Need to Feel More Confident
Being aware that feeling more confident is often just about developing the skills you need. Not knowing how to be or do something is nothing new. Did you always know how to read? Did you always know how to add and subtract? Did you always know how to send a text message? Of course not! You had to learn how to do those things.
In High Performance Habits4, Brendon Burchard poses three questions to ask yourself to gain the skills you need.
By knowing what you need to learn in of itself can be a confidence builder.
Remember, no one is an expert automatically. Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers5, notes that on average it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. So, next time you see someone with extraordinary presentation skills, don’t automatically chide yourself for not being as good as that person.
Admire their level of skill, passion for what they are doing, and perseverance to keep improving. Take a step back and identify what you can learn from those individuals. And then commit to practicing more to achieve mastery.
Do you have your basics down?
Occasionally the biggest hurdle to being self-confident is a lack of basic skills. Without fundamentals it is difficult to feel confident about doing something. This applies to pretty much everything. Cooking. Writing. Public Speaking. Conflict Resolution. Website Design… etc.
One example I’ve seen over and over again is using technology. Many people do not feel confident when it comes to using and learning technologies. In my numerous years working with people and technology, I’ve observed that most individuals who are less confident in their tech abilities lack the basic or fundamental skills.
When it comes to public speaking, make sure you know these fundamentals.
Knowing those basics allows you to develop pretty much any speech or presentation. Even if you are asked to present with very little notice or time to prepare.
Remember, when you’ve been asked to present or give a speech, it’s because those inviting you already see you as an expert. If you feel the content is outside your knowledge, refer the person asking to someone who is a better fit.
When you are really struggling to learn something, don’t automatically assume you can’t do it and give up. Make sure you know the basics or fundamentals. That just might be the barrier preventing you from achieving your goal.
Succumbing to FEAR Erodes Your Self-Confidence
At the heart of it, fear is biggest enemy to self-confidence. If you allow your fear(s) to dictate how you move through life, you will never be confident in your abilities to do anything.
Jack Canfield describes FEAR as “Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real” in his book The Success Principles6.
Think about that for a moment.
More often than not, what we are most afraid of does not come true. And then, we beat ourselves up for not taking action sooner.
Jack has a great technique for reconceptualizing fear. Instead of saying ‘I am afraid to/of…’, say ‘I scare myself by imagining…’ and verbalize what you are imaging. Just saying what you are imagining diminishes its fear inducing power.
Don’t say: I am afraid to speech in front of an audience.
Say instead: I want to give a speech, but I scare myself by imagining the audience will laugh at me or boo me off the stage.
Say instead: I want to give a presentation, but I scare myself by imagining I will trip and fall walking up to the stage or podium.
Say instead: I want to give a speech, but I scare myself by imagining I will completely freeze up and forget everything I want to say.
Keep in mind:
Other examples Jack provides for overcoming fear and building self-confidence are:
- Replace the imagined fearful event with a positive event (real or imagined).
- Replace the fearful physical sensations with the physical sensations you want to have - e.g. happy, joy, calm, etc.
- Think about a time you did overcome a fear and realize you can do it again.
- Minimize the risk. If you think the risk is too great, try to identify a smaller step with less risk.
- Just take the leap. Many times, the hardest part to overcoming fear is that first step.
At times our biggest fear is feeling vulnerable. That in itself can be paralyzing and greatly diminish our self-confidence. Brené Brown discusses fear and vulnerability in several of her books. In Daring Greatly7, she specifically talks about a TED Talk she gave and how terrified she was because she knew she had to vulnerable. Yet, despite that, she knew it would allow her to better connect with the audience. She asked the audience directly about being vulnerable.
- How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think of vulnerability as weakness?
- When you watched people on this stage being vulnerable, how many of you thought it was courageous?
The majority of the audience raised their hands for both questions. Her point is that we see other people’s vulnerability as something authentic, endearing, or even noble -- yes, courageous. But when we show our vulnerability it means we are flawed or damaged in some way.
Being nervous to speak in public is not a flaw nor does it make you weak. She challenges the reader to shift that thought pattern and embrace vulnerability as an essential component of life.
In her years of research, she has found that being afraid and vulnerable go hand in hand. One emotion can’t happen without the other. Being in front of a group of people giving a speech or presentation is making yourself vulnerable so being afraid is natural.
In actuality, speaking in front of a group is an incredibly vulnerable and courageous act. Fortunately, just like almost everything else in life, you can develop skills to help you manage your vulnerability and fear when it comes to public speaking.
Recognize Your Successes to Build Self-Confidence
It is a common human trait to focus on the negative, failed attempts, what wasn’t right, etc. Taking a moment to remember that we aren’t failing all of the time. In any given day, we all have accomplishments.
Try the nine successes technique by Jack Canfield from his book The Success Principles 8.
First, using your current age, divide your life into three equal parts; for example, if you are 30, your life would be divided as birth to 10, 11- 20, 21-30. Then, for each part, identify three successes you’ve had. Remember, these can be both small and big successes. Once you see these successes, you can be confident that you will again be successful.
Here is one of my examples:
Birth to 14
- Won a speech contest
- Made a short film
- Graduated from 8th grade
- Became a Rotary Exchange Student to Australia
- Graduated from college
- Completed my first master’s degree
- Completed my second master’s degree
- Started my first academic position
- Presented at a national conference in front of 300 people
For you, was it hard keeping each list to just three? It was for me. Once you’ve finished your list of nine, challenge yourself to come up with as many successes as you can in one big list. Keep that list handy. Add to it every time you have a success - big or small. Then, anytime you feel your self-confidence waning and doubt your ability, look at that list to remind yourself you are capable of many things.
When it comes to public speaking, feeling less than confident is struggle for many people. However, it does not need to be that way. For many people, adjusting one’s mindset and attitude is an effect method for building self-confidence.
On a practical level, practicing and building the necessary skill sets to become an effective public speaker can resolve the feelings of uncertainty. In our mind, fear can become this bigger than life element. Taking a step back and verbalizing what the fear looks like - e.g. getting laughed at - can move it from the intangible to something concrete that can be more easily addressed.
Often our fear is driven by focusing on the missteps and failures. It is important acknowledge your successes as way to remind yourself that you don’t always fail. Building your self-confidence to speak in public is possible and you have more control over your fear than you think.
- “Self-Confidence.” In Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster. Accessed June 12, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-confidence.
- Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballentine Books, 2006.
- Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner, 2016.
- Burchard, Brendon. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way. Carldbad, CA: Hay House, 2017, p. 213.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
- Canfield, Jack, and Janet Switzer. The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. 10th Anniversary Edition. New York: William Morrow, 2015, p.p. 153-154.
- Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. p.p. 76-81
- Canfield, Jack, and Janet Switzer. The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. 10th Anniversary Edition. New York: William Morrow, 2015, p.p. 150-162.