Communicating with confidence is critical to your message is successfully received. Feeling confident in a high stakes situation is not always easy but with effort, confidence can be cultivated and improved.
Whether you're giving feedback one-on-one, pitching an idea during a team meeting, or speaking in front of a packed auditorium, the impact you have will depend on your confidence in communicating.
What Makes a Good Communicator?
Think about someone you've seen – maybe in person, maybe on TV – who's a great speaker. What about them makes you sit up and pay attention? What makes them a good communicator? Whatever your own background or job title, your effectiveness as a communicator depends on three things: what you say, how you say it, and how you present yourself while you're saying it.
Regardless of the size or nature of your audience, how you speak and otherwise present yourself – how engaging you are – is important to getting your point across and genuinely communicating rather than merely talking.
Good communicators create a balance between their content – what they say – and how they say it, using their vocal control and body language to project a genuine belief and enthusiasm. They project confidence. And confidence is contagious. Some people may be born with it, but for the rest of us, the good news is that with hard work and practice, speaking with confidence can be learned.
The confidence you convey as a speaker doesn't depend upon how you, personally, feel. Instead, it depends on your actions – on what you do to get your message across. How you project. Your content must be balanced with your vocal control and body language.
Confidence breeds confidence, creating a positive feedback cycle. The more you practice it, the more you project it, and the more you build it within yourself. Simple actions like speaking clearly, sitting up straight, and making eye contact can actually make you more confident. And as your confidence as a speaker grows, so will your ability to engage and influence your audience.
It may start in school. You stand up to talk in front of a class. Your mouth goes dry, your heart races, your hands shake – and then maybe you talk too fast. Or maybe you hem and haw. Or maybe your mind goes blank and you say nothing at all. Nervousness about speaking in front of others doesn't automatically go away as you get older. It might even get worse because you feel the stakes are greater. But by applying some specific techniques, you can learn to overcome it.
Negative self-talk is the first thing that must go. It's easy to obsess over what could go wrong. The trick is learning to obsess over what will go right. And the first way to ensure that is to prepare and really know your content cold — exactly what you want to communicate. What's your message? What's the audience's takeaway? Once you answer those questions, you can then plan how to convey them, making sure that what you present supports your essential message. Then, make a conscious decision about how you want to come across. How should you present yourself while delivering your message?
Another important technique is to practice proper breathing. Nervousness makes your vocal cords constrict, increases your heart rate, and interferes with your breathing. Typically, it also dries your throat and makes you talk too fast. Proper, diaphragmatic breathing counters all these effects. It sends a message to your brain, disrupting the "fight or flight" response. It forces you to relax, encourages pauses, and helps you slow down.
Nearly everyone gets nervous at the prospect of facing an audience, whether it's one person or 100. But by taking the time and effort to plan your content, knowing what impression you want to make, and practicing your breathing and body language, you can master your nerves in the moment and make a strong impression.
Planning What You'll Say
But knowing what you want to achieve is only the first step. To get farther, you need to plan and structure what you want to say in order to achieve it. Planning puts you in control, ensuring you communicate exactly what you really mean to, and in the most effective way. Start by identifying no more than two to four key points and then flesh out the details from there.
If you need to, organize your thoughts by writing down the key points to cover rather than creating a full draft. This makes it easier to speak naturally and adapt based on your listeners' responses. Once you've organized your points, plan an introduction to hook the listeners' attention and give them a quick "roadmap," to let them know what you'll be talking about.
Finally, keep your message clear, simple, and focused. Use straightforward, declarative sentences, and stay on topic. Digression ultimately leads to confusion and straying from your point. You know where you want to go, and have planned how to get there. Stay the course and end with a conclusion that summarizes and reinforces your points.
Controlling Your Voice
Next, slow down. There is a natural tendency to speed up when talking to an audience, even a small one. Speak slowly. Stretch vowel sounds ever so slightly, pause between your key points, and make sure to enunciate clearly. And use a natural, conversational tone. Even when you're in front of a group, speak to one person at a time, as individuals. Focus from one to the next, but always as if you're talking directly to that person.
Using appropriate emphasis lets you highlight your key points and keep listeners' interest. Emphasis allows you to better connect emotionally with your audience and imparts a sense of passion and immediacy to what you're telling them. And finally, remember that you write in paragraphs, so you should speak in them, too. Make use of pauses as you talk. Used effectively, natural pauses show confidence and give listeners a chance to absorb what you've said. A longer-than-average pause can also effectively recapture a listener's attention.
Talk is cheap, but effective communication is a rare commodity. It requires utilizing all of the tools at your disposal. Let your voice be one of the most effective ones.
Using Body Language
When you speak, your body language is talking, too. Maybe it says that you're confident and sincere. Or maybe it says that you're unsure and nervous. Controlling and using your body language is as important to confident communication as your voice. It's another tool to get your message across effectively. Stand or sit up straight to start.
And don't fidget. Look and act like you're in control and belong in the room. And when you're facing a group, you need to make appropriate eye contact. Your audience wants you to acknowledge and speak to them. They want to connect. Staring at your notes, or at a blank spot on the wall at the back of the room doesn't do that. Look at them. They're who you're talking to.
Freeing up your hands allows you to use bold, purposeful hand gestures. According to body language expert, Patti Wood, "charismatic leaders use gestures four times as often as others do when they talk." Not only that, making hand gestures helps you think, dispels anxiety, and lets you emphasize key points.
It's important to remember, though, to not overdo it, or you might find yourself waving your arms around without purpose. Use gestures for emphasis, not melodrama. And don't make fists, which seems overly aggressive and stressful. Keep your hands loose and relaxed.
Communicating with confidence requires thoughtful consideration, planning, and a lot of practice. But it also requires putting in the effort to conquer your nerves and emotions in order to say what you need to say, the way you want to say it, so your audience can hear it the way you need them to.
There are a wide range of techniques you can draw on to overcome nervousness and communicate with confidence in business settings. You can consciously decide what impression to make. Breathe properly, plan and structure what you'll say, and focus on being authentic and engaging. Then use your voice and body language to reinforce your message and convey confidence and authority.