In business, you often hear managers and the like say “you need more confidence” or “be more confident.” This is very easy to say. What most managers do not do is offer advice or coaching on how to actually gain confidence. There is no magic pill you can take to have confidence and I do not claim to have all the answers. I do have some advice on how to gain more yourself.
First, what is confidence? Does it mean not to be nervous? Does it mean to speak more clearly or loudly? The problem is that most people have different definitions of what confidence is. For me, confidence is simply defined as “believing what you say and have the ability to promote and defend your position (e.g. work, project, product, service, etc.).” Many people also falsely believe that being confident is not being nervous, anxious or feeling any emotion. This is wrong. We are humans and being human is feeling emotion, so being free of these feelings is not confidence. There are many talented people (actors come to mind) that could give a great presentation or project or service pitch with the right clarity, body position, content, etc. This does not mean these people could promote or defend their position. The simply “look” and “act” professional and most people interpret this to mean confident.
There are many famous companies, I know a few in one industry in particular that hire professional actors to deliver very important presentations to potential clients. At these presentations, the actor is accompanied by several content experts to handle any client questioning. This allows them to present in the “acceptable” method with the actor and the team provides all the responses to objections or to offer solutions. Note again however, that being confident is not about being emotion free, having the ability to give a strong performance nor some other superficial attribute.
So how can you believe what you say and have the ability to promote and defend your position? My advice is simple and are threefold.
1. You have to believe in the product or service your company is offering or in the value your work is providing the company and therefore clients. If you do not believe what you or your company does is positive and beneficial, you will never be in a position to believe what you are saying or be able to defend your position. The first step without a doubt must be that you believe your company and your role within your company is beneficial to clients, customers and ultimately to society. If you don’t, then find a company or role that you truly believe in. This is the critical first step and without this, 2 and 3 below won’t help.
2. Learn everything you can about your market, your competition, what makes your product or service unique, differentiable and desired. You do not have to be in sales or marketing to want to educate yourself on why your company is different and perhaps better than your competitors. If you are in middle or back office functions, you still must know your differentiators and your competitive advantage. Once you do, you will be more knowledgeable and proud of what you and your company does. This knowledge and pride will allow you to make educated decisions in your work and be able to ask questions related to vision, strategy and mission, which in turn leads to more knowledge. Also make sure that you are the best at what you do. Put the time in to be a highly productive and effective professional.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice. You have heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” I prefer the phrase, “practice makes permanent.” With repetition (and I recommend a lot of it consistently and on-going long term), you will more easily perform a task. The more you practice and role play, you will be able to have greater fluency in the subject matter and ideally be exposed to more feedback. This could be practicing for a client presentation or meeting, analyzing business processes to come up with improvements for your superior or company, creating a new project with others, preparing for a financial audit, etc. If you think hard and are creative, you will be able to identify ways you can practice what you need to do in your job as well as to practice for special events and projects. Go through all details of whatever you are doing and find a way to practice, rehearse or seek out feedback from colleagues or friends. Most people don’t practice and this leads to poor performance and then to self-doubt. Do you have a unique role and are struggling to find anything to practice on? In this case, offer to train newcomers or volunteer to promote your role or department to other departments for communication sharing. The more involved you are with newcomers and or with other departments, the better versed you will be in your role.
Once you have a company and job you are excited about and proud of, then put the work in to become the best at what you do and learn your company’s product and services. Then actively find as many opportunities as possible to practice, rehearse, train others or lead initiatives and projects. Will you have emotion? Yes! But this is what makes life interesting. Having some nerves in certain situations makes the celebrations so much more fun when you have success!
To make being “confident” an active and conscious activity, remember this simple acronym: PLP! The first P is for Pride. Be proud of what you and your company does! The L is for Learn. Become the best at what you do! The last P is for practice. Practicing makes habits and behaviors permanent!
With PLP, no professional actors nor teams of support staff needed!