Almost everyone you meet will tell you that they would like to be confident and communicate with impact, whether during presentations, job interviews or regular interactions with other people. Developing core self-esteem is a long process that requires consistency and self-discipline. However, there are ways we can help ourselves in the most challenging situations and boost our confidence just a little to help us get the desired result.
Let’s say you are scheduled to attend a meeting that could potentially lead to an amazing opportunity. What can you do to make sure that you’re at your best?
The day before:
- Fill the bucket – It’s easy to get overwhelmed. You probably have a lot of knowledge you want to share during the meeting. A meeting, during which you have to sell yourself, your product or service, is not the place to flood your interlocutor with too much information or you will get the opposite result. Instead focus on 3 to 6 key points that you want to get across during the meeting and structure the information you want to share around those key points. Your client or prospective employer is only interested in the information he needs or wants to know.
- Visualise – Visualisation is a technique used by sports and life coaches. It is based on the premise that the brain cannot differentiate between your thoughts and reality. That’s why when we are afraid of something it all feels so real even though in reality no threat exists. Take time to relax and imagine yourself acing that meeting. Imagine what you will look like, what you will see and hear. Imagine what you will be saying and how the other person will respond. Try to imagine every detail and see what it will be like when everything goes well. Apart from feeling more positive about the meeting or presentation, you will also feel as though you had done it before so the whole thing will be much less intimidating.
- Prepare – Preparation is an important aspect of every endeavour. Make sure you have prepared all the necessary information and rehearse in front of your partner, friend, your dog or the mirror. You can also rehearse while you’re doing something else, e.g. tidying up. Some actors use this technique when they learn their lines. They say that if you can deliver the lines when you are being distracted by doing something else, you will definitely be able to deliver them when you’re under pressure to perform.
On the day:
- Strike a pose – Pioneered by Amy Cuddy in her TED Talk and later in her book “Presence”, power posing has been proven to boost confidence. Why? Well, the premise is that our thoughts affect our posture and, likewise, our posture affects our mood. We are more likely to feel defensive if we’re slouching and trying to cover the front of our body. It’s a signal to our brain that something is not right because we are trying to make ourselves look small and protect our vital organs, which is what we would do if we were in danger. It makes even more sense if you consider that before an important event your adrenaline level tends to go up, exactly the same as if you were in danger, so no wonder your body responds the way it does. Conversely, if you are making a power pose, a pose that makes you look bigger and uncovers your vital organs, you are signalling to your brain that everything is OK and you are in control of the situation. All you have to do is go to the toilet before the meeting and hold the pose for 2 minutes. I have tried it. It works. For more information on suggested power poses, watch Amy’s famous TED Talk.
- Focus on your breath – When your thoughts are rushing through your head, it’s easy to get distracted and feel anxious. The best way to stop them is to focus on your breath or things such as the sounds around you, the colours or textures, etc. You can choose whatever works for your particular surroundings. When we’re sitting in the waiting area, we tend to worry that if we stop thinking about the meeting, we will forget something so it might feel difficult to let go. However, if you are prepared, you are not going to forget anything just because you have decided to calm your mind. On the contrary, you are more likely to enter the meeting with a clear head.
- Ignore your feelings – You shake the other person’s hand, you both take the lift to the meeting room, you enter the room, you start talking and all the time you hear that voice in your head: “He will not like it, this is the first time I’ve done this so I’ll mess up, she looked at me strangely, dammit, I was supposed to make a great first impression” and so on and so forth. Ask yourself: is that self-talk and those feelings helping me? It’s highly likely that you answered “no”, so how can you shut them up? First of all, do you have evidence that those thoughts are true? Very unlikely. So ignore them. Ignore the thoughts that aren’t helpful. Acknowledge that they are there and then move on. Focus on the purpose of the meeting and your interlocutor. If you do like to worry, as a lot of people do, make a deal with yourself that you will dedicate some time to worry after the meeting.
During the meeting:
- Remember that the other person is on your side – This is something we tend to forget but it would be much more helpful if we focused on that rather than on what might go wrong. In the world that moves so fast, you don’t get invited to meetings or job interviews just because someone fancies a chat. If someone decided to devote 30 or 60 min of their workday to see you, it means that they already think highly of you. Now all you have to do is prove that they are right. If your self-talk tells you otherwise, re-read the previous point.
- Maintain a good posture – Maintaining a good posture is not only healthy but also vital to conduct successful business meetings. As mentioned above our posture affects our mood and confidence levels, but not only. Our posture also affects how we sound. It’s difficult to speak clearly and confidently if you’re stretched on the sofa or slouching in the chair. Our posture also affects how others perceive us. If in doubt, sit up straight, maintain eye contact and tilt your upper body a little forward. Remember that it’s not only the content of your presentation but also the way you present it that will determine what the other person thinks of you, your company and your products or services.
- Mind what you’re saying – Make sure you avoid words that weaken your message. “This will probably be the best solution” versus “This is the best solution”, “I will try to send you the report by the end of the week” versus “I will send you the report by the end of the week” or “You will receive the report by the end of the week” or “I don’t suppose we could meet next Monday…” There are certain words that weaken your message so you should avoid them. Those words are: “could”, “sorry”, “maybe”, “I don’t suppose”, “may”, “might”, “err…”, “um…”, “possibly”, “probably”. You may not even realise that you use them so play a game with yourself for the next few days and see which of them you tend to overuse in conversations. It should help you eliminate them and replace with a stronger equivalent.
You will find that all those tips are easy to implement and give almost immediate results. I will also let you in on a secret – if you’re afraid of something, it tends to look and feel scarier to you than it really is. People who are afraid of spiders, for example, see them as bigger than they actually are (It’s true. I am one of them!). The same applies to presentations, meetings and interviews. I have coached many people who told me they were shaking inside when presenting or being interviewed but came across as competent and in control. It is worth remembering that what you feel is not necessary visible to others. We tend to be too critical of ourselves, especially when we are exposed to judgement but if you use the tips above, you will give yourself a better chance to ace any challenging meeting.
Anna-Jane Niznikowska is a Communications and Career Coach and Leadership Development Consultant. She is the founder of Telegraph Street, a personal branding consultancy, and runs a Facebook group called Careers Academy for Women, helping women make bold choices in their careers with confidence, whether you want to find a better-paid job, change careers or are struggling to get back on the career ladder.
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