If confidence could be bottled, it would be an overnight sensation. Confidence is a trait we admire in others and lament the absence of in ourselves. But while some people may indeed just be born confident, it’s a skill the rest of us can easily acquire.
As all the best performers and public speakers know, confidence is as much about appearance as it is about feeling it. So where better to start honing your confidence than in your voice, one of the most important tools you have to give others a favorable impression?
As psychologist and author Larina Kase says, “True confidence is not thinking that you’ll get a great result. It’s knowing that you can handle any result.” Read on to learn the 10 secrets of sounding confident. These expert tips will prepare you for success in any professional or public speaking situation.
The key to doing anything well is doing it often and speech is no exception. When you’re nervous about a difficult conversation, such as making the case to your boss for a raise, or a scheduled talk in front of an audience, practice what you’ll say beforehand. Public speaking expert Dale Carnegie recommends using a real or stand-in microphone if you’ll be using one during the actual event. Recording yourself is also a good way to figure out if you’re using the best pacing and pauses. It also allows you to evaluate your voice for clarity and volume.
2. Don’t articulate a statement as a question.
People ask questions when they’re missing information or want approval for an idea or decision. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those situations, both can make you sound vulnerable. To project your ideas with confidence, don’t let your voice creep upward at the end of a sentence. Maintain an even tone of voice and finish your statements with periods, not question marks.
3. Slow down.
Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED, claims 190 words per minute is the ideal rate of speech for public speaking. At this speed, your audience will feel less like you’re talking at them and more like you’re having a conversation over lunch. If you speak too slowly you run the risk of putting your audience to sleep. And if you talk too quickly you can sound amateurish or nervous, like you’re trying to get it over with as fast as you can. That’s why 190 words per minute is the sweet spot you should aim for.
4. Use your hands.
The body language that accompanies your message is just as important as the words coming out of your mouth. Audiences perceive speakers to have more positive traits such as warmth and energy when they use a variety of gestures, according to Carol Kinsey Gorman, Ph.D., an executive coach and consultant in nonverbal communication. While some physical gestures, such as fiddling with clothing or touching hair, can distract or convey a lack of confidence, using your hands when you speak is a great way to communicate your excitement and knowledge about the topic.
[Related: 8 Must-Have Body Language Tips for New Grads]
5. Throw away caveats and filler phrases.
Do you ever begin your sentences with “This is just my opinion,” “Sorry,” “I’m still working on this,” “Well,” “I mean,” or any number of other negative or useless prefaces? Most people do as a matter of habit or nervousness, but caveats and fillers can damage the confident tone you’re trying to strike. Instead, say what you mean and nothing else. For example, “We should take this pitch in a different direction” is much more persuasive than “Well, I think we should take this pitch in a different direction, but I’m still trying to find out the best route to take.”
[Related: The One Word You Should Never Say at Work]
6. Stay hydrated.
Professional singers have favorite pre-show beverages to soothe and prepare their vocal cords. And while you may not need to hit any octaves during your next conference call, hydration is equally important for speakers. Studies show the positive effects of hydration on vocal cords; basically, it keeps them moisturized and enhances the sound of your voice. The best way to stay hydrated is to stay ahead of the curve—by the time you feel thirsty, it’s too late. Drink water regularly throughout the day for the best results.
7. Express gratitude.
Dr. Ramiro Zuniga explains the link between gratitude and confidence: “When a leader shows gratitude, it helps create a positive atmosphere. The display of gratitude conveys the message that all is well and moving in a forward direction.” Thus, thanking coworkers and direct-reports for their contributions and achievements is another way to say the company is thriving and on track to do even better in the future. Start the conversation with a little gratitude, even a “Thanks for coming,” and you’ll convey confidence from the start.
[Related: 15 Ways to Feel More Powerful in 15 Minutes]
8. Insert smiles into your speech.
Have you heard the adage that smiles are contagious? Christine Clapp, a public speaking expert at George Washington University, explains the benefits of smiling on both the speaker and the audience: “Smiling not only makes your voice more pleasant to listen to, it also conveys confidence…You will appear friendly, approachable, and composed.” That’s more than enough reason to grin the next time you give an important talk.
[Related: Boost Your Confidence in 20 Minutes]
9. Use silence to your advantage.
What’s your biggest public speaking fear? For many people, it’s silence. They worry about forgetting an important idea or losing their train of thought midway through a sentence. Speakers who try to engage their audiences with questions worry that no one will respond. But silence isn’t your enemy; it can actually be a powerful confidence-projecting tool. Professional Speech Coach Gary Genard points out that audiences need strategic pauses in order to retain and understand important points. Additionally, the ability to live with silences, whether of your own making or the audience’s, makes you seem confident.
10. Maintain good posture.
Holding your head high and rolling your shoulders back won’t just make you look confident; it will improve the sound of your voice as well. Good posture enables you to breathe deeply in and out through your abdomen, which is how actors and other public speakers project their voices to resonate clearly throughout the space. So to maximize the power of your voice, sit or stand up straight and take a deep breath.
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