Young boy in confident pose, Centro Habana, Havana. December 2006.. Photo by Adam Jones Adam63, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

How do you gain confidence?

From time to time, I answer readers’ questions in my blog. Today’s question comes from Australian author Anne Howell, whose memoir All That I Forgot came out last year.

It’s a riveting read. As much thriller as memoir, her story starts with her waking in hospital with little or no memory of her past, including the birth of her daughter, a man who is said to be her husband, and a mysterious person she feels a deep longing for but is warned against?

But now Anne was faced with the launch of her book.

“Once I go through this experience,” she says, “I will no doubt be more confident about the process. Meanwhile I am preparing by asking people with expertise like yourself.”

There’s no doubt that confidence is important. An insecure speaker will communicate their uncertainties to listeners, while a confident one will communicate their confidence.

So, how do you get confidence? Over the years of public speaking, TV and radio interviews and my own book launches, I’ve developed a few confidence tricks that work for me.

Try them. They may work for you – and Anne.

1. Take action

The best way to distract yourself from the heebie-jeebies is to take action. From my experience, once you start something, most of those pre-action nerves drop away.

Winston Churchill used to say he was only anxious before he took a decision. Once he’d decided what to do, and started down the path, the nerves dropped away.

Of course, you could say that it’s fear of taking action that’s challenging your confidence in the first place. So the next tip is:

2. Take a very small action

What is the smallest, tiny step that you could take? Even if the start is extremely small, rule 1 will still take effect.

If you’re hesitating over making a phone call, that first action might be simply writing the phone number in your diary. If planning a book launch, your first step might be setting the date. Or listening to a podcast on book launches.

The trick is that the action should be so very, very small that you can’t not take it.

3. Prepare

Nothing gives confidence so much as good preparation.

Writing down what you want to say, planning what you want to do, researching the field, talking to those who’ve done it before, all these are great way of developing confidence, whatever you are facing.

Of course, you’ll have noticed that preparing is a form of taking action. If necessary, start with #2 – begin with a very small piece of preparation. Such as finding a pen and paper!

4. Limit your goals

Lack of confidence often comes from over-estimating what any event can achieve.

The reality is that your listeners will remember at best three key things that you say. I find knowing this is a great relief. You don’t have to cram ten or twelve ideas into their brains.

Decide what your three key takeaways are going to be and how you are going to communicate them. Keep them simple.

Linking each to a short personal story is often the most powerful way.

The rest is padding.

Then all you really have to remember is three ideas. Or write them down on a card.

5. Visualise

I’m a great believer in visualising. Not as some kind of magic, but as a way of building confidence. If planning a talk, going into a meeting, even writing a novel, visualise the actions – at least three times.

The first time, you don’t visualise yourself. You visualise an expert. Someone you know – or know of – who is brilliant at what you are planning to do. A great speaker, powerful negotiator, experienced novelist….

See them go through from start to finish. Bring it to life with all your senses – see them, hear them, even feel what they feel.

The second time, you visualise the same expert, but on this occasion you imagine they have your face!

The third time, you visualise once more – but now it’s you, seeing the event through your own eyes as you perform it from beginning to end.

If problems or anxieties come up – and they might – relax. Take a moment to imagine how the expert might deal with it.

If you can’t answer that, then go online and search. Professor Google will almost certainly have the solution somewhere.

6. Focus on the Why

Perhaps the most important tip of all. Have a really good reason for doing what you’re planning to do.

This could be money, fame, good health, whatever.

Ideally, though, it should also involve helping others. Is your talk going to help solve a problem people have? Will your negotiation lead to better things for the people you’re negotiating with? Will the book you want to write make readers think, laugh, cry, or simply have an enjoyable few hours?

If you have a powerful reason for doing something, then your energy will start to flow.

7. Realise that nerves aren’t nerves

When not writing I teach a martial art – Aikido. One important lesson I’ve learned is how to interpret feelings of stress.

The fact is that the body is very good at dealing with stress. It floods the bloodstream with chemicals designed to help us see more clearly and act more quickly.

But, without training, people tend to misinterpret these effects as nerves and anxiety. In fact, they aren’t nerves at all. They are the essentials of doing a good job.

If you feel “nerves”, get excited. It means you’re ready to act.

8. Allow yourself not to be perfect

You will make mistakes, fluff lines, stutter, hesitate, lose your place. We all do it… And it doesn’t matter.

You’ll pick yourself up. Keep going. Fall down again. And, each time your confidence will grow a little.

Just like a toddler learning to walk, eventually you’ll learn that falling down isn’t such a big deal.

But without it, you’d never get to walk at all.

Read More

All That I Forgot by Anne Howell

Small things can be important too

Improve your Mental Game