Ah confidence – that magic thing. If we could sell it by the pound, we’d be rich. Plenty of us would love to buy it! And yet it’s the one thing that tends to desert us in the face of an important interview or a new client.
Do you need it? Surely everyone will love you for the shy, retiring person that you are, and rush to seal the deal even if you’re making your pitch from beneath the table?
Well, no. If there’s one quality freelancers need in abundance, it’s confidence. Clients feel reassured by it. It’s also something many of us lack, despite our experience and qualifications. We fail in many ways to sing our own praises – yet to get work, we must.
As they say – introverts of the world unite, separately, in your own homes! And here’s a guide we can all read under that table to help us at least appear confident even if we’re really anything but. Let’s go!
1. Give the Right Verbal Cues
When you’re speaking to someone, whether in person or on the phone, you tell them a great deal about yourself even if you’ve managed to dodge a face to face meeting on Skype.
One basic tip is to slow down. I know that when I’m nervous I’m prone to ramble, and if there’s one thing to completely give away your fear, that’s it. So pause for a second or two. Not only does it give you time to collect your wits, but it gives you a chance to consider your answer.
Try to answer questions with just one coherent thought, and then stop. It’s better to be brief than wander into irrelevance.
Another vocal tip is to pitch your voice slightly deeper than usual – not alarmingly so, clients might freak if they heard a booming bass coming from the phone! However, a lower pitch is associated with testosterone and suggests qualities such as bravery. It’s a cultural stereotype, but one that can be used to your advantage, whatever your sex.
2. Give the Right Physical Cues
People are amazingly good at picking up on physical cues – a second or two is all it takes for someone to figure out whether you’re confident or not.
What does someone who looks unconfident appear like, physically? They may hunch their shoulders, keep their head low, avoid eye contact, and look generally as if they’re trying to back far, far away.
People who appear confident have the opposite characteristics. They put their shoulders back so their posture opens up, they don’t slouch, they sit upright, and lean back into their chair rather than perching on the edge. They make eye contact, they smile, and they stand still rather than shifting about from foot to foot. They take up the space around them.
Don’t fidget, and don’t fiddle with your hands, which are critical to how you express yourself. Try keeping them together behind your back, on the table, or in your lap. Use occasional, controlled hand gestures with an open, relaxed hand – rigid hand gestures are very dominant and can appear aggressive.
Don’t block your body with your gestures, because it can seem defensive. An open posture suggests honesty. Keep natural eye contact when you’re talking to someone and please, don’t check your phone. Facebook can wait!
How long should you keep eye contact? Well, not so long you creep the other person out, for sure! Experts suggest you should try to maintain eye contact 60–70% of the time. You’ll find that you naturally want to break eye contact after a few seconds, so let your reflexes be your guide. Here’s another link to eye etiquette.
Oh, and try not to blink too much – it’s a recognized stress reaction.
Practice a good, firm handshake; not bone-crushing, but very definitely not limp! Smile, rather than giggle. Just making your body language more positive, studies suggest, can actually make you feel more confident.
3. Develop a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude starts with using positive words, such as “and” and “will” rather than “but”, or “don’t”, or “won’t”. If you become aware of how often you use negative words in your conversations, you may be amazed by how often they crop up.
Having said that, I’m going to use one – don’t apologize unnecessarily. And simply say “thank you” if someone compliments you – believe you deserve the praise.
And on a similar note, don’t put yourself down. If you’re looking for work, you can’t afford to be self-effacing. This interesting Forbes article suggests ‘power priming’ – before a meeting, think of past successes to fill yourself with pride and confidence, and keep those feelings in mind as you head into the meeting.
Try writing a list of your strengths and your successes before a meeting, and ask for references from previous clients to back up your claims. Appearing factual rather than boastful helps enormously – something that works in writing as well as the spoken word.
Be respectful to others, because this encourages them to be respectful to you (there’s an interesting article here on how to achieve this). And remember that you really can do this project – the client wouldn’t be interested enough to talk to you if they didn’t think so! Value yourself, and others will value you.
If you’re incredibly nervous before a meeting, concentrating on your breathing can help to occupy your mind. There are various techniques, such as ‘calm breathing’, ‘alternate nostril breathing’, or ‘equal breathing’, which can be used to manage anxiety.
Some of these are easier to do in public than others, of course, and some require a quiet moment alone!
5. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
It can be very hard to break negative attitudes. They become such a part of your everyday life that, like a straitjacket, they are hard to break out of. So why not try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? It seems like a last resort for no good reason, and is actually a brilliant alternative for open-minded people.
CBT is often used to treat anxiety or depression, and is a very useful way to start changing your thinking and behavior. CBT can take several forms, and breaks down the big problems you may feel you face into five basic elements – situations, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and actions.
The concept of CBT is that these five areas are interconnected and affect each other – there’s a nice, simple explanation of how it works on this UK NHS site.
The benefit for anyone lacking confidence is that CBT deals with the problems you’re actually facing rather than past issues, and offers practical ways to improve your day-to-day state of mind.
If you’re going to learn to act confident (which will help you to feel much more confident), you need to check the way you act and the way you look to make sure you’re giving the right impression. You should:
- Give the right vocal cues.
- Give the correct physical cues.
- Develop a positive attitude.
- Learn controlled breathing to quell panic.
- Try CBT if you find all of this a real struggle.
Photo credit: Chris and Karen Highland.