Have you ever just totally nailed a presentation? Left the audience laughing, clapping, or wanting more? When I was in college, during a study-abroad program, I had to give an end-of-semester presentation about what we’d been studying. It was an art history class and we’d been traveling around Italy for a month seeing the work of great masters.
I can’t recall what I talked about, but I do remember feeling thrilled because the audience loved it. My classmates were laughing and clapping and the woman who had to go next was complaining about her bad luck. It was the first time I realized that presenting could actually be fun.
Many people don’t feel this way, and I’ve noticed that the most common problem that comes up in my coaching sessions is a lack of confidence. Often, my clients feel self-conscious and they assume that everyone else must feel more confident than they do. Now, it’s true that some people are naturally gifted speakers and are just born confident. But most people have to learn this skill, which means you can too!
How can I feel more confident when I present?
Let’s work from the inside out. Seeing your own greatness is the first step in becoming a good presenter. Try to let your passion for your work and the ideas you want to share with your audience shine through during your presentation. Don’t worry too much about yourself or what you’re doing. Think instead about what you love about your work and what motivates you to keep doing it. That passion will give you power.
Next, try to imagine what it must feel like to speak with confidence. It may sound silly, but it actually works. What does a confident person look like? Think of someone you know that seems like a confident presenter. How do they give that impression? What kind of body language do they use? Our body language lets other people know how we’re feeling but it also affects how we feel about ourselves. The more we act confident, the more confident we’ll actually feel!
Notice how different these two images feel. Who do you think looks like a better speaker? Try to imagine yourself as the woman on the right – totally confident and in control. Wouldn’t that feel great? Now try to see yourself that way. Or visualize yourself as the confident person you imagined earlier. What are you doing to convey that confidence? What are you not doing?
In the U.S., we have a saying for this situation: Fake it until you make it. (In other words, pretend to be confident until you are.) Even if you still feel really nervous, you’re going to act confident. Because if you fake it well enough, your audience won’t know the difference! By acting it out, you’ll slowly start to feel and look more confident to others, until one day you’ll actually be as confident as you imagine!
How can I look more confident when I present?
Once you can imagine feeling confident, it’s time to show that to your audience through body language. Stay focused on your passion and let that power start to shine out through you in the way you stand and move.
So, how can we use body language to look more cool and confident? One way is to take a strong, open posture. This means standing up straight, and not crossing our arms or putting our hands in our pockets. It also means not doing anything that looks nervous, like fidgeting with our notes or shifting our weight back and forth. Also, try to avoid nervous laughter.
Basically, try to be cool and emulate the confident person you imagined. Taking deep breaths can really help you calm down and relax just before you begin your presentation or interview. Bonus points if you can make eye contact with your audience while you’re speaking.
Another very effective way to look more confident is to smile often. Smiling is contagious, so if you smile a lot, your audience will have a more positive feeling about you. Let your passion for your work come through with a big smile! However, make sure your smile is genuine and friendly. A nervous smile is different and will not help you to look confident.
Also, try using gestures while you speak. This will make your presentation more engaging and help you emphasize the important points. Again, you want to be sure your gestures are confident and not nervous. Some people wring their hands when they’re nervous, and this is not what we want to do. Instead, use your hands to help convey your message. If you want to see what this looks like, check out the speakers at TED.com. They are usually very confident presenters. Notice the way they use their body language to show that confidence.
How can I sound more confident when I present?
Finally, let’s focus on how our voices can help us sound more confident. These final tips can help you sound more powerful when you speak.
Take your time.
When it comes to presenting, speaking clearly is more important than speaking perfectly. Don’t try to speak more quickly than is comfortable for you and don’t ever, ever try to memorize or read your presentation. It’s better to just use simple notes, speak clearly, and pause when you need to. Talking too fast or too quietly makes you sound nervous. Trust that your ideas and your passion will be so interesting to your audience that they won’t care about any little mistakes you might make.
Watch your intonation.
Good storytelling is an important part of any successful presentation, and intonation can really help you make your story compelling. Essentially, good intonation is just making your voice rise and fall in a dramatic way to emphasize your points. Another way to think about it is that intonation is the way we let our passion for our work show. When we’re excited about something, we naturally speak with good intonation.
Just be careful to avoid uptalk, which can actually make you sound less confident. Uptalking means speaking with a rising intonation at the end of each sentence. This makes it sound like everything is a question and we’re not sure what we’re talking about.
As you’ve probably guessed, the best possible thing you can do to improve your confidence is to practice! I think this is common knowledge but no one wants to hear or believe it. Think about the skills you’ve developed in art and design. They took many hours of practice, right? Speaking confidently is the same way! Practice giving your presentation over and over until you are so familiar with it that you barely need any notes. (But don’t memorize it!) Then practice it once more and record yourself. Watch the recording and use all the tips above to see how you can improve.
When I gave that presentation back in college, I had no idea that my classmates would respond so well. I didn’t have any special training and didn’t think of myself as a great speaker. But I loved the art we were studying, and that love showed through to the audience. My enthusiasm gave me the power to make my presentation fun and memorable and it can do the same for you.
Public speaking can be really intimidating, so I’m here to support creatives as you build your confidence. If you have questions about this post or are interested in working with a coach, send me an email. If you’d like to read more tips like these, you can sign up for my newsletter and get a free email series about how to tell your portfolio story.
Image credits go to Cookie Studio on Adobe Stock