Communication is one of the most important skills in any resume, job or career. It is applicable to every single job, in every single industry, and is one of the most important skills we need to master as adults.
However, communicating confidently can be very….intimidating if you are someone with self-doubt or impostor syndrome.
For a long time, I let my self-confidence in public speaking (and when I mean public speaking, I mean speak in a room with more than one person), stop me from saying anything at all.
But that kind of self-doubt holds you back from sharing your ideas, opinions, and voice with the world.
I used to be so shy, and so scared to speak up and read a paragraph from a textbook in front of my class.
I had this irrational fear that everyone would laugh at me, and that reflected in my body language when I would turn a bright shade of red.
This was especially prominent in my job search in interviews and during promotions. I didn’t know how to demonstrate confidence and a lot of the advice out there preached “faking it until you make it.” But the problem with that is that it never addressed the core root of the problem.
If you also struggle with communicating confidently, use these 7 tips and learn how to communicate at work without “faking it until you make it,” without having to speak up more, and even when you are nervous:
1. Slow down Your Speech
It can be very easy to default to speaking quickly when you are nervous. I am definitely guilty of this one. If you’re like me, you speak quickly because you want to get it over as fast as possible. You don’t want anyone to look or you or critique what you’re saying, so you say it very quickly. You also have so many thoughts that you want to make sure you cover everything. While it’s important not to talk at a super slow pace (try to create a speech rhythm similar to a lyrical song), it’s really important to slow down your speech for many reasons:
a) It projects a more thoughtful response. When you say everything very quickly, it can sometimes sound like you are saying whatever comes to you at that moment. Speaking a bit more slowly allows you to choose your words more carefully. and creates the impression that you have thought out your response. A great example of this is Barack Obama. His voice and speeches have always been praised for how thoughtful they are and studies have shown this is because he takes dramatic and thoughtful pauses without talking too quickly.
b) It allows other people to understand what you’re saying and take in the information. When you speak quickly, one of the reasons it comes off as unconfident is also because people can’t take in everything you are saying. Slowing down allows other people to better understand you and follow your thought process.
c) It makes you less nervous and fearful when public speaking. One of the greatest fears when it comes to public speaking in silence. When you speak in a rhythm and are ahead of your words, you also give yourself time to recover. When you are speaking and stumble or forget a word, you are then able to jump back easier when you are speaking slowly than quickly. When you are speaking quickly, a 5-second pause can seem like an eternity, but when you slow down and need a second to collect your thoughts, it doesn’t seem that long.
2. Create a Strong, Go-To, Confident Opening Sentence
Half of the battle when it comes to confidence is the word choice, especially at the beginning. Having a strong opening creates the foundation for how people will perceive your speech. Try not to start sentences with words such as “umm,” “well,” “just,” “I guess,” or “I think.” Of course, it’s still okay to use these words. It’s best to use them as little as possible, but I get it, sometimes it’s a default. What I recommend though is having a strong, go-to, opener sentence that allows you to bounce off other people’s comments or be direct in your opinion such as:
- To follow up on Anna’s comment or X presentation point
- That’s a great point…
- I really like that idea…
- A concern I have is…
- Something we need to look at is…
You can then venture into phrases like “I think….” However, by creating a strong opener, you have made a confident statement that is the foundation for the rest of your speech.
3. Create an outline of your thoughts to avoid being interrupted.
A common problem when it comes to speaking confidently is not knowing what to do when you are interrupted. When you are interrupted, you might not know how to respond and weren’t finished your phrases. To avoid being interrupted, create an outline of your ideas and outline them at the beginning. For example:
- “There are 3 issues I see with this plan…”
- “I see 2 great benefits to partnering with this company…”
- “I’ve heard 3 types of feedback from our clients…”
If you create an outline of your thoughts, people will be more likely to wait until you’re done because you gave them the number of points you wanted to speak on at the beginning. And then if you are interrupted, you can simply say “To continue on my next point…..blah blah blah ” because you already stated at the beginning you had more to say. This technique allows you to bounce back from interruptions that can shake your confidence in speaking again.
Pro Tip: I used to write bullet points outlining what I wanted to say in a meeting so I could fully think things out before I spoke.
4. End Your Sentence On A Low Tone
Last year, I was presenting at a meeting and at the end of it, a manager from another department pulled me aside to tell me how much she liked my presentation. It was obviously well researched and well presented but she wanted to offer me one point for improvement. She noticed that during my presentation, I would end all of my sentences with a high tone. What this does is it made it sound like all of my sentences like questions and gave the impression that I was questioning myself. I had never thought about this before and now I am very aware of my tone. So if possible, try to end your sentences in a low tone.
5. Don’t be afraid of silence
Silence has a time and place. If there is a silence, do not feel the need to immediately fill the void. If you are having a discussion or are in a meeting and it is met with silence, let it stay silent for a bit. People may be collecting their thoughts. A part of being confident in your communication is having confidence in your thoughts and ideas. So you don’t have to rush to explain it again or clarify anything if no one has asked a question. Instead of filling the silence with more filler speech, ask a question. An easy one is “what do you think about moving forward with X plan” or “has anyone seen any similar issues with our software systems?” That put’s the onus on the other person and it invites them into the conversation. Avoid asking things like “is there anything I can clarify” or “did everyone understand this point?” because it creates skepticism in your ideas. This brings me to the next point…
6. Let people ask questions
As someone with a lot of self-doubt, I know what it’s like to want to overexplain EVERYTHING. But I’ve learned that talking too much is also a sign of low confidence in communication. No one wants to read an essay-styled email or listen to a presentation for 30 mins that could have been explained in 5 mins.
A big misconception when it comes to communication is more words means more confidence. That’s not how it is perceived. I’ve learned throughout the years to work on being more concise instead of speaking more. So make your point and then, allow people the time and take in what you said and ask questions if you have them. You don’t have to be dominating a meeting or conversation in order to exude confidence. Confident communication is about demonstrating knowledge of your topic and sharing your ideas without second-guessing yourself and how others understand the information. You created a clear response to an idea, it’s up to the other person to ask for clarification if they do not understand.
7. Listen more than you speak
Lastly, if anything when you are speaking in a meeting, make sure to listen more than you speak. Being confident in your communication is also about understanding other people’s perspectives and ideas when you are responding to them. If you speak non-stop and never listen to the other person, they won’t perceive your communication style as knowledgeable or confident because you didn’t listen to anything they said. A part of confident communication is listening. When you speak, make sure to back up your statements by gathering evidence in support of your idea. This will allow people to have confidence in your statements because it is obviously well thought out and demonstrated that you were taking in the information from all sides. I have found this especially important in meetings because if I am able to support my idea with comments from multiple coworkers, people are more confident in my ideas because I was paying incoroparting the voices of others.
Bonus: A byproduct of this technique is people will like working with you more. Most people just want to be listened to and have their ideas acknowledged at work. Even if you disagree with someone’s point, taking the time to listen to them and have taken into consideration all of their points instead of blatantly disregarding their perspective. People like being listened to and they will trust your opinions and ideas more if you show that take into consideration the perspectives of others.
Confident communication isn’t just for loud, extroverted, naturally confident people. If you are a person with self-doubt, are introverted, or becomes shy/nervous easily, you can still communicate confidently! And if you need help with breaking out of self-doubt in your career, make sure to check out my Promote Yourself 1:1 Career Coaching Program for more help! Don’t let nerves and self-confidence hold you back in your career; you have so much more than you think to share.