In my experience, confidence is one of the most important components of public speaking. If you are confident, the audience will forgive a few filler words or mistakes. If you are confident in your subject and in yourself, your audience is more likely to have confidence in you. This is not the same as arrogance or bluster. It’s not about showing the audience that you are better than they are; it’s about a deep conviction in your own value and your ability to deliver.

How do you find and build confidence? In The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman interview experts who say that genes account for anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of our confidence. Still, there is so much we can do to build it. When my team and I discuss this subject during workshops, we divide it into two areas: what builds confidence, and what demonstrates confidence.

What builds confidence? Take a minute and think about that question. You feel more confident when:

  • Someone validates your work. That’s why, in our workshops, we always emphasize what people do well before we talk about what to improve. It’s also important to realize that people in the audience want you to do well.
  • You’ve experienced success in the past. That’s why the more successful speeches you give, the better you feel.
  • You know your subject and have the right skills. That’s why public speaking training is so important.
  • You have practiced and prepared. That’s why speaking off-the-cuff is so nerve-racking.
  • You feel a sense of purpose around why you do what you do.
  • You value yourself and what you bring to the speech.

Which of the above areas do you need to focus on to build your confidence? Notice that some of these areas depend on other people, not on you. How can you play a confidence-building role for others in your life?

Now let’s look at what demonstrates confidence. Picture a truly confident speaker in your organization or in your community. Maybe it’s a CEO or a political leader. What makes him or her appear confident?

  • When meeting someone, it’s their firm handshake and direct eye contact.
  • If they’re speaking in public, it’s the meaningful hand gestures they use, a tall but relaxed posture, and eye contact with the audience.
  • You can hear confidence in someone’s voice. Instead of shaking and inaudible, a confident voice is clear and calm. It doesn’t have to be loud, but it’s strong and well supported.
  • You feel it in someone’s presence. It resonates around them like an energy and touches the audience.
  • People who are confident speak at a fluid pace instead of rushing too fast or pausing too often.

What do you notice in this list?

Confidence comes across more in nonverbal communication than in the words themselves. It’s an energy that affects the words. But the right words (and authentic language) will affect that energy.

Focus first on what builds confidence, then focus on what demonstrates confidence. Essentially, you have to build your confidence in order to show it.

Here are some exercises that will help you build your confidence.

The Core Value Statement. One of the most powerful confidence-building tools is the Core Value Statement. I developed this tool after reading a research report from the University of California showing that individuals who affirmed their personal values before a speech experienced less stress when giving that speech.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Make a list of your core values.
  • Circle one that resonates the most.
  • Write a paragraph about how you live that value every day.

Visit for a handout that guides you through this exercise. Keep it nearby and read it out loud before every speech, presentation, or difficult conversation. It grounds you in who you are and what’s important to you, which is an incredible confidence-builder.

Breathe in and out. Find a quiet place and sit tall in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and focus solely on your breathing. Feel your stomach gently expand as you breathe in and relax as you breathe out. Breathe in slowly and silently on a count of three and exhale slowly on a count of four. If you’re pressed for time, even one minute of this breathing will help you calm down.

Mental Rehearsal. Close your eyes and imagine the speech or presentation in your head, word for word. Imagine yourself giving a powerful speech that has a meaningful impact on your audience, and you’ll feel like you are already a successful speaker. Using this it to calm yourself, center yourself, and build confidence that you will do an outstanding job.

Published with permission from Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence OthersHarperCollins Leadership. 

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