What does a confident speaker look like? Some people think projecting confidence means being upbeat, bold, and in your face.
That’s great if you’re looking to get attention from passing cars. But you aren't a human neon sign, and you shouldn't try to be. If you’re looking to get attention from senior leaders, you might want to reevaluate your approach; there's a more understated way to do it—and do it well.
Business speaking isn’t about being flashy. It's about being poised, balanced, and relevant. Here are three ways you can project confidence and sustain the attention of the decision makers who matter.
One of the surest ways to project confidence is to eliminate your "ahs," "ers," "you knows," and other filler words. These are the phrases that threaten to break up the flow of your communication. Your rhythm becomes fragmented, and you get out of sync. What's more, "ahs" and "ums" kill your credibility. Your audience may begin to wonder if you're hesitating because you doubt your own message, making the confidence you're trying to project appear feigned.
The solution to this problem is not to go to a word-for-word script and become completely mechanical. Instead, you need to connect with the rhythm of your speaking. Think about your words as a boat and your rhythm as the sea. To project confidence, you have to let your rhythm flow smoothly—not calm and flat, but not crashing either—gentle waves. Filler words are like choppy waters that interrupt your flow.
The good news? Eliminating them is not that difficult. By analyzing when your filler words tend to occur and adjusting accordingly, you'll start to speak more fluently—which is one of the hallmarks of quiet, authentic confidence.
People who speak with confidence don’t focus on parts of their communication at the expense of others, they deliver an integrated whole. That’s because confident speakers don't let "leaks" seep into the transmission—distracting behaviors that send competing signals. Do I pay attention to your facial twitches or to your message? To project confidence, you need to be blended, integrated, and in sync.
Whether you have odd facial expressions, body movements, or other idiosyncrasies, eliminate these behaviors and stay aligned. Again, achieving this is easier than you might imagine: Watching yourself on video is a critical practice exercise for confident speaking. You may not even realize that you’re holding your shoulders up by your ears, tilting your head, or tapping your finger.
I was recently working with a leader who was applying 3-D printing technologies in the clothing industry. When she described the avatars they create as their models, her hands gestured the shape of the avatar—I could see that she was seeing an image of the avatar in her mind’s eye. And because that gesture aligned with her words, I was getting the whole picture. To project confidence, you need to see what you’re saying, not just speak the words.
The quality of your voice can be a major factor that determines how others perceive you. I once had a client—a high-level executive from a major aerospace company—who came to me because she was told she didn't project confidence. She was incredibly accomplished. She spoke with energy. She gestured strongly. She was succinct. So what wasn't working for her?
Finally, I figured it out—her voice was a little grating. On a hunch, I asked her, "Do you have a hearing problem?" She looked at me, taken aback. "How did you know?" I was right: Her voice sounded nasally because she could hear herself better that way. I taught her to speak in a more balanced, resonant tone, and the president who'd sent her for coaching noticed an immediate difference.
Changing the way you speak may sound difficult, but with a little work, you can have a strong, smooth voice that exudes confidence. It isn't about speaking more deeply, either (a piece of advice we occasionally hear tossed around, sometimes with sexist implications for female leaders)—it's about balancing resonance, relaxation, rhythm, and pacing. Your speaking voice is actually made up of these four elements, and brushing up on each of them can make a real difference in the way you sound to listeners.
Finally, you can project confidence by committing to regular, consistent eye contact. Nothing says "lack of confidence" like looking at the floor, your notes, or your PowerPoint slides for the bulk of your presentation. That much you probably know. But how to connect your gaze with a large group of people is a bit trickier.
If you’re speaking to a big crowd, divide the audience into rough sections, and make eye contact for about five seconds per section. You can look down or away every once in a while, but that will create consistency without overdone intensity. Consistent eye contact tells your audience that you're comfortable and confident in your message.
The truth is that projecting confidence isn't just about a big smile and a glad hand. Nobody likes a showboater. Radiating firm, quiet confidence is a more subtle art, and it lets you speak with openness, ease, and integration.