“Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory.” Arthur Ashe
Arthur Ashe was the first black tennis player ever selected for the United States Davis Cup team, and the only black player ever to win the men’s single titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.
He had great style and often seemed supremely confident on and off the tennis court. What he realised very early on in his career was that displaying confidence would lead to real mental changes.
As a performance coach I’ve been privileged to work with a varied selection of fascinating people. Whether it’s an Olympic athlete, a CEO of a global brand, or a team leader trying to inspire those around them – they have all suffered from a crisis in confidence when they’ve had to present.
Here are 2 fundamental techniques used by performance coaches to help you improve your presentation skills, style and confidence:
As an audience member we measure confidence by the evidence we see before us. Before you open your mouth your audience is deciding whether or not to trust you. Your stance, your clothing and your eye contact are all creating split second assumptions in your audience members. If we feel you are confident we relax and ultimately we want to trust your knowledge, experience or energy.
Now, if I asked you to tell me what you would need to do display confidence, then I’m sure you’d come up with a very long list of things to do. You may well say – stand tall, have good eye contact, have open hand gestures, have a strong clear voice etc. Concentrating on a long list just before you begin to present is probably not the best advice I could give – the reason being that our brains prefer simple and clear instructions rather than a dossier.
My advice is not to focus on the physical attributes, but to use a cognitive technique often employed by actors. Give yourself a number between 1 (low) and 10 (high) that represents your level of confidence. When you stand in front of an audience what’s your confidence number? What’s the number of someone you think is great in front of people? If you feel like a 4 then ask yourself what you’d look like as a 6? What do 9 and 10’s look like? What do they physically display? Steal those attributes and adapt them to your own style. Your body will instinctively know what to do if you say ‘I’m an eight”. It will know because it will have processed that sensation before – perhaps not during a presentation but certainly in a situation where you’ve felt relaxed, e.g. when you’ve been out with friends, or given great feedback at work or a pay rise.
The next time you present hold an achievable number in your head throughout and feel the difference.
“If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.” – Unknown
Being present is the best advice I could give anyone about anything that life throws at us – not just regarding presentations. When we are in the moment it is much easier to handle things – e.g. a difficult question from the CEO, the projector bursting into flames, or even a complete power failure. If you don’t believe me the ask yourself if you get fazed when you can’t remember the name of a movie or a book when you’re with friends? Probably not, because you were relaxed and present.
When we are in the present moment we are giving something our full attention. For the most part when we present we are worrying about the next slide, the next thought or the Finance Manager getting a calculator out.
Being present takes a lot of practice. Start small – really observe what’s around you on that daily commute, or really listen to that friend you can often switch off from. Those small adjustments will create greater focus. The next time you get up to present really look and connect with your audience and be aware of your environment.
I was once lucky enough to be standing with the Dali Lama moments before he went on stage to talk about the Buddhist scriptures to a large audience. He was so in the now, that whilst waiting we discussed the engineering qualities of a fire alarm on the wall in front of us!
It was a powerful lesson that I’ve never forgotten.
About the author: David Bliss is a director and co-founder of Edison Red, a training company specializing in all things Presentation, Story and Visual Design.
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