Communicating with Confidence

In her 2012 TED talk, Amy Cuddy explains that our body language determines how others see us and can also change how we see ourselves. Her studies show that “power posing” - standing with the body opened up and taking up space - can affect the brain’s testosterone and cortisol levels, making you feel more confident. Power posing before an interview can boost your confidence and, according to Cuddy’s study, help you perform better.

Once you learn to feel confident, it’s important to project that outwards. When we think about some of the best speakers, so much of their charisma can be attributed to the confidence they exude. As Albert Mehrabian found in 1967, words only account for 7% of communications when we’re making first impressions. Tone of voice and body language determine how others feel about us and whether they believe what we’re saying. Whether you’re heading to an interview, a networking event, or simply meeting new people, here are ways to communicate with confidence:

  • Relax. If you’re stiff and tense, others will notice. Try to be as loose and natural as possible (but not so loose that you begin to slouch). Limiting caffeine intake can help you remain calm and appear relaxed. Exercising a few hours before your interview can help you relax.

  • Make eye contact. Looking in the other person’s eyes for two to three seconds will convey interest and presence, whereas looking away after a second can convey insecurity and anxiety. Research shows that while the “right” amount of eye contact will vary from situation to situation, it’s best to make more direct eye contact when you are listening and less when you are speaking, for a total of 30% to 60% of the conversation.

  • Speak in a clear and stable voice. Speaking without whispering or stammering will convey self-assurance. Control your breathing to stop your voice from shaking. You may consider doing some vocal exercises on your own or with a coach to improve the control and endurance of your voice.

  • Slow down your speech. Use pauses where appropriate to show you’re in control of what you’re saying. The best way to do this, according to the Harvard Business Review, is to drop the pitch of your voice at the ends of phrases. This has the added benefit of making you sound more authoritative.

  • Avoid filler words. The use of filler words such as “um,” “uh,” and “like” can indicate you’re not knowledgeable about the subject at hand. When preparing for an interview, practice your answers to common interview questions so you won’t feel the need to use filler words while thinking of your answers. You might also try listening to a recording of yourself speaking and using filler words - Forbes claims that this cringe-inducing experience could rid you of this habit for good.

  • Smile. You’ll seem composed and approachable, and according to Cuddy, you’ll start to feel happier as well. However, you’ll want to make sure your smile is genuine - we are trained to tell the difference between real and fake smiles. Researcher Andrew Newberg says that simply picturing someone you love or recalling an event that brought you joy will bring a genuine smile to your face.

  • Don’t fidget. You don’t want to appear nervous or insecure. Since fidgeting is often the manifestation of nervous energy, career adviser Mary Lorenz suggests doing breathing exercises before an interview or event to calm your nerves, and to role-play interviews with a friend to make the process more familiar and less intimidating.

  • Keep your shoulders straight and chin slightly up. It’s not as extreme as one of Cuddy’s “power poses” but it’ll convey confidence to others and make you feel more self-assured as well. Imagine there is a string tied from the top of your head to the ceiling in order to maintain good posture.

  • Visualise: While all of the above can only be done in person, you can mentally prepare yourself to do it all ahead of time by visualising a successful outcome in each of the above areas.  

If you want to read up on further tips for communicating with confidence, check out Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader by Diana Booher, Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time by Bill McGowan or The Art and Science of Communication: Tools for Effective Communication in the Workplace by P.S. Perkins. For more hands-on advice and experience, consider joining a local chapter of Toastmasters, a non-profit that develops public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback in local clubs.