You can be a powerful communicator even if you suffer from feelings of inadequacy, shyness, or introversion.
Contrary to the view that one’s ability to build confidence as a communicator requires you to work on your self-esteem or find a way to feel powerful (that ridiculous advice imagining your audience pant-less or naked), becoming a confident communicator has more to do with building skill consistently over time.
In the business world, where we have to communicate to influence almost every day, there are Three Ps (3Ps) to communicating with confidence, and they are:
P1: Putting your audience first
If you work on any of the 3Ps, you’ll be a more confident communicator, but if you work on all of them, your confidence will soar.
Let’s take a look at these:
P1: Putting Your Audience First
When we focus more on our audience and what’s in it for them plus the value of what it is that we can offer to them, then naturally we’re less focussed on ourselves, and our lack of confidence. We do this by becoming very curious about the other party and being empathetic to their needs, challenges and objectives.
Whether meeting customers or internal people face-to-face or virtually, reflect on the following question, “What do I think the other party wants?” It’s a simple question but can lead you to think more critically about how the discussion or presentation will be relevant to the other party. And this will help you shift to talking about you less and talking about them more.
Not only will it relax you because you’re taking the focus off of you, your audience will be highly receptive to whatever you say even if you’re not the best speaker; you don’t look people in the eye, you stumble over your words, you’re breathless or you say “um” a lot. I can assure you; they’ll hardly notice any of that or care because your message is focussed on them.
There is a well-known quote that says it all: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” and if you’re already anxious and insecure, being unprepared is deadly to performing at your best. Even the most confident communicators can stumble when they have to wing-it.
Preparation is also your best friend if you’re nervous about presenting to individuals you see as more powerful than you or have authority over you.
How much preparation is enough? That depends on the time allocated to you, the type of communication (two-way conversation versus presenting to an audience of 20) and your level of knowledge about a topic.
Regardless, at the very least, you need to ask yourself three major questions every time you’re going to have a crucial conversation or deliver an important presentation. They are:
1. What is the purpose of this meeting? Be clear about this, if not, the conversation or presentation will go nowhere. For example, If presenting to senior leadership, you might write down, “provide insight into [insert problem] and suggest ways to fix [insert problem].” If delivering a sales presentation, “help xx customer save money (moving from on-premise to cloud), or freeing up their employees to focus on high-value work (through total automation)
2. Who is my audience? This goes back to the P1 question: What do I think they want? But here you can take it further with questions like, “What do they care about?” “What is their current state of mind?” (COVID-19 makes this a pressing question right now); “What problems do they need to solve?” “What mission do they need to fulfil?”
3. What outcome do I want? Not thinking this through means nothing will happen, and your confidence as a communicator will suffer. Again, you need to be clear about the outcome or result, and what action needs to be taken by you or the other party. For example, “The outcome I want is to have the senior leadership team release funds to me so I can fix that problem”, or “this presentation needs to convince the decision-makers at the buyer that we are the only choice so we can begin contract negotiations next week.”
You can ask and answer the above three questions silently, in your head. But this isn’t the best as your brain has a lot of thoughts competing with each other which means your creativity and analytical reasoning will suffer. You want your answers to land with precision. So, write down the questions and possible answers, even if you don’t have a lot of time.
Now, there are some people (and I hope it’s not you) that have a false sense of confidence which leads them to believe they don’t have to prepare. Then they wonder why their audience is throwing rotten eggs at them (metaphorically speaking) or is falling asleep or is becoming defensive about what they’re saying.
Of course, you might be that rare person that thrives communicating off-the-cuff and does it spectacularly, but this article isn’t for you.
Not practising what you’ll be discussing or presenting is very common because of how rushed we are in business today. That doesn’t mean we don’t have time to practise our communications, we just don’t think it’s essential, so it goes to the bottom of the list as a priority. If you want to be a more confident communicator, then practising what you’re going to say is vitally important. An often-unintended consequence of practise work is that you’ll naturally notice ideas not well-thought-out or irrelevant to your audience. Time to practise allows for an organic process that incrementally hones your thinking, themes and messages so that your communications become clearer and more succinct.
Practise also refers to doing something over and over again. The more you find your courage to communicate publicly whether to an online or face-to-face audience, the better you’ll get at it. Let’s say, you’re reading this and your confidence level is three out of 10, but you’d like to become a confident communicator. Then start small, by practising communications in a safe environment like team meetings. Give yourself permission to offer a suggestion or share a story every single time you’re in a meeting, speaking for just two minutes. You’ll be amazed at how this can go some way to flex your communication skills and confidence.
Confident people in business don’t communicate like they know it all. What they do is express an opinion or an interesting idea that’s either based on years of experience or well-researched and analysed facts. All of this you do, Dear Reader, so there’s every reason you should and can communicate with confidence.
As a confident communicator, you know that sometimes you’ll get your facts wrong because new information will come your way, and that’s okay, you’re only human, and all of us get it wrong from time to time.
And sure, it’s true that sometimes your ideas will be challenged or not respected. But if you follow the 3Ps, it won’t happen very often, or the criticism levelled at you will be hollow.
Don’t get paralysed by focussing on your insecurities. They will lessen while your confidence will grow if you consistently apply the 3Ps formula: P1. Putting your audience first, P2. Preparation, and P3. Practise.