Confidence is what propels us forward, or holds us back. It’s what gives us the courage to leap or prevents us from even taking a step. It may be the most important attribute we could ever develop as it can have the greatest impact on our life. This article explores a specific fear, public speaking, and then demonstrates how you can increase your confidence in three easy steps. Increasing your confidence will give you the courage to overcome those fears that stop you.
The Impact of Social Media on Confidence
It’s an interesting time. People strive to have thousands of friends on social media, yet they really don’t have any “friends” at all.
We take selfies everywhere we go to ensure people know we lead interesting lives, yet we are lonely.
We share our most intimate thoughts online but can’t have an actual conversation for fear of conflict.
It’s easy to have courage behind a screen but how do you translate that to real confidence? How do you overcome that fear of failure or perception of not being “enough?”
NOTE: I tend to use confidence and courage interchangeably. The way I see it, confidence is required to have courage. And fear is just the antonym of confidence and courage.
I’ve got three easy steps for you today. But first, some context.
Personal Story: Fear of Public Speaking
When I was in high school (a long, long time ago), my drama teacher convinced me to join the Forensics team and get involved in public speaking. Being painfully shy, I was mortified at the idea. Keep in mind, I had a terrible lisp during my formative years resulting in speech therapy to overcome it. While I had overcome the speech impediment, I was in no way an extrovert.
Note: If you also struggle with the fear of public speaking, check out this article for specific tips: How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking
It was her confidence in me that gave me the courage to give it a shot and eventually even go to competitions. The competitions only required me to present in front of a couple of judges – no big deal. I got thru this by leveraging the tactic of believing I was someone else, an alter ego or character of sorts. Learn more about how to use an alter ego here: The Value of Creating an Alter Ego.
The Audience Gets Bigger
As often happens when one practices hard, I had some success and won some competitions. This resulted in the “opportunity” to provide one of my oral interpretations for the entire school . . . and town. Whhaaaaaaat? You mean, like in a gymnasium full of people?! You realize I’m shy, right?
After all this teacher had done for me, I couldn’t let her down. Somehow she talked me into it.
After weeks of angst, practice, and reciting in my sleep, the big night arrived. So, there I was, at the podium with a microphone at the Spring Arts Show pretending to be Edgar Allan Poe and telling my version of The Tell-Tale Heart.
I’d practiced until I could deliver this speech in my sleep. Yet, seeing all those people in the room was oh, so terrifying! The auditorium was filled with people – parents, neighbors, teachers, people I’d never seen before, and . . . the two people whose opinion mattered most to me, my brother and father.
All eyes were on me and it was horrifying.
I was prepared and that helped a lot. Additionally, I had the benefit of stepping into the role of the character. And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t see the people in the audience, I just focused on being Edgar Allen Poe.
Mistakes are Inevitable
There was a place in this presentation where my madness (i.e. insane, not angry) hit a crescendo peak. I had just killed a man and buried him under my floor planks. And now the police are literally standing on top of him and I’m hearing his heart beating, growing louder with each moment. I’m overwhelmed with the moment and think the police can surely hear his heart beating through the boards.
During this critical part of the presentation, I look up in the stands just when I’m supposed to say the word “damn” and my eyes fall on my father and brother leaning forward on the edge of their seats. They were so enthralled with my performance and captivated by my story and . . . sitting just in front of them is the pastor or our church equally engaged. I mean, they were all seriously captivated. I had them in the palm of my hand!
But that’s my father and our pastor. How can I curse in front of them?!
In a split second, my brain panicked and the word “Damn” came out something like “blajdosha” because I just couldn’t curse in front of them (Ha! If they could hear me now!). I was so embarrassed and disappointed in myself. Yet I didn’t let it stop me and continued on. In the back of my mind, I knew everyone in the audience caught my mistake and it just confirmed my failure as a speaker.
After the event, people came to me to say how much they enjoyed the presentation, and how impressed they were with my speaking skills . . . including the pastor. My dad and brother were in awe of my abilities (I know, how sweet huh?) and appeared genuinely impressed. At first, I just assumed people were being nice to make me feel better about my mistake. Yet, as more and more people congratulated me I began to wonder if by some miracle they didn’t hear my mistake. Is it possible?
Turns out, nobody in the audience had the script so they had no idea I even made a mistake! They thought “blajdosha” or whatever the hell I said was what I was supposed to say.
As I unpacked it later, I realized public speaking was one of the greatest fears every human has on earth. I learned a lot about courage and confidence with that event and it has obviously impacted the rest of my life.
Lessons Learned from Public Speaking
Here’s what I learned that day, have applied in all areas of my life, and what you can learn from me.
1. My courage (or lack thereof) is totally within my control. It’s a decision, not something some people are born with and some are not.
2. Courage and confidence increase with practice. The more I do things that scare me, the more courageous I become. And the more confident I become in my ability to do more challenging things.
3. Nobody has a script they are comparing me to. I’m the only one judging me. And I’m the only one stopping me. Everyone is too caught up in their own stuff to worry about what I’m doing.
What an amazing gift that was and continues to be!
The Impact of One Event
As it turns out, that teacher and event impacted the rest of my life. I ended up with a career in adult learning, public speaking, and teaching others how to do the same. As someone who was teased terribly as a child as a result of a speech impediment, I would have never imagined this to be my chosen profession. You never know how developing confidence in one area of your life is going to change the entire trajectory of your future. Keep that in mind.
Related Article: Overcoming the Fear of Failure.
Let’s get to the 3 steps to increase your confidence!
3 Steps to Increase Your Confidence
Now it’s your turn. Let’s take a look at a three-step process to help you increase your confidence in any given area. You can use this approach to increase your confidence overall or start with a particular area of your life where you feel more insecure.
Step 1: Determine Exactly What You are Afraid of?
I’m a big fan of root-cause analysis. Before you can start implementing strategies to increase your confidence, it’s essential to understand where it comes from. What exactly are you afraid of? Are you afraid of making a mistake? Being embarrassed? Being judged? Not being as good as someone else? Losing money? Making money? Being successful? Before you can fix the problem, you need to define the problem. This is important because the next step is irrelevant until you figure this out.
Why is this step so important? If your fear is being judged by others, your approach to solving this is going to be much different than if your fear is losing money. If you implement a strategy to overcome the fear of losing money, that won’t solve your problem of being judged by others.
Think about it. Journal about it. Rank order what you’re most afraid of. Quit throwing darts out in hopes of hitting the mark and take the time to reflect on what’s stopping you EXACTLY. It’s helpful to start with one area of your life – a work project or attempting a goal, for example.
These articles might help with this step:
And I just happen to have an entire line of journals to help you get started in this area.
If you are on a quest of personal development, check out My Favorite Personal Development Books on my Amazon Storefront. I’m adding to this list all the time so check back. There are also some other Idea Lists there such as Health & Wellness Products, My Favorite Journals, Camera Equipment, and much more.
Step 2: Create a Strategy to Mitigate the Risk
Once you’ve taken the time to delve into the “why”, it’s time to create an effective strategy to overcome your fear and increase your confidence. Analogies are a great way to explain this so let’s explore a couple of examples.
EXAMPLE: Let’s just take my aforementioned speech and say I was afraid of making a mistake. Okay, a strategy for me would then be to work extra hard at preparation. Practicing in front of a small group, practicing without note cards, practicing in my sleep, etc.
EXAMPLE: If I’m afraid of being judged, my strategy will be different. I then have to dig a little deeper and figure out why I care about people judging me or if there is a specific person driving this fear. And then I have to create a strategy to mitigate that fear. Maybe one of my strategies would be to see the audience naked. If they are all naked, they certainly wouldn’t be spending time or energy judging me.
If you have multiple fears about something specific, you’ll need multiple strategies.
NOTE: Oftentimes, we think we are afraid of failure but really we end up being afraid of success. So, we subconsciously sabotage our own potential achievements to make sure that doesn’t happen. I can’t begin to tell you the value associated with self-reflection and awareness!
Step 3: What’s the Worst that Can Happen?
You’ve identified a key area where you feel insecure, come up with strategies to mitigate your risks, and now you are ready for the final step before making an attempt to overcome your fear.
You’re playing out the catastrophe in your head anyway so, let’s just go with it. I suggest writing it down. Hell, go full-on mental and write down all the bad things that can happen! Go wild and list every possible thing that could go wrong. This isn’t sarcasm, I really want you to do this.
Now, take a deep breath and let your logical brain step in for a few minutes. Look closely at every one of those potential catastrophes and evaluate the likelihood that any of them will come to fruition. Complete this task by assigning a percent plausibility to each item. It doesn’t even have to equal 100%. Here’s an example I used for my presentation.
1. I could make a mistake – 50%
2. I could be embarrassed by my mistake – 50%
3. My blouse could be unbuttoned without my knowledge – 10%
4. I might get nervous and stutter – 50%
5. There might be a tornado during my presentation that distracts everyone (I do live in the Midwest after all) – 10%
6. I might fail – 10%.
You get the idea.
Take a look at that list and let it sink in how possible it is that any of the things you wrote down might actually come to fruition.
Now I want you to take that same list and directly below or beside it, write down what might happen if you succeed and the % likelihood that each item on the list could happen.
1. I impress the entire town – 50%.
2. I gain confidence in my abilities – 70%.
3. I am launched into a new career – 50%.
4. I am asked to help others provide presentations – 30%.
5. Standing ovation! – 30%
6. I will have succeeded merely by doing it! – 70%
Ready and Action
Even after completing these steps, it won’t be comfortable the first time. It may not be comfortable the 10th time. I know people who have performed for 10 years and still get nauseous before getting on stage. All skills are developed with practice. Confidence is not something we are born with. It increases with practice. You’ll only increase confidence by changing your expectations and practice.
The more you try, the more confidence you will gain. Before you know it, your level of courage will even astound you.
Developing confidence and courage is like building muscles. Every time you work out, you strengthen your muscles a little more. Every time you try something that kind of scares you, the same happens to your confidence. It grows just a little more.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Get out there and work on those muscles!
Whatever it is, you’ve got this.
And if you are on a personal or professional development journey, I hope you’ll check out some of our other articles.