Most of my clients want to be more confident.
Why not? I’d like to be more confident. (Does anyone ever feel they have enough self-confidence?)
But too often, the expectation is that if I was just more confident, I wouldn’t have to work so hard or go through so much emotional struggle to ace this public speaking thing.
We Have Magical Thinking about Confidence
Often, we treat confidence like a magical destination that we’ll (someday!) arrive at and never leave again. We say things like,
He’s a confident public speaker.
She’s very self-confident.
And new clients who tell me that they’re not good public speakers often mean,
I don’t feel confident when I speak.
The assumption here is that, when other speakers project self-confidence, that confidence is both real and permanent — when, in spite of what you think you’re seeing, you can’t know that either of those things are true.
Like the song says, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Here’s an example: When I was young, a popular singer named Johnny Mathis was a big star. In addition to being a great vocalist and songwriter, Mathis had a casual, sophisticated stage persona. He made singing look effortless (which I can tell you it’s not!), as if songs just flowed out of him on their own.
Years later, I learned that this man, who seemed to embody perfect self-confidence, suffered from such acute stage fright that he literally threw up before every performance. (Adele has also said that this happens to her.)
Looking confident and feeling confident are not the same thing — especially when you’re looking at a skilled performer, including skilled public speakers.
And assuming that they’ve got something you don’t have (confidence!!) does both you and them a disservice.
Confidence is a Process, Not a Place
The thing that we forget, when we dream about that wonderful, magical day in which our confidence will reign supreme, is this:
As our skill in any area goes up, so does our ability to see where we could still improve.
To put that differently: When we start to acquire a new skill, like public speaking, any gains we make seem big. Our eyes are opened to the possibilities, and starting down a new path can seem exciting.
But as we grow in skill and experience, we can come to take our gains for granted. Worse, we may measure our progress more harshly because we’re focused on what we wish we could do.
Basically, if we think of confidence as a destination, we’re never going to get there. There’s even a children’s song that addresses this fact of life:
But is Confident the Cause of Public Speaking Success?
Now don’t get me wrong: I want you (and me!) to feel more confident. Feeling confident is fun, and when you’re speaking in public, it’s like having wind under your sails — or maybe being weightless, because you’re not being weighed down by that big stone of self-doubt.
But a lot of people think that confidence is the cause of public speaking success, when it’s much more likely to be an effect of the time you’ve spent learning new skills, practicing them, speaking up, fine-tuning your attitude, and observing the positive results.
So instead of thinking,
I’ll be a better public speaking when I’m more confident.
Try telling yourself:
I’ll probably feel more confident when I’m a more skilled and experienced public speaker — and that’s worth working for.
Think about engaging a guide for your climb.
And remember: There’s always another mountain.