How to Instantly Feel More Confident - Issue #285

Self-confidence tips that help with job interviews, work meetings, and good ol' social events too

  
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I don’t remember what my friend did, but suddenly a drill sergeant was in his face screaming at him. He called him every name in the book and told him how stupid he was.

At the end of his tirade, the drill sergeant stopped talking and kept staring into my friend’s face. He was expecting some sort of reaction or response.

But, my friend maintained his composure. He stared straight ahead, looking past him, his face expressionless.

That seemed to irritate the drill sergeant, so he tried to provoke him further, "You want to hit me, don't you, boy?"

My friend slowly turned his head. He smiled calmly and made direct eye contact. In a low voice, he deliberately and clearly said, "Ohhhh yes, drill sergeant."

His confident response — coupled with his imposing physical stature — made an impact. I was astounded to watch the drill sergeant mumble something, turn, and walk away.

That’s the power of confidence. Of course, it isn’t only useful in the military. We need it in our everyday lives, in both personal and professional situations.

We’re all slowly starting to venture out into the world again. I’m watching friends around the world going out to dinner, attending events, and meeting new people.

Of course, we have been meeting new people online during the past year. My Invincible Career Slack community chats every day, my Career Accelerator meets on Zoom every week, and I talk with my 1-on-1 clients all the time.

However, it’s different in person. I know that my social skills are feeling a bit rusty. I’m also feeling slightly awkward at events in the real world now. I guess Zoom isn’t a perfect proxy for physical socialization.

Several people have told me that they feel less confident now. They’ve been away from the workplace and social gatherings for over a year!

Well, it’s time to brush up on those conversational skills! Until your old confidence returns, here are some tips for boosting your signals of self-assurance.

You’ll instantly be perceived as more confident. This changes how people react to you. That change in their behavior feeds back into your assessment of the situation, which now makes you actually feel more confident.

It becomes a virtuous cycle.


Exude calm

Eight-time Olympic medalist speedskater Apolo Ohno was spotted yawning before his big races in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Broadcasters mentioned that perhaps he was bored or tired.

Nope, he wasn’t. He was intentionally yawning to prepare his body and calm himself down before the race.

"It makes me feel better. It gets the oxygen in and the nerves out."
— Apolo Ohno

Long ago, I started using my own calming rituals to handle stressful situations (e.g., during Army Basic Training, executive reviews, Board meetings). I'd force myself to feel somewhat disinterested and maintain a neutral expression.

People would remark later, "How do you stay so calm in those meetings? Nothing seems to bother you."

My wife also once said, “You seem at ease in every situation."

I'm not at ease. I often feel anxious. I frequently feel stressed.

However, I do my best not to let it show. I intentionally maintain my composure in most situations to help myself stay calm and feel more confident. I also do it to help people around me feel more relaxed and less stressed by what’s going on.

To instantly feel and appear calmer:

  • Focus on taking slower, deeper breaths.

  • Yawn before that big meeting or event starts!

  • Relax the muscles in your face.

  • Unclench your jaw.

  • Smile slightly.

  • Use an engaged but relaxed posture.

  • Let tension flow out of your back and arms.


Maintain eye contact

I’ve written about the power of eye contact before. You can use your gaze and body language to radiate more confidence. You can also deliberately use eye contact to communicate care, attention, and respect for others.

You will stand out and be viewed as more confident when you make appropriate eye contact with others. Why? Because fewer people are looking others in the eye during conversations. Eye contact should be made about 60-70% of the time during a discussion to create a sense of emotional connection, yet most are only doing it 30-60% of the time. 

If you want to be perceived as competent and confident during a job interview, for example, be aware of your eye contact with the interviewer. When applying for a high-status job, applicants who gazed regularly at the recruiter were given significantly more favorable evaluations compared to those who avoided eye contact.

If you want people to view you as confident and likable:

  • Make eye contact before you start talking to someone.

  • Aim for looking into their eyes about 60-70% of the time during a conversation (less when you’re speaking and more when you’re listening).

  • Maintain eye contact for 3–7 seconds to show that you’re interested (more than 10 secs is too long).

  • Use a gesture or nod to naturally break eye contact and look away slowly (don’t look down since that signals low confidence).


Move with intention

Confident people make slower, more intentional movements. They don’t let others rush them.

You can even see this in the animal world. Note the difference between the movements of a cat and a squirrel. One is a predator. The other is prey.

One makes slow, languid movements. It acts disinterested most of the time. It’s capable of extreme speed and physical action, but only when it chooses to do so.

The other makes herky-jerky movements. It twitches and flits around, scrambling anxiously from spot to spot.

Some people behave like squirrels. Their anxiety is often betrayed by their eyes. Research has found that when we are nervous or troubled our blink rate increases.

Try this the next time you want to instantly look and feel more confident:

  • Blink slowly instead of fluttering your eyes.

  • Breathe steadily through your nose.

  • Intentionally let your lungs fill with air as your chest slowly rises and falls.

  • Languidly move your body to stretch and relax during meetings.

  • Reach for things more slowly, open your notebook or laptop more deliberately, and don’t be in a rush with your movements.


Speak deliberately

People tend to speed up their speech when they are nervous. They ramble and stumble over their words. They also sometimes lose their train of thought.

Anxious speakers take shallow breaths and rush their words. Their voices climb a few octaves because their chest and throat feel tight. Not good.

It used to happen to me all the time! But, I finally learned how to take control of my body’s reactions to the stress of speaking in front of others and focused on improving my vocal delivery.

To instantly sound more confident:

  • Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

  • Relax and slow your speech down.

  • Speak more deliberately and clearly.

  • Remove hedging phrases from your speech (e.g., I feel…)

  • Eliminate verbal tics and vocal fillers (e.g., Ummm…)

  • Use pauses and silence for emphasis and impact.

  • Make eye contact with your listeners.

  • When asked questions, take a brief moment to think before answering.


Smile more often

Confident people frequently smile because they know they can handle almost any situation. They’re able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Smiling is probably the easiest way to instantly feel more confident. When you smile, it releases endorphins which make you feel better and boosts your self-esteem.

This is another one of those virtuous cycles. When you smile at someone, they are more likely to smile back at you. Both of you feel more positive, and you immediately begin feeling more confident.

With that said, this only works with a genuine smile. Tight, forced smiles are instantly perceived as insincere.

To feel more confident when talking with someone:

  • Genuinely smile when you meet them as if you’re catching up with an old friend.

  • Make sure you smile with your eyes too.

  • Smile when they smile, or when they say something that is funny or enjoyable for both of you.


Have a plan

This type of preparation will also help you feel more confident going into a situation. Many times, we feel anxious and nervous because of the unknown.

Research and planning help me feel more confident. I like to remove as many unknowns as possible. I like to make the unfamiliar feel more familiar.

For example, before I talk at an event, I research everything I can find about the venue, the other speakers, the organizers, the audience, etc. I will watch talks from previous years. If possible, I also explore the venue long before taking the stage.

The research and planning make me more familiar with the event, venue, and people. I feel more comfortable and, therefore, I feel more confident.

You can easily boost your confidence before any interaction by:

  • Being proactive and taking action, which instantly makes you feel more capable and confident.

  • Doing your homework and researching everything.

  • Turning the unknowns into knowns.

  • Turning strangers into familiar faces and voices.

  • Creating a plan for how you will approach things.

  • Preparing and rehearsing what you will say and do.


Predict outcomes

We can never be entirely certain what we will encounter when we meet others. We don’t know how they will react or what they will say.

To feel more confident, try to predict their behavior and prepare your reactions. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

For example, I would have to say that my military experience helped prepare me for the angry, screaming executives I encountered during my time working in tech in Silicon Valley. I was trained to stay calm, remain silent, and look straight ahead when a drill sergeant was inches away from my face and screaming at me. I was even physically punished in creative ways.

Do you think I gave a damn about some power-hungry exec trying to intimidate me? I anticipated that behavior and was prepared with how to react to it.

Before an important event, meeting, or discussion, create a model that predicts potential outcomes and how you will respond. You don’t have to be 100% accurate with predicting the exact words someone will say or actions they will take. Instead, work on the following:

  • What questions will they potentially ask?

  • What might their objections be?

  • If they say no, how will I respond?

  • If they say yes, what will I say next?

  • If they lose their temper, how do I want to react?

  • If everything goes smoothly, how do I want to wrap things up?


Be ready to walk away

One of the most confident things that you can do is walk away. Knowing that you’re ready to do so makes you feel more confident going into a conversation. Be ready and able to walk away when you’re no longer getting what you want from a situation.

For example:

  • Walk away when negotiations stall and an offer still doesn't meet your requirements.

  • Walk away from a job when it can no longer meet your needs and your manager isn’t willing to make the necessary changes.

  • End bad relationships that aren’t serving you well.

Confident people always know that they are in demand. They know that they have options. They don’t need to put with a terrible boss, unacceptable compensation, or a bad work environment.

Of course, you always try to negotiate, improve things, and transform a situation until it’s acceptable. But, if all else fails, confident people can walk away and move on for something better.


Feed your confidence engine

As I mentioned above, you can create a virtuous cycle when building your self-confidence:

  • Intentionally use confident body language, actions, and words.

  • Others will perceive you as more confident.

  • They will behave as if you are a confident person.

  • Their reactions create a feedback loop for you.

  • You feel more confident about the conversation and situation.

  • You behave with even greater confidence.

Your enhanced self-confidence will serve you well. Confident people tend to perform well in job interviews. They’re more likely to pursue challenges and take smart risks. They tend to be more influential and get promoted more often.

In general, the more confident you are, the more successful you will be in life.

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This week’s professional development challenge

⭐ Explore the Passion Economy
This challenge helps you explore new ways to showcase your work and what you create. If you already have some ideas for what you want to share, great! If not, don’t worry about it. This week introduces you to new opportunities and gets the creative juices flowing…


Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who also hosts:

He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice that can help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.