It’s 10 to 2. This is it. Your big presentation to your investors. This is your moment of truth. You have 10 minutes before you step into that boardroom and do the pinnacle talk of your career as an entrepreneur. The clock ticks loudly in your head. Your hands sweat. Your heart races. You’ve got that buzzy feeling in your stomach. Is it fear or excitement? They both feel the same right now.
Investor presentation or not, I’m sure you’ve had moments where you feel the panic before a stressful situation. Whenever I’m in this situation, I always go to my Confidence Booster Protocol. It floors me how effective it is every time. Afterwards, I’m ready. I feel confident, solid, secure. It’s only 3 steps and takes less than 5 minutes, anytime, anywhere. It’s the best 5 minutes you’ll ever invest. Before I actually share with you what it is, let’s talk about what makes it so effective.
Non-Verbal v. Verbal Cues
I’m sure you’ve heard that more than 80 percent of “in person” communication is non-verbal. Only 20 percent is verbal, even less than that. I’m so fascinated with non-verbal communication that I actually wrote an entire two-part series about this, The Insider’s Guide to Reading People, followed by The Simplest Ways to Use Body Language to Convey Confidence.
How you carry yourself when you walk into the room creates the first impression people form about you. That first impression, my friends, is the most…impressionable. It’s the hardest thing to change once formed. It matters less what comes out of your mouth, and more about how you make people feel. People don’t necessarily remember what you say. They forever remember how you made them feel.
If you want to start a good relationship, and hopefully you do, pay attention to how you make your audience feel. As soon as you step into that boardroom, it’s no longer about you. It’s about them. It’s about how you make them feel.
The Power Pose
In my post The Simplest Ways to Use Body Language to Convey Confidence, I referred to body language expert Dr. Amy Cuddy and her TED talk about body language. No one is ever confident all the time. Whenever I feel scared, inferior or nervous before a stressful situation, I do as Amy says. I go into a private setting and close my eyes. I extend my arms up in a “V” shape, which Amy calls “the Victory Stance.” My feet are shoulder-width apart. Chin up. I stand there in silence for 2 minutes. Just 2 minutes.
Here’s what starts to happen. For the first 30-40 seconds, nothing changes. I still feel the nerves. Then I visualize how I want the next hour to play out. I see how polished I am. My smile is great. My posture is big. I see my audience nodding, and enjoying my authentic delivery. Finally, I picture all the compliments: “Awesome presentation! Well done, Cat!” Then the buzz comes. I can’t stop the smile. I’m ready. I am in control.
One of the most primal forms of communication begins with the eyes. The relationship between any two people begins with what happens when your eyes meet. We acknowledge our communication partner with our eyes, way before we even utter that first word. Do you look into their eyes? How long does your gaze last? Or do you dart your eyes at them, and quickly look away? Do your eyes even meet at all? There’s an element of self-confidence that you need before you have the audacity to lock gaze with an individual.
This happened to me for the first time at the gym one day. I was talking to my friend, Chris. While we were casually chatting, I noticed that his eyes never looked away even once while we were engaged in conversation. Here’s what I learned: When you share a gaze with an individual, the rest of the world seems to melt away. You literally can’t even see anything else after a period of time. It’s just you and your conversation partner. For those few minutes, Chris literally made me feel like the only person in the world.
This little event happened more than 10 years ago. I still remember it clearly. Don’t get me wrong. There was nothing romantic about it. I even forgot what we had discussed. But I remember the magic of the eye contact to this day. My opinion of Chris is that he is confident and completely secure about himself.
In her book “How to Talk to Anyone,” Leil Lowndes also teaches this very technique of using eye contact to establish rapport. Look into their eyes. Lock the gaze. Don’t shift away. This works especially well when you’re talking to someone one on one. When you’re in a group, you obviously can’t lock gaze with any one individual. You’ll end up alienating the rest of the room. This would defeat the purpose of trying to establish a good relationship with everyone. When you’re addressing a room full of people, you’ll naturally shift your gaze to around the room, of course. But find the eyes. Share the gaze. They will forever remember how you made them feel.
Most of us like to pepper our conversation with “uhs,” “ums,” “likes,” and so many other little interrupters that break up our actual message. Then there’s the nervous laugh, of which I was extremely guilty when I was younger. I would tack on this little chuckle at the end of my message for no apparent reason. It wasn’t as if I made a joke. There was absolutely no reason for me to giggle when I was done talking. But I did. It was a habit. A bad one. All it did was cut down the confidence that I worked so hard to establish.
If you want to convey confidence, lose the uhs, ums, and likes. Most importantly, lose that awful giggle at the end. Pay attention to any professional newscaster or politician, or any speaker at a TED talk for that matter. You’ll never find anyone who giggles at end of each sentence. That’s like saying … “I’m joking. Don’t pay attention to me. It’s not that important.” See? It negates any sort of credibility that you’ve built up previously. If you’ve ever taken Toastmasters, you’ll know that they actually appoint an “Uh counter,” whose job is to count how many “uhs” and “ums” you’ve used in your speech, so that you can practice speaking without these crutches.
Take the Time to be Articulate
Everyone has a natural pace at which we speak. If you’ve ever watched Gilmore Girls (I love that show), you’ll likely have noticed that the pace of conversation is ever so slightly quicker than when people usually speak. It gives an upbeat vibe that is dynamic. Here’s the thing, though. Despite their fast-paced speech, all the actors are very articulate.
This is how they can get away with talking fast. If you talk fast but you slur your words, you’ll still sound like an idiot. Make it easy for your listener to catch the message. There is confidence in the clarity of your words. So, articulate. This is the reason why actors will practice moving their mouths, repeating phrases like “red leather, yellow leather” over and over again before they go on stage.
When you’re nervous, you naturally start to speak more quickly. People pick up that vibe. Don’t let them smell fear. Slow down your speech just a bit. More importantly, though, take the time to form your words properly. Sure, Cat. I get it. Speak clearly. What does this have to do with being confident, though? When people are able to process your words clearly, they will give you feedback that they understand what you’re saying. Your confidence feeds off how your audience engages in what you tell them.
Back to your moment of truth. Before you feel that surge of panic again, you head into the restroom for the 4th time. This time it’s different, though. This time, you invoke the Confidence Boost Protocol.
What is the Confidence Boost Protocol?
Step 1: Step into a private space: a restroom or another meeting room. Move your feet shoulder width apart. Lift your chin. Roll your shoulders back and press them down. Lift your sternum. Engage the abdominals. Soft bend in the knees.
Step 2: Close your eyes. Think of the last time that you totally rocked the situation. Remember the accolades you got? Remember how awesome people thought you were? Feel that energy travel throughout your body.
Step 3: Raise your arms up in that Victory stance. Feel the buzz from your rock-stardom flow throughout your body. Stay in this power pose for 2 minutes.
OK. It’s time. You emerge confident, strong and secure. Bring it on.
Cat Lam of ITSolopreneurs.com is a BusinessTown.com contributor.