Just thinking of standing in front of a crowd, stepping into your dream job interview or leading a meeting makes your heart race, your shoulders turn in and your mind say, “You’re gonna bomb!” Stop it, self! As much as you don’t think you could ever be confident enough to accomplish these things, certain strategies—some super-simple—can help you get there. Sure, you might still get sweaty palms, but at least you’re totally going to slay whatever it is coming at you. Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, in Santa Monica, California, explains just how to do it.
1. Do some prep work
Before a job interview, presentation or meeting, do your research. Know the topic of discussion, learn about your audience and gain as much information as possible. If nerves get in the way, develop a plan for managing those nerves and practice following the plan, says Dr. Mendez. If you feel confused or unsure during the interview or meeting, consider exploring the topic with the person or audience by asking, “What do you mean by that?” rather than avoiding the topic or making excuses that may come across as inept.
2. Rehearse your lines
When you already know what you want to say, an interviewer’s question about where you see yourself in five years won’t cause you to stumble over your words. “Anticipating challenges, but more importantly, utilizing your strengths, allows you to manage your emotions and increase your level of overall confidence going into an interaction,” explains Dr. Mendez. Think of what could trigger your anxiety and plan responses to that—whether that’s taking a deep breath or asking, “Could you explain that more?” You can also visualize taking control of overpowering emotions and telling yourself that you can cope with both known and unexpected factors.
3. Get comfortable
Sometimes feeling confident is as simple as wearing a cushy pair of shoes or a favorite outfit. If it’s appropriate to move around in the room, work out your nerves by walking closer towards the audience. First take a few steps away from the center and then return casually or move away from standing stiffly behind a desk or podium.
4. Practice mindfulness
This might be the buzzword of the year, but it’s not all for nothing. “It can help you manage emotional distress and fear that often coincide with a lack of confidence,” explains Dr. Mendez.
Role play beforehand by having a friend ask you interview questions and provide different responses. Then, during the interview or big presentation, have a small object in your pocket, hooked on your belt or on a piece of jewelry to discreetly fidget with. This can provide an immediate sense of calm and may help to bring your center of attention back to the task at hand, says Dr. Mendez.
5. Be on time
Are you the kind of person who sets five alarms on a “big” day so you’re sure not to oversleep? You’re not being neurotic. This diligence is a good thing! Avoiding tardiness and not being rushed can also help you avoid getting stressed, which could leave you feeling flustered. Prepare your outfit, talking points and content well in advance of the meeting and figure out travel directions, parking options and the meeting room location before the day-of so you don’t have to send a “Sorry, stuck in traffic!” email to the person you’re trying to impress.
6. Adjust your posture
You know and have heard countless times to stand tall, keep your chin up, and roll your shoulders back to look like you know what you’re doing. As hard as it is to actually do these things when you aren’t feeling your best, know that it works. “Much of appearing confident is informed by presence and stance before it is informed by the actual words that come out of your mouth,” says Dr. Mendez. Physical gestures such as making and sustaining eye contact, standing or sitting straight, slightly leaning in towards the person or audience you’re interacting with, speaking in a clear, audible and strong tone of voice, responding directly with limited pauses and smiling will communicate confidence, sense of security, and competence.
7. Avoid certain phrases
Stumbling over words and using empty fillers such as “um,” “you know,” “basically,” “kind of” and “like” send a muddled message that communicates uncertainty and is devoid of meaningful and useful information, says Dr. Mendez. Sometimes, a person who lacks confidence will talk too much or believe if they speak excessively, they will appear confident and all-knowing. But someone who is indeed confident will respond directly, listen more than they talk or if they’re uncertain, will use the opportunity to ask a question. Don’t be afraid to say, “Let’s explore the options” or “Tell me more about…” or “Let me find the right person to answer your question.” Responding with this rather than an “I don’t know” shows whoever you’re working with that you know how to handle a challenge and are open to other ideas or opinions. Acknowledging your limits and giving credit to others who have information outside of your realm of expertise is a sure sign of confidence.
8. Treat your body
Yes, exercise is good for overall health, but it also supports emotional regulation such as calming your nerves, lifting your mood, reducing anxiety and clearing your mind of unhelpful thoughts. Activities like walking or swimming and meditation-focused practices such as tai-chi or yoga promote clear and agile thinking, boost speech clarity and articulation and facilitate mobility, says Dr. Mendez. Health-enriching daily routines like uninterrupted restful sleep (8 hours a night!), adequate hydration (eight 8-ounce glasses a day!) and nourishing meals (plenty of fruits and veggies!) not only support well-being but, in-turn, confidence as well.
9. Focus on the positive
When you’re questioning your confidence or feeling unsure about something, reflect on what is going well, your successes and your management of challenging situations in the past. Then, capitalize on those skills that helped you succeed. Rather than shutting down negative feelings or isolating yourself, face your thoughts and intentionally make a plan to deal with them. That might mean finding trusted help or talking to someone who supports you and makes you feel good about yourself. “Dwelling on negative thoughts about yourself results in a vicious cycle of lowered self-esteem, self-loathing and ultimately compromises confidence levels,” says Dr. Mendez. You got this!