There are many different reasons why someone would want to fake confidence even when we're feeling insecure. Maybe you're intimidated at work and are about to do something completely out of your element, which is equal parts exciting and terrifying. Maybe you're having a slump day and just feel a tad down on yourself, but don't want the whole world to know. Or maybe you're hanging out with someone amazing and feel a little star-struck and, as a result, also totally intimidated. We've all been there. During moments like these, it's easy to feel like the safest (and most instinctual) thing to do is to shrink.
Think hunched shoulders, crossed arms, your hands inside the sleeves of your sweater — these are some comfort triggers that make us feel less vulnerable. But those are also dead giveaways that we're not feeling our best. Instead, the best thing to do is fake it till you make it. Keep showing up and pretending you've got it all under control even if, on the inside, you're totally freaking out. No one needs to know but you.
And the cool thing is, after a while your faking just turns into a habit and you realize you're no longer pretending anymore. Or at the very least, you begin to believe you're really not as flustered or insecure as you first thought. So are you ready to fake confidence until you learn how to foster it? Here are seven tips on how to look confident even when you're not feeling it at all.
1. Power Pose
Just because you're a nervous wreck inside doesn't mean anyone has to know other than you. The fastest way to appear like you're confident and in control is to power pose. That means arranging your body into poses that take up space. According to Amy Cuddy's research at Harvard Business School, we shrink our bodies when we're uncomfortable because we want to take up less space and be less noticeable. To counter that, fall into power poses that open up your body and take up room.
Some examples are keeping your arms unfolded while sitting or on your hips while standing, keeping your legs uncrossed, or holding your back straight and chin high. The coolest thing is that Cuddy's research found that if you engage in these kind of stances for two minutes, your body chemistry actually changes. Testosterone is known as the "dominance" hormone, and after a mere two-minute pose the testosterone levels of the "high power" posers in Cuddy's study rose 20 percent. Testosterone levels for the "low power" group (folded arms, hunched backs) fell 10 percent. By engaging in these poses, you literally trick your brain into feeling more confident.
2. Watch Your Inflection
When we're not feeling confident, we have a tendency to talk indirectly and turn declarative sentences into questions so they seem softer and less noticeable. For example, have you ever caught yourself answering someone with a question mark hanging at the end of your sentence? You replied to their question with a question.
Instead of saying "You can find it on the top shelf," it comes out sounding like "You can find it on the top shelf?"
That instantly shows you feel tentative and doubt yourself, which makes others doubt you, too. Instead, act firm and underline that you know what you're talking about. Remove the high inflections and replace them with solid periods. A tip for this one is to remember that the more direct you are, the more seriously people will take you. This will make changing the way you speak a little less intimidating.
3. Keep Eye Contact
The fastest giveaway that someone is uncomfortable is their inability to keep eye contact. Even if you're freaking out on the inside, if you keep a steady gaze with the person you're speaking with, chances are they won't know that your cool has been rattled. According to Forbes leadership writer Carol Kinsey Goman, "If a speaker actively seeks out eye contact when talking, he or she is judged to be more believable, confident and competent." So keep those eyes steady, and no one will notice your fists may or may not be balled.
4. Work Your Strengths
When we think of a confident person, we usually bring images of dynamic, outgoing people that seem to grab the attention of a room the moment they walk in. Some of us can easily fit that description ourselves, but for the rest of us that can seem like an impossibly tall order. If you're shy or on the introverted side, how can you barrel into a room and light it up with one joke or carefully placed observation?
You can't, and you won't. Don't worry about that image of confidence, because it's not yours. Instead of trying to be someone you're not, use your own strengths and turn them into points of confidence. For example, I'm good at telling stories and finding an interesting way to relay facts. So if I'm about to do a presentation, instead of relying on charts and technical terms, I'm going to use my own tools and relay the information in a story. That way I know I'll be in my own element and I'll sail smoothly through it, still giving off that same aura of confidence as the dynamic person.
5. Ask Questions
Say you feel unprepared, out of water, or just plain nervous. What's the easiest way to take the attention off of yourself? It's to focus it back on someone else. Say you're at a networking event or talking with someone that slightly intimidates you. Instead of fretting over how you should present yourself or how you can explain to them who you are and what you do, just flip the tables and ask them those questions. You'll seem interested, attentive, and will get some much needed time to gather yourself together.
The first couple of times I went to networking events I was a total wreck. Jumping into conversations with strangers is like my version of Dante's seventh level of hell, and I would get tongue tied any time someone asked me what I did and what I offered. So instead, I just focused on driving the conversation and giving the floor to others. At the end of it I made a few good friends, a few interested collaborators, and a ton of excellent first-impressions, just because I seemed interested and enthusiastic. No one knew I was having mini heart attacks throughout the whole event.
6. Focus Your Nervous Energy On One Thing
Are you about to go up for a presentation, or are going on a second date with a super amazing person? If you have a major case of the butterflies, pull a mind over matter move and try to focus all that nervous energy in one spot. For example, when I have to lead a presentation at work, my instinct is to faint.
Seeing how that'll get me nowhere, I instead hold an eraser in my hand and ball my fist around it as hard as I can, pretending all my fitful energy is going straight to there. By imagining that the nerves are leaving your body and concentrating in one spot, you get the feeling of control.
7. Choose Strong Words
If your instinct is to shrink, do the opposite and choose strong words. You can't help it if you have butterflies in your stomach, but you can decide what exactly comes out of your mouth. Force yourself to de-fluff your sentences and talk in straight terms. Nip out qualifiers like "just," "maybe," or "I was thinking that" that tend to soften requests or demands.
According to ForbesWoman contributor Bonnie Marcus, "Many of us fall into the trap of using weak language that sabotages our efforts to present ourselves with authority and confidence. 'I would just like to say that I may not know as much as some of the communication experts out there, but I feel that women undermine their credibility time and time again by using minimizing language.' This one sentence says it all! By using the words 'just,' 'I feel,' and stating that I may not have as much expertise as perhaps other do, I have reduced my credibility to almost zero!"
To fake your confidence, use direct, assertive, slightly aggressive words. The more direct your language, the more secure you appear.