Increasing your confidence and credibility positively correlates to your success, and can open the door to new opportunities. Confidence and credibility are traits important in every aspect of our lives — they help us deal with pressure and meet personal or professional challenges head on and with success.
The good news is that confidence and credibility are skills rather than personality traits. This means that these skills can be learned and mastered — they are not something you either have or your don’t. You can learn ways to project confidence and credibility. The challenge is that your measure of confidence and credibility is a perceived quality — other people assign it to you very fast based on a number of your exhibited behaviors. This is a great thing for our own quick and decisive decision-making, but it also means that without projecting confidence and credibility, others may not make the right first impression assessment of us.
However, there are simple techniques you can use to ensure you are exhibiting rather than undercutting your confidence and credibility.
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What is confidence?
Take a look at the definitions of confidence and credibility:
Confidence: the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
Credibility: the quality of being trusted and believed in. The quality of being convincing or believable.
These definitions not only apply to others who believe in you and trust you — it’s belief in yourself as well!
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent van Gogh
So how do you begin to build your confidence and credibility? What behaviors will build these key skills?
I was recently lucky enough to attend a seminar by Cara Hale Alter, the author of “The Credibility Code”, (Amazon aff. link) — her book where she gives us the keys to confidence and credibility. Her seminar touched on many of the aspects of the book, which is filled with advice, examples, and exercises of how to build and boost your confidence and credibility, with Cara’s own injection of the humour and realities of building confidence in today’s world — I highly recommend it.
The 4 keys to credibility and confidence
I was surprised at the simplicity of the 4 keys to credibility and confidence. These are totally doable – we’ve got this! The 4 keys are:
- Eye Contact
In terms of posture, the key is to keep your spine strong and tall – don’t slouch, and keep your head level. When standing, balance your weight equally over both feet. For women, your feet should be underneath your hips; for men underneath your shoulders (slightly wider stance). When turning to look at others, swivel your head rather than turning your whole body or torso. Try it in the mirror, what an amazing difference to swivel your head rather than turning your torso in how confident you look.
A great TED talk on “power poses” by Amy Cuddy has more advice along these lines.
Gesturing during speaking is very natural and helps exude confidence if done correctly. Think of your ‘gesture box’ as the area in front of your belly button – but reach your arms out into a circle as if you are holding a very large beach ball — that whole area is your gesture box. Don’t get small with your gestures – this undermines your confidence and credibility. Using gestures in your gesture box (avoid masking your face and hands) will enhance your credibility. When seated at a conference table, push your chair back just enough to ensure you still have a gesture box for when you talk!
The interesting thing about your speaking voice is that people rarely are too loud, even though they think they are. As long as you don’t increase your pitch (ie speak higher), a louder volume will be optimal and enhance your credibility. An exercise we did in the seminar was to count to 5, starting very softly, and increasing exponentially loudly each time. The first time we did it, everyone increased their pitch for “5”, yelling it. Once Cara taught us not to increase pitch and yell, but rather simply increase the volume and keep our pitch the same, it made all the difference. Optimal speaking volume is typically a “4” — many of us are on average at “3”.
Other advice about your speaking voice to exude confidence: articulate clearly, slow your pace to a relaxed pace, pause at the end of sentences for two seconds. These are all things you can practice: for example, pausing at the end of sentences you can practice by snapping twice after each sentence during your exercises. You will likely need to use your diaphragm when speaking at an optimal “4” volume. To find your diaphragm, say ‘shhhhhhh’ as loudly as you can. You’ll feel your diaphragm muscle clench. Exercise your diaphragm by saying the days of the week, drawing out the vowels: “mooooondaaaaaay, tuuuuueeeesdaaaaay” and so on. In one breath, say them all — you will feel your diaphragm and you’ll be exercising it, making it stronger.
Eye contact is perhaps the most important element in boosting your confidence and credibiliity.
Point your nose directly at the listener, so you are looking at the ‘straight on’ — have you heard the saying “be straight with me” — exactly! Looking at someone straight-on boosts your credibility. When on video conference, try to put the picture of the person on the other end of the conference in the middle of your screen – so that when you are looking at them, it looks like you are straight-on.
The other key with eye contact is to hold eye contact for 3-5 seconds per person; this engages the audience while helping to keep you focused. An easy way to accomplish this is to think of moving to the next person for eye contact at the comma, or where you take a breath in your sentence, or at the end of your sentence. It may seem long, but to the listener it doesn’t feel long, but rather that you are engaging and confident. In contrast, quickly darting around your focus and eye contact undermines your credibility.
And thirdly, in eye contact, really “see” the person — it makes a huge difference in credibility when you are simply blankly looking at someone vs. actually seeing them. See their hair, color of eyes, glasses, expression. Again try it in the mirror – a world of difference.
All of the above is well and good, but how do you do it all when you are super nervous? At those times when it counts the most and thus your adrenaline is in high alert? Very interesting in the seminar was to hear Cara describe that our responses to adrenaline are very primal — natural fight/flight response that our brain carries out. We need to help our brain realize that there is no threat, so that our adrenaline is tamed. How do we do this? By doing four things:
Sit up straight, relax your shoulders down, take up space in your chair. Cara was telling us that simply by looking at videos with the sound off of her speaking classes, people can pinpoint who is up next to get up and speak by the classic nervous signs – one of which is getting small in their chair. Get big and this will signal your brain to relax.
Eyes on the horizon
Keep your head level and again your brain will be signaled that you are not retreating or in danger — you are not looking down or up for an exit or for avoidance.
Navy Seals use breathing techniques to relax before a combat mission. Breathing normally, with regular abdominal breathing, rather than with fast chest breathing, also signals your brain and body that there is no danger, and dissipates the adrenaline.
Take your time
Use your 2-snap pauses. There is no rush – signals your brain that there is no imminent danger or need to flee/rush/fight.
Cara’s book “The Credibility Code” (Amazon aff. link) provides both an entertaining read and a rich reference for more in-depth examples, exercises, and ways to practice and improve your credibility and confidence.
So there you have it: 4 simple focus areas to increase your credibility: use your posture, gestures, voice, and eye contact, and you’ll be known for your credibility and confidence – congratulations!