We’ve all heard the expression “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” But did you know it can take up to 12 visits to undo a negative first impression? Whether you’re trying to impress an employer, a client, a prospect or a first date, it’s important to project confidence and presence.
Both confidence and presence are communicated from the inside out and the outside in. So it’s important to learn how to project confidence from the outside – through your body language and vocal tone and from the inside – by discovering and celebrating your signature strengths (the strengths that make you special.)
Here are 5 inner and 5 outer ways to ramp up your confidence and presence.
For Inner Confidence:
1. Do a thorough self-examination. Many of us have trouble separating our strengths from our job descriptions and if we don’t have a “real job” we have a very hard time owning the qualities that make us special. Here’s one way to help you uncover your signature strengths:
- On a piece of paper, brainstorm a list of all the jobs you’ve ever had including volunteer positions, motherhood, and life partnering. Add to that list any activity you’ve ever participated in: chess, athletics, debate, gardening. Then add any committees, boards or clubs you’ve been a member or officer of – ie. church group, PTA, community organization. (FYI. I honed the majority of my leadership skills as PTA president and as a leader in a religious organization.)
- Then take another piece of paper and list all the strengths and skills you had to use or learn in the jobs or activities on your list. This can include qualities you used during challenges as well as triumphs. Do you rely on your creativity, honesty, humor, optimism, analytic skills? (If this is hard for you to do on your own, enlist a trusted friend or a circle of friends to give you a list of three positive qualities that they see in you.)
- Are there qualities you wish you had that haven’t made the list? Write those down too
2. Invest in yourself – To polish any skills that need strengthening or to help develop any quality or skill you would like to add, find a coach, trainer, class, or workshop that can help you cultivate or elevate those skills. Most women are terrific at supporting and encouraging others but will resist investing time or money on supporting and encouraging their own growth. Know that it’s never too late to learn or improve on a skill or strength. And also know that you’re worth the investment. If coaching or training is not your thing, take a dance, acting or improvisation class, sing Karaoke, paint, draw, sculpt, write! Research shows that when we do something creative (even if creativity isn’t one of our top strengths) one of our dominant strengths will jump out to guide us through. Don’t worry about being perfect, these new activities will help you bring out and express your signature strengths
3. Adjust your focus – Many of us focus so much on whether or not we are going to be liked. Or we focus too much on whether the other person is going to buy from us, hire us or promote us. Being overly focused on being liked or closing a deal can rob you of seeming confident. The surest way to exude confidence and to create a memorable presence is to express interest in other people. Focus on how you are going to engage, encourage, help or inspire other people instead of focusing on what they are thinking about you or what they can do for you. In other words, focus on giving instead of getting.
4. Appreciate yourself and cut the crap– I read a quote on a gratitude website which has become one of my all time favorites – “When you complain, you become a living breathing crap magnet.” Women seem conditioned to dwell on the negative aspects of ourselves and our situation. But as the quote so bluntly states, the more we complain, the more we will find to complain about, and the more we will find ourselves surrounded by other complainers. Express gratitude for the special combination of strengths and challenges you’ve been given. At the end of the day, write down what you’re thankful for and which of your strengths you used that day. Instead of dreading any challenge that lies ahead, list any strength you can use to pull yourself through the challenge you may be facing.
5. Visualize greatness – We usually think we can walk into a room, scope out the situation and adjust ourselves accordingly. But sometimes by then it’s too late to project the confidence or presence you may need. Start visualizing yourself as a shining star before you even leave your house. Read a series of affirmations, a list of positive adjectives or invent a super confident alter ego. Many people will tell you; “Fake it till you make it.” I support the idea behind this advice but have a problem with the expression itself. Words are powerful and let’s be honest, nobody likes a fake. So I prefer to use a phrase I coined, “Own it while you hone it.” Own the quality you would like to project while you work on improving it.
For Outer Confidence
6. Dress your strengths – Choose a quality about yourself that you are really proud of. Always try to make one style choice that reflects that quality. I recently attended a women’s networking group in New York City and was one of 4 women out of 30 who was wearing COLOR. Yes, I was also wearing the ubiquitous black, but I threw on a bright red flowing rayon sweater that communicated both my passion and my easy-going nature. Instead of dressing for success all the time, dress to express.
7. Stand in your power – Posture and body language speak volumes. Yes, mom always told you to stand up straight and there’s something to that. However, you don’t want to stand military straight because that can be off-putting. To project confidence – stand with your feet hip-distance apart, a slight bend in your knees and your weight slightly forward. This posture gives you a solid base and pitches your body slightly towards the person you’re addressing. And whether sitting or standing, be sure to keep your torso as visible as possible. Folding your arms or any other gesture that covers your torso communicates insecurity. Comfortably displaying your torso shows you’re confident and trustworthy.
8. Channel your inner Barry White – The voice is the second most important part of an effective first impression. You can do all of the above and then open your mouth and totally change a person’s impression of you. Human beings are hard-wired to interpret lower-pitched voices as sounding more authoritative and confident. Many women with naturally higher-pitched voices need to learn to speak from the diaphragm and lower their pitch in order to sound more confident. Other vocal confidence robbers are: up-speaking – making everything sound like a question and speaking too softly and losing energy at the end of your sentences. If you need help working on any of these vocal issues, pick up my Vocal Workout CD.
9. Pump up your vocabulary – Even though almost 90% of your message is communicated through your body language and vocal tone, it doesn’t mean words don’t matter. What people react to in your communication is consistency – do the way you look and sound match the words you are using. You could look super confident and have a commanding voice but if your word choices are weak, boring or confusing, people will begin to reevaluate their first impression of you. Get rid of anemic overused, words like great, nice, awesome and fine and substitute them with richer more evocative language. Choose words that stimulate your listener’s emotions. Think about words and phrases used to describe colors or textures or sounds and see whether you can incorporate some of those words into your communications. But beware of overdoing it! Using inflated, inappropriate word choices or overusing jargon and lingo can make you look like you’re trying way too hard – the opposite of confidence.
10. Trim vocab flab – Non-words and minimizing words are huge confidence robbers. Non-words are those pesky fillers that slip out of your mouth when you’re not looking. Like “um, like, so, uh, basically, literally, you know…” and so many others. Instead of using your go-to filler word, breathe and pause. Pausing is powerful. It makes people stop, think and wait for your next word. It shows you have the confidence to trust you can command attention even during silence. You can pause for up to 4 seconds without causing listener discomfort. Minimizing words are those other pesky words we use to mask the fact that we have an opinion and /or that we are powerful. Instead of using phrases like; “I think I might be ready to… or I just prepare this little agenda or I kind of like this one…,” take a definite stand. So what if you’re wrong or if someone disagrees. Use stronger phrases like; “I am ready” or “I believe I’m ready.” “I prepared an agenda for our meeting.” “This one is my favorite and here’s why…”
Contact me for more tips!