Whether you're speaking in-person, virtually, or giving a public talk – speaking confidently is an important part of making an impact on others.
In a recent Y-combinator post titled “How to Speak Confidently” over one hundred people chimed in to give their advice on how to speak with more confidence. The number one suggestion shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it’s to practice.
So naturally, the question is, how and what should I practice? Before we get into that, let’s explore some of the other suggestions from the thread and in general on how to communicate effectively for meetings, in an interview, and in public speaking.
There were a few concepts that kept repeating in the thread so first let’s explore some of the advice for specific situations. If you’re speaking one-on-one for a meeting or interview, people suggest that the person you’re speaking with comes first and your point comes second. A lot of the time we might think conveying an idea is more important than how we deliver it, but when other people are involved, humility and consideration are vital to making that message actually come across to the listener.
Counter to this idea is overvaluing their potential opinions and undervaluing your own. If someone disagrees with you, let them express it before you let it knock your confidence (easier said than done). When speaking to a group of people we might feel pressured to constantly talk, but this works against us. Take some time to pause, think, and check reactions.
Actually, “speaking to a group” might not be a very helpful way of thinking about addressing an audience. Multiple users suggest looking for people in your audience who are paying attention and address them individually. The wide audience will still receive the message, and you’ll have an easier time gauging interest and avoiding overwhelm.
If someone disagrees with you, let them express it before you let it knock your confidence (easier said than done).
The next piece of advice is a bit counter-intuitive, and it has to do with setting expectations. If you don’t know much about the subject you’re speaking about, it’s okay to pre-phase an answer with “I’m not confident about this, but it seems that…” This sets expectations for the listener, but more importantly it takes some of the pressure off of you as the speaker. The way you might defend a thesis in an essay is not necessarily the way you’d address a conference, a group of coworkers, or an audience on YouTube. One user gives this blunt advice, “If you're confident, you'll speak confidently. Why do you want to appear confident if you're not?” This goes back to the idea that practice is vital, and it leads to another idea which is that speaking is not writing.
This idea might seem obvious at first, but from all the speeches I’ve ever seen, from students in speech classes to professionals in conferences, the speeches that fall flat are the ones that stick rigidly to a script. The speaking becomes robotic and lifeless, almost like the speaker isn’t even aware of what they’re saying. On the other hand, the worst speeches I’ve ever seen suffer from the opposite problem, which is a lack of structure.
If you’re trying to build confidence in speaking, I highly recommend following an outline and practicing your speech extemporaneously. An ideal outline includes an attention-getter, a thesis statement, a summary of your main points (ideally three), introductions for your main points, another summary of your main points in slightly different words, and a conclusion. I recommend you only write what would fit on a notecard if you needed to glance down at it during the speech. That way you can deliver the speech without having the exact wording prepared in advance (this is what extemporaneous means). That’s why Speakflow lets you go off script and only moves on when you’re ready to hit those important landmarks in your speech. Giving this kind of speech will greatly improve your confidence because it requires you to actually know what you’re talking about. So how do we practice this?
When giving a formal speech, your most powerful tool for practice is repetition.
When giving a formal speech, your most powerful tool for practice is repetition. Confidence is comfort: comfort with the material, comfort riffing, comfort talking. Repetition will give you this kind of comfort. So how many times should you practice your speech? Until you’re comfortable. If you’re not comfortable talking about your subject while practicing, you can be sure you won’t be comfortable talking to someone else, especially a group.
Also, if you’re giving a formal speech, practice in a setting that closely resembles the setting you’ll be giving the speech in. If you have someone who is willing to sit through your speech a few times, this will help immensely. The best thing is that the more you practice formal speeches, the more your impromptu speaking will also improve.
You’ll internalize the outline formula, and be able to apply it to clearly communicate your points even in casual conversation. You’ll also learn how your speech flows when it’s not rehearsed, so you can apply that flow in cases where you absolutely need to stick to a script (which Speakflow will help with handily).