February 15, 2012

What's the relationship between confidence and nervousness?

Last week, I gave a 10-minute presentation based on some of the challenges in my 12 Speaking Challenges for 2012 program. The topic was on building your confidence muscles, and the message was that these particular challenges can be done at any time -- no audience necessary -- to help build overall confidence, which leads to confidence as a speaker.

One of my points was that you don't have to feel confident to look confident. There are both mental and physical aspects to confidence, and oftentimes if you work on the outer appearance of confidence, you will also build your inner confidence. At the end of the presentation, one of the audience members asked how I felt -- the "inner me." What do you think I said?

Here was my response (turn up the volume to hear the question that's asked) -- it's only 11 seconds:

If you look at Nicole's face at the end of the video (left of screen in purple pullover), that pretty much sums up the audience's reaction.

Why is it so surprising that a confident person (me) can also still be nervous?

For me, nervousness is a temporary condition, spurred by my desire to do well, the great unknown of how the presentation will go, and sometimes other factors -- in this case, feeling like I had too much material for a ten-minute presentation. It also usually dissipates fairly early on in a presentation, but because this was a short gig, it never fully went away. (This is a group I speak in front of regularly, and I'm frequently trying out new material on them.)

Confidence, however, is more permanent and deep-seated, once you develop it. I have complete confidence in my topic, my message and my ability to connect with the audience, and it's pretty hard to shake that. Even if I make a mistake (like a dopey blunder I made in this presentation where I referred to someone known to everyone in the group by the name of another group member), I have some momentary embarrassment, but it doesn't affect my overall confidence in the long run.

Nervousness also has something to do with realizing that we just can't control everything. Even when we think we have control, it doesn't take much to shatter the illusion. Witness technology failures, lost notes, bombed jokes, mind-blanks, and unexpected questions.

The flip side of that nervousness is the confidence in knowing that the best we can do is be prepared for mishaps by anticipating obvious things that could go wrong, and then doing our best to handle them in the moment with humor and grace!

Confidence grows with every minute of experience you gain and every accomplishment you put away in your back pocket. Once you've built confidence, it's pretty hard to destroy it.

Nervousness is common, it's fleeting when you learn how to manage it, and it coexists happily side by side with confidence.

What's your take on the relationship between nervousness and confidence?

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