Think about a time when you needed to project confidence but felt uncertain or insecure. How did you handle it? Did you try to hide your insecurity and just “fake it until you make it?”
If you did, it probably didn’t work.
The problem is that attempting to suppress genuine emotions requires so much conscious effort that it is rarely successful. Whenever you attempt to conceal any strong feeling and fake another, your body almost always “leaks” nonverbal cues that are picked up consciously or subconsciously by your audience.
Stanford University’s research on emotional suppression shows why it’s so difficult to hide your true feelings: Subjects instructed to conceal their emotions reported feeling ill at ease, distracted and preoccupied. And this was validated by a steady rise in their blood pressure. But another, quite unexpected and (for our purposes) much more important finding showed a corresponding blood pressure rise in those listening to the subjects. The stress of suppression wasn’t just palpable; it was contagious.
But if faking confidence doesn’t work, what does? Here are three proven techniques:
1. Become an actor
Year ago, when I was a member of a repertory theater group, I learned that acting isn’t about suppression, pretending, or faking. It is about finding an authentic place.
During the late 1800s, an approach to acting was developed by a Russian actor, director and coach, Constantin Stanislavsky. Called Method acting (or more simply, the Method) it was adopted by a new school of realistic actors including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro. The Method held that an actor’s main responsibility was to be believed, and to reach this level of “believable truth,” Stanislavsky employed methods such as “emotional memory” which drew on real but past emotions. For example, to prepare for a role that involves fear, an actor would remember something that had frightened him or her in the past, and bring that memory into the current role to make it emotionally valid.
As a leader, salesperson, or job candidate, you have different goals than an actor in a play, but projecting a sense of confidence and conviction when uncertain takes fundamentally the same process. For example, if you were a manager who wanted to exude confidence at an upcoming executive meeting, but were unsure of yourself, here is how you’d use the technique:
You’d begin by thinking of an occasion in the past where you were genuinely confident and successful. (This doesn’t have to be taken from your professional life — although I’d urge you to keep a business successes log so that, whenever you need a positive boost, you could quickly remind yourself of how good you are! But what’s really important here is identifying the right set of emotions.)
The next step is to picture that past situation clearly in your mind. As you do, remember how it felt to be confident, enthused, and assured. It also helps to recall, or imagine, how you looked and sounded as you embodied that state of mind.
The last step is to picture yourself at the upcoming meeting with the same attitude of self-confidence that you had in the past. The more you repeat this mental rehearsal — seeing yourself at the upcoming meeting, assured, poised, and confident, the more you increase your ability to make your presentation with the same set of authentic, positive emotions.
2. Expand your body
You already know that the way you feel is reflected in your body. If you’re depressed or discouraged, you’re likely to round your shoulders, slump and look down. And when you’re upbeat and self-assured, you straighten you posture, pull back your shoulders, and hold you head high.
But did you also realize that just by putting your body in a compressed or expansive posture, you trigger the corresponding emotions?
Posture has a powerful influence on your attitude and the way that others perceive you. Researchers at Harvard and Columbia business schools found that expansive poses increase feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk. They also validated what I’ve always known to be true: that people are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you say. When you physically expand your body — think “Superman” or “Wonder Woman” — standing with your feet wide apart and hands on your hips, you being to feel more like a super-hero!
Of course, you’d want to assume this pose somewhere in private before the meeting starts. And it you have no time to find a private spot, be sure that you don’t compress your body in a hunched position over your smart phone while waiting. It would be better to bring a newspaper so that your arms open wide. Just remember to sit up straight as you read it.
3. Dress for success
The old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” may be true, but book jacket and product packaging designers around the world have created an industry betting that people do judge (and purchase) products based on how they look. And career counselors still advise their clients to dress for the job they want — not the job they currently have.
Your appearance plays a huge role in creating an impression of authority and credibility. The better dressed someone is, the more apt we are to believe them and to follow their suggestions — even if those suggestions are visual and subtle. One research study shows that a jaywalking man in a business suit will have pedestrians follow him as he crosses the street — but not so if the same man jaywalks wearing casual attire. It has also been proven that people are more likely to give money (charitable donations, tips, etc.) or information to someone if that person is well dressed.
It is also true that clothing has an effect on the wearer. If you don’t believe that what you wear has a big impact on your own emotional state, just watch actors go through their first dress rehearsal and you’ll see firsthand the amazing transformation that happens only when they dress for the part.
So don’t try to fake confidence. Instead, genuinely project it through tapping authentic emotions, expanding your posture, and dressing for success!
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an international keynote speaker and leadership presence coach. She’s the author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt How You Lead” and creator of LinkedInLearning’s video series: “Body Language for Leaders.” For more information, visit CarolKinseyGoman.com.