The pessimistic trick to sounding confident and professional during meetings

Even for people that are fundamentally anxious or insecure, there are field-tested methods to advertising confidence when speaking before your colleagues.

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Our ideas seem to lose a lot of their cogency when presented in front of our peers. Unfortunately, if you inhabit the corporate ecosystem learning how to package your input in neat digestible sentences can’t really be circumvented. Even for people that are fundamentally anxious or insecure, there are field-tested methods to advertising confidence when speaking before your colleagues.

Here are a few tips from a panicky, self-loathing, marble-mouthed, incompetent pessimist.


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Be humble and expect the worst

This one has helped me quite a bit.

Savage insecurity makes expressing my half-baked ideas particularly difficult.  I get choked up, “like tea leaves in a sink.”  Talking in front of more than two people sends me in a panic. A method that has done wonders for bringing me back down to earth comes from the teachings of Seneca: “Nothing comes to the wise man despite his expectation.”

A lot of the anxiety that fuels public speaking is based out of predetermined outcomes. The fear that everything will go wrong is really the desperation for every single thing to go right. Why should it though?

Yielding to the potential for unadulterated disaster is both freeing and sobering. Conceive a realistic worst-case scenario. You say a word wrong, you speak a little too quickly, maybe you drop a gasser or two mid-sentence. Life goes on. You’re no less qualified and you’ll have plenty more time to prove that to anyone that might be presently ambivalent.

Seth Gordin, best selling author of This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See,  puts the nail on the head when he defines our fear of failure in truth to be a fear of criticism. Criticism from our colleagues and criticism from ourselves.

It’s all a matter of perception. Take your time, take critique in stride and remember one day you’ll be dead forever, what does one meeting matter?

No-one actually cares about you

This one sounds negative but it isn’t.

A good chunk of insecurity is arrogance misinterpreted. The idea that one fumble in a meeting at 8 am on a Tuesday will live on in the hearts and minds of your peers for centuries is self-aggrandizing. Your peers are just as self-absorbed as you are. They’re way too busy beating themselves up to notice that you said Ruth Gator Ginsburg. Twice. Over the course of two separate days.

More importantly the pressure to not screw up implies you’re above it. Finnegan’s Wake, written by James Joyce has a pretty gnarly typo in it (“come in”). Stan Lee forgot Spider-Man’s name in one of the early issues so he’s referred to as Peter Palmer.

If that’s not enough, take famous celebrity commentator Al Sharpton for example. In an homage to the late Aretha Franklin, Sharpton spelled “respect” wrong on TV, broadcasted all across America. Mistakes happen. Sharpton also mispronounced the word “giddy.” on a popular TV show broadcasted all over America. You think that kept him down? He’s human like the rest of us. He kept trucking. And you can too.

It could always be much worse.

Avoid double worrying

Lastly, don’t worry until you have to. When you actually put your foot in your mouth allow yourself a little freak-out time but there’s no point in experiencing it twice.

Make a point to talk much-much slower than you would normally, Our speech is received much quicker to other people than we think. Make eye contact. Talk slow, anticipate the worst, and pretend the best is unachievable. There are zero stakes.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.