As a communications professional, it’s literally my job to communicate. And yet, I still find myself in situations where I don’t feel like a confident communicator. Let me elaborate. Last year, I was tasked with leading a monthly meeting at work to champion an initiative I raised my hand to support. I was excited and grateful for the opportunity. But as I kicked off the first call, I could sense the anxiety creeping in. I felt myself start to sweat and I even began stumbling over my words. I was confident enough to throw my hat in the ring to do the work. But when it came time to articulate what we were trying to accomplish, I became nervous and couldn’t seem to get the words out right. I felt anything but confident, even when communication is my area of expertise.
No matter what you do for a living, you are always communicating. Whether intentionally or not, we’re constantly sending messages to our coworkers through how we carry ourselves in meetings, respond to questions, and handle our emotions at work. While I’d like to think I masked my nerves during that meeting last year, I guarantee others caught on to my less-than-confident communication style. So, how can we ensure we communicate in the most confident way and don’t find ourselves anxious and sweaty in challenging situations? I sat down with Women’s Leadership Coach Laura Weldy to find out.
Expert Tips for Communicating With Confidence
If you’re looking to communicate with confidence and succeed in your career this year, take a look at these six expert strategies.
How to Confidently Communicate When You’re Feeling Emotional
We all encounter emotions at work, sometimes out of our control. You might feel frustrated in a meeting and be on the verge of tears. Or perhaps it’s common for you to blush in uncomfortable situations. These negative emotions may lead you to stay quiet instead of speaking up. To ensure you continue to communicate with confidence when you experience an emotional response, Laura recommends anticipating potential emotional reactions.
Take a moment three to five minutes before a meeting starts to center yourself and find a sense of calm. This can be accomplished through mental rehearsal. Imagine a time when you felt like a really confident communicator. Remember how you felt in that moment, how others responded to you. And even the room you were in when it happened. Then channel that energy and imagine yourself being similarly successful in your upcoming meeting. Laura is also a proponent of tapping, a meditative practice that stimulates your meridian points to help reduce anxiety and stress in under five minutes.
If you’re aware of your body’s reactions to anxiety or stress, you can also plan a way to make yourself more comfortable. For example, when I’m in situations that make me anxious or stressed, my body tells on me. And my chest tends to get red and blotchy. To alleviate any unnecessary attention, I choose my outfits to hide this insecurity and make me feel most confident.
How to Confidently Communicate When You Feel Panic in the Moment
If you’ve ever been in a meeting where you’re put on the spot and immediately filled with anxiety, you’re not alone. To help ease panic, Laura is a firm believer in a formulaic communication strategy. Creating a formula to account for responses eases your fight-or-flight response. This looks like knowing that every time you’re asked for your opinion or feedback, you already have a thought-out formula for responding.
For example, if you’re in a meeting where you’re talking about how you’re tracking on a project and somebody asks why you’re not meeting your goals, a formulaic response looks like (1) sharing an acknowledgment of what the person is asking, (2) sharing your opinion on the situation, and then (3) sharing a willingness to follow up on your opinion. Laura puts it into practice as follows, “So, you want to hear my opinion on this. Of course, I’m open to more information as it comes to light. But my current take on it is ‘X.’ I’d love to hear from ‘X’ about their thoughts because it would make the conversation even deeper.” If you’re nervous about remembering your formula, write it down in a notebook for ease of reference.
How to Confidently Communicate When You’re Afraid of Being Unprepared
Simply put, the easiest way to avoid being unprepared is to prepare. Planning alleviates unnecessary stress. And helps you become a confident communicator. This process also helps you develop executive-level thinking skills. Rather than being a passive member of the meeting. If you’re afraid of being caught unaware in a meeting, take the time to create an agenda or request one from the meeting host. Laura also suggests shortly before the meeting to take the time to prepare and ask yourself questions like:
- What is the most important thing for you to share in the meeting?
- What is a relevant question that would further inform your opinion if you knew the answer?
- What is the energy or vibe you want to bring to the conversation?
“By asking yourself these questions, you’re getting your vocabulary, intention, and tone in alignment before the meeting starts,” Laura said.
You can also build confidence in the workplace and feel prepared by understanding your personal brand (i.e., how you want to carry yourself and present yourself to others). Confidence is often the result of practice, preparation, and self-awareness. Take 10 minutes to reflect on your personal brand in the workplace. Think about what words you want people to associate with you. How you want people to feel after they talk to you, what areas you’re an expert in, and what you care about in the workplace. Having clarity on your brand helps you be prepared in situations where you might be caught off guard. Working with a leadership coach can also provide clarity if you need help understanding yourself and your leadership style.
How to Confidently Communicate When You Fear Being Inauthentic
“A lot of women feel that when they speak up at work, they need to have a completely different voice that fits in with the company norms or sounds more professional,” Laura shares. To combat this fear of being inauthentic at work, Laura challenges her clients to write a personal brand guide to clarify how they strive to communicate in the workplace. “We struggle to feel authentic because we don’t actually know what to point to when it comes to communicating authentically. If you can write out a personal voice guide, it reminds you that you do have a strategy to utilize in the moment.” Just as planning instills confidence, having a strategy ahead of time helps mitigate fears.
How to Confidently Communicate When Speaking in Front of Higher-Ups
If your palms get sweaty at the thought of speaking with higher-ups in your organization, join the club. While nerves are common, you can still communicate confidently in times of stress by proactively building relationships with leaders at your company. “Be intentional about networking within your organization. So the one time your leaders hear you speak in a meeting isn’t the one bit of information they have to judge you on,” Laura recommends. Finding time to network and create rapport can boost your confidence when you’re tasked with communicating in front of a room of executives.
Additionally, Laura shares that it’s important to remember that everyone on your team wants you to succeed. There is nothing more uncomfortable than watching someone present who isn’t comfortable speaking in front of a group. Instead of focusing on the negative, Laura suggests, “Reframe your perspective from ‘everyone wants me to fail and are critiquing me’ to ‘everyone wants me to be successful in this meeting because it makes everything more comfortable for all of us’.”
How to Confidently Communicate When You’re Hesitant to Share Opinions
When we shift from doing roles to leading roles within an organization, we begin to be asked for our perspectives more frequently than our expertise. As new managers and leaders, it’s common to feel new at the table and like we’re missing context in conversations, thus leading to hesitancy sharing our valuable opinions. To ensure confident communication as you move up in your career, it’s crucial to acknowledge that your voice matters. “Even if you feel like an outsider, your perspective as the newest person in the room or only woman in the room is a really unique one. And that’s why it’s needed more than any other perspective,” says Laura. By turning what feels like a challenging situation into an opportunity, you can feel confident sharing your opinion, knowing it’s adding value to the conversation.
All of these strategies can help you develop more confident communication skills, one meeting at a time. At the end of the day, Laura believes that confident communication in the workplace is a reflection of high levels of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a strong personal brand. Working one-on-one with a leadership coach can help ensure you have those fundamental identity pieces and professional skills in place so that your confidence can be reflected authentically in your communication and in every other aspect of your professional and personal life. You can learn more about Laura’s communication and leadership coaching expertise by connecting with her on LinkedIn or at lauraweldy.com.