How we carry ourselves has a significant effect on our self-esteem and how we are perceived by others. Much has been written about body language – and rightly so, as it is a fascinating topic for anyone who is interested in human behaviour and relationships.
Inevitably there are a few self-styled gurus in this area and like many ‘gurus’ much of what they say is made to sound like it is some form of esoteric nirvana that only the enlightened few ever really achieve.
It’s actually very simple. There are a few little things that we can all do to give ourselves the feeling and appearance of confidence.
First off, remember being told to sit up straight as a child? Well, there’s good reason for that other than basic manners. By sitting or standing up ‘straight’ and using our posture we appear more present and engaged. All this involves, as any good osteopath will tell you, is aligning your spine. We never actually stand or sit completely ‘straight’ as the spine is, of course, curved, but by drawing ourselves up we create the impression of confidence and presence.
Many people lead a sedentary life hunched over screens or walking around engrossed in smaller screens that we are developing what has been termed the ‘iHunch’.
It is not only bad for our backs but also for our self-esteem. People who are or who appear confident do not slouch.
Whether you are standing or seated, imagine you have a crown perched on your head (without actually moving about as if you are the reigning monarch at the state opening of parliament – and do at this point spare a thought as to the difficulty and discomfort of having a ‘nine-pound salmon’ on your head as The Queen is reputed to have described wearing the imperial state crown). It will naturally draw you up and you will appear confident and poised.
Keep your movement calm and deliberate and be aware of any extraneous fidgeting that can undermine your self-assurance. Observing those around you who you deem confident and then simply mimicking their behaviour (not their mannerisms) whilst still being yourself is an easy way of instilling confidence in others.
Secondly, the eyes have it. Look people in the eye. In his book Flipnosis – The Art of Split Second Persuasion, the psychologist Kevin Dutton suggests that in an average two-way conversation the listener looks at the speaker around 75 to 80 per cent of the time, whereas the speaker looks at the listener around 45 to 50 per cent of the time. Yet by increasing their level of eye contact to around the same as the listener, the speaker can significantly increase their chances of influencing them.
In particular, look at people when you greet them, look at audiences when you are speaking to them and look at the people who you meet on a daily basis and with whom have only the briefest of interactions – the people who give you your coffee, the people who check your ticket, the people who work at reception.
Confident people treat others, regardless of what they do, with the respect of looking at them – it is only when confidence morphs into arrogance that this changes.
Thirdly, a quick word about breathing. In moments of stress or anxiety one of the first things to change in us will be our breathing. When we are feeling confident we breathe slowly and efficiently engaging the primary muscle of inspiration, the diaphragm. When you need to instil confidence in others, make sure that your breathing is slow and relaxed – if not, those around you will sense your anxiety and lose confidence in you very quickly.
These three simple techniques that demonstrate physical confidence are by no means the full range available but they are the quickest and most effective. The third aspect of instilling confidence in others, how you use your voice, will be looked at in part three.
Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach.