As a Leadership Coach, particularly during the COVID-era, I am often asked to help leaders who struggle with virtual communications be “seen” and be heard as relevant, competent, confident leaders. Never have the stakes of communicating clearly and confidently been so high.
Confidence breeds trust. Trust is the foundation for healthy relationships, which in turn supports results.
I would argue expressing oneself in a clear, concise, confident manner is a core skill all of us need, virtually or otherwise. It is a lifetime competency equally important to both work and personal communications.
Here are 8 killer tips to help you “show up,” radiating competence, and communicating with confidence.
Much is being written today about mindset and shifting an unwanted mindset to be more successful. Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, determined that a person’s mindset informs their level of success. It is how we handle challenges.
Your mindset refers to what you believe regarding talent and intelligence. Do you believe these are traits you are born with and therefore are more or less unchangeable, or can they be learned and changed throughout a person’s life? In other words, do you have a fixed or growth mindset?
Begin with the end in mind, which is Stephen Covey’s 2nd habit in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Clarity of intention produces clear messages, making it easier to determine what to say and how to say it to get your message across.
Impressions make an impact. Your choice of words, tone, and body language all factor into the impressions you leave on others.
What type of impact are you making? What type of impact do you wish to make? The choice is all yours.
It is essential to know your stuff! It is hard to demonstrate confidence when you are unsure of the information you are trying to communicate.
Get your facts straight, form a sound argument. Think before you make a point or ask a question. Be sure about the point you are making. Go over what you plan to communicate in your head.
Articulate your points succinctly. Clearly state your rationale. When you do these things, you exhibit a strong presence. When you are clear in your thinking, you are clear in your speaking.
Furthermore, being confident is being able to provide answers to the questions being asked intelligently. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Tell your audience you will find the answer, then get back to them.
Being authentic, reliable, and trustworthy in your communication are hallmarks of executive presence.
If you don’t know enough about your topic, find out through research.
- Google it
- Ask others
- Use your existing networks to ask for referrals
The more you know, the more confident you show up!
Why is understanding your audience important? So you can provide VALUE and not be wasteful. The more you know about each member of your audience, the more effective your communications are because what you are saying is relevant—people value relevance, not redundancy.
Speaker and author of the book, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, Simon Sinek, makes the argument we are not as interested in the “what” as we are in the “why.”
Being an active, engaged listener is also required.
Now, it might be virtually (no pun intended) impossible to know each member of your audience.
The 80/20 Rule applies here. When communicating, 80% of the time should be spent listening (words, tone, and nonverbals) and 20% talking. Listening is the only way to learn the important topics and issues you will later need to match their needs with the right solution to maximize value.
Yes, your choice of words does matter. Words set a tone. Certain words are divisive – such as the word “you.” Think about it: how do you feel when someone says, “You were of no help at all” or “You seem to be struggling with the process.”
Research has shown accusatory type “you” statements can put the person you’re talking to on the defensive. It can create anger and discontent, which potentially causes disagreements and conflicts. When these types of statements are used, we are telling the individual what he or she did NOT do.
In using these statements, we appear accusatory and judgmental. On the other hand, “I” statements are a positive way to show assertiveness. “I prefer that we move the meeting date” or “I feel overworked and stressed and would appreciate some additional help on this project.”
Other words can sound parental, such as “should,” “need to,” and “have to.” These types of words can also be off-putting to others.
Employing clear messages means avoiding absolute terms, such as “all,” “every,” “always,” “never,” “everyone,” “no one,” or “none.”
Dichotomous logic, assuming everything can be judged in one of two ways, leads to polarization. Very few things in life are so rigid they are either all one way or all the other. It also leaves the other person to respond to these absolute terms with words like “which,” “how much,” and “when.”
Speaking in absolutes is not efficient. Speak with conviction and use words carrying a sense of accountability, assertiveness, and ownership.
Say things like “I chose to…” or “I will not…” or even “I prefer…”
Your voice tone carries a message. It helps people form an image or impression of you and can elicit strong feelings or reactions.
People also perceive messages sent through body language, facial expressions, posture, stance, and eye contact in different ways. This is particularly true for visual learners.
Consequently, when speaking on the phone or when others cannot detect body language, your tone is something to be ever more conscious of. In situations like this, your tone becomes as important as the words you choose.
Congruence, when our verbal and nonverbal messages are complimentary and clear, is crucial to effective communication. Match your tone to your choice of words and nonverbals.
Be aware of your tone of voice. It is imperative when on a phone or video call. If you are not sure how you sound, record yourself with your cell phone, then be honest.
Research has shown nonverbal communication affects how others perceive you and influences how they feel about you.
We are constantly emitting signals through our bodies, whether we are aware of it or not. At times we could be sending confusing or mixed messages. An intentional focus on your nonverbal signals can strengthen rapport with people, increase influence and boost confidence.
Social Psychologist and author Dr. Amy Cuddy set out to answer the question, “Does our body language impact the way we feel about ourselves?” What she found was yes, it does! Changing one’s body stance can change how your presence shows up to others.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one definition of presence is “a noteworthy quality of poise and effectiveness.”
Ask yourself, how can I exhibit poise? How can I give others a positive first impression? Think about how you can use your power effectively. Dr. Cuddy suggests practicing high-power poses before a big event, an interview, a sales pitch, or a key stakeholder meeting can make you feel more confident.
2/Expanding our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves. Real effect. And, on virtually every dimension, women (and many other marginalized groups) have been trained to take up less space. If ‘power posing’ is a concept that gets us talking about this, then I will be at peace.
— Amy Cuddy, PhD (@amyjccuddy) October 6, 2018
No one can argue your feelings. Whenever you feel more self-assured, self-reliant, and optimistic, other people see you in that way. It increases your personal presence.
When you feel confident, you are!
Learn More: Power Posing Is Back: Amy Cuddy Successfully Refutes Criticism by Kim Elsesser, Forbes Senior Contributor
To feel powerful, assertive, and confident, change your position every two minutes.
Some may have heard of the “power pose” ~ the open stance of arms up and wide open, coined by Dr. Cuddy. This pose exudes power compared to the closed power pose, where one tends to be more unapproachable.
Her research has proven that our body movements can change our minds. Our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes outcomes.
Sharing perspective, information, knowledge, and expertise with others builds credibility and presence. Testimonials and data can help us build connections with peers, ideas, products, and services.
Telling a story is also helpful. Stories tend to boost feelings such as compassion, empathy, and trust. They can also be motivating and positively influence our social behavior.
Most of us love stories because we can relate to them. The more descriptive you can be when telling stories, the better as we have wild, vivid imaginations.
Stories will help people remember you.
Use appropriate, accurate, timely, and relevant data when making a point. If you use testimonials, ensure the person is okay with you sharing their comments.
When telling stories, keep them short and sweet so people can remember the moral of it. Craft stories relevant to the point you are making. Set up the proper context or background of the story and ensure it has a solid beginning, middle, and end.
You will know you have been successful when others share your story.
The questions you ask others can set a tone. Asking good questions is essential as it keeps you in learner vs. judger mode. We often switch between these two modes depending on situations, topics of conversation, or the roles we assume.
When we are in learner mode, we tend to be more open, willing to listen, curious about others, and patient. In judger mode, we tend to be defensive, stubborn, and short-tempered.
By choosing learner mode, we allow others to take on challenges and provide solutions that encourage buy-in and commitment. This is especially important during times of change.
Questions help the group uncover issues and challenges and allow for better solutions. Additionally, asking questions increases others’ potential as they can create “awareness” and that “aha” moment that leads to growth and innovation.
Questions beginning with “What” are those that get others to think and reflect. For example, “What have you tried before?” or “What are your options?” or “What is getting in the way of success?”
These types of questions encourage the person you are speaking with to reflect on their situation. This is especially critical for adult learning. They create personal breakthroughs that help others grow and develop. This often establishes a strong rapport and develops higher trust.
Try to avoid asking questions starting with “Why,” as these can put the other on the defensive.
Think about this: how might you feel if I asked you, “Why are you late?” or “Why did you approach the project that way?”
You can change your professional presence and people’s perception of you by demonstrating clarity and confidence in how you communicate: through words, tone of voice, and nonverbal communication.
You are most confident when you know your content, audience, and the questions you might be asked. Additionally, you demonstrate listening when you actively engage with the audience by acknowledging their views, opinions, and feelings.
Be aware, practice, and above all, be honest with yourself. Master these 8 tips, and you are well on your way to exuding confidence and presence when you communicate.
Did you enjoy this article? Are you serious about improving your communication skills? Communicating effectively is important; send me your questions!
Originally published May 5, 2017, updated March 24, 2021.