Speaking Tips: Confidence vs. Comfort

“How can you tell the difference between being confident as a speaker and when your just comfortable?” 

One of my Facebook Fans recently asked me this question, and I realized it was a bit more common of a concern for new speakers than you might think. Or, you have been sitting there wondering “When is Rob going to post on this obvious topic?” Either way, by the end of this post you will understand the importance of the difference, and you will have a few tips on how to be better prepared and confident for your next presentation.

Simply put, comfort and confidence relate in a very specific way. Think about this question: What do you need to have to be confident in yourself as a speaker?i’ll paraphrase, but I first heard this answer as these three stages from the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Brooks: 1. Be comfortable with yourself; 2.  Be comfortable with your message; 3. Be comfortable with your audience.

Be comfortable with yourself. This one is tougher than is sounds. Luckily, this is what the Competent Communicator (CC) manual was designed to help you with. If your not a Toastmaster, go join now (but keep reading). As a Toastmaster, the ten projects in that CC manual are your key to overcoming the first hurdle in being a more confident speaker. Becoming more comfortable with your speech organization, gestures, voice, visual aides, and other basic skills can really build a solid foundation toward your future speaking skills.

While working on those skills, you can also learn to become more comfortable with your message. As you progress and work on some of the Advanced Communications manuals, you can refine that message and really strengthen your abilities. Working on these first two stages is where the stage time opportunities in Toastmasters can really pay off.

However, moving to that third phase is where so many speakers find themselves stuck. In fact, it’s been said that the majority of speakers out there never really move past stage two, and that’s where you can really gain the most advantage from your practice and improvement efforts.

To use this to increase your comfort and to bolster your confidence, let’s say you are going to speak in front of a totally new audience. How to you find any comfort level to help with your confidence? Two stories come to mind.

In late January 2009, I had the good fortune to hear a local speaker, John Madden (no relation to the coach) speak a couple of times here in Wichita. What I saw him do at one of those presentations really stuck with me. If you would have been with me, arriving at the session about 15 minuts early,  you would have seen John meeting and greeting the attendees prior to the start.

In fact, you would have seen him have a number of conversations, finding out where people worked in our company, and asking about how things were going. You would have also heard him ask if there were any paticular concerns for us right now. As it was, this was right after the first layoff in our company (at the end of 2008) and many of us were concerned about the pending layoffs expected in February 2009.

John was able to take some of that information and incorporate it into his presentation, but my point here is that meeting and greeting the guests gave him a far better comfort level than had he simply met and talked to the meeting coordinator. Further, he was able to connect with us all by mentioning some by name during his presentation. That connection served to increase his comfort level more, and show him as a confident speaker to all of us.

The second instance is from my year as an Area Governor in Toastmasters. If you are not familiar, an Area Governor (or AG) is in a support leadership position, usually serving 4 or 5 clubs in their geographic area (5 clubs in Downtown Wichita, for me). One of the expectations for an Area Governor is to provide either a training or inspirational type of presentation during their minimum two visits to each club during the year.

Since I felt it would be at least a little strange to call a club president and offer up a couple of speech options without ever having met them or their club, I followed some expert advice to visit each of my clubs unofficially in June, the month before I began my role as AG.

By making the early visit, I was able to accomplish 3 specific things to help with my comfort level, and subsequently my confidence:

1. I knew the location of the club’s meeting place (and parking, traffic, etc.)
2. I knew the room, it’s layout, and capabilities (powerpoint, lecturn, etc.)
3. I met the members and officers, and they could put my face with the name when I scheduled my next visit.
Bonus. If I was able to do a table topic, then they had at least heard me speak a little…every little bit helps.

Both of these examples share something in common: get to know your audience as best you can before speaking to them as a group. Having the comfort of knowing some audience members, and even a few of their stories will make a noticeable difference in your own confidence, and in the quality of your presentation(which can get you asked back again).

Is there a difference? It doesn’t matter, as long as you understand how comfort and confidence can relate, and how you can use the right techniques to increase them both. Then, you’ll have the comfort and confidence you need to be successful.

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