How to Project Confidence Without Alienating Your Audience

My inspiration for today’s topic came last week. I was part of an audience subjected to a quite interesting public speaking style of a person trying to pitch a business collaboration idea.

Before I tell you this story, first let me share a definition of confidence by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them, it cannot live.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Story

I volunteer on the Board for Directors of a local charity supporting women in need. Last week we had our monthly board meeting, and our Executive Director announced that there would be two people coming to present and pitch a collaboration idea between their business and our organization.

From the very beginning, the CEO of the company who’d potentially be our partner talked to the board members in a very condescending and rude tone of voice, boasting about their accomplishments. They also made it sound like we needed their help more than they required ours, implying that we’d be fools not partnering with them.

The way conversation was going; it would have finished within the first 10 mins if it wasn’t for the CEO’s partner who read the room well and started seeing that the audience was closing off fast.

As the pitch continued, and we listened to the idea, which was quite viable and potentially beneficial to both parties, the tension in the room eased off a little bit. In the end, as we started discussing next steps, the CEO gave us a short timeline for final decision and in a non-direct manner, tried to scare us. They said they’d report back to a local politician on the outcome of the conversation implying we’d lose the politician’s support we currently have if we declined.   

The Moral

I am going to ask you a question – if you were to bet on the gender of both the CEO and their partner – would you say they were both men? Both women? Or one of each?

In a way it doesn’t really matter but why am I asking? Because in general, the studies found that we women are less confident than men. We are as skilled and as competent (if not more) as men, but it takes us a longer time to grow our confidence to the same levels as men. Because of this, sometimes we lose on great opportunities in our business endeavors.

There is an excellent book on this subject titled The Confidence Code by Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman that I highly recommend reading. I loved it.
In the meantime,  if you’d like a taste of it, please click here to read an article that both authors wrote in the Atlantic magazine  “The Confidence Gap.”

So now let me reveal the genders of both presenters: the CEO was a woman, and her partner was a man. Shocking right? It was to me.
In my corporate career I got used to dealing with strong and confident A-type personalities that can be harsh. And yet, I’ve never seen such an unprofessional behavior since I came to Canada.

The CEO was confident, but because she took that to an extreme, she lost her audience and the whole pitch in the first 10 mins of the presentation.

“A fit body gives you confidence. And there’s nothing more impressive than a great attitude, which you can wear on your sleeve. But you’ll have to remember the difference between being rude and being confident.”

Virat Kohli

The thing is that there is a happy medium between a lack of confidence on the one hand and cockiness on the other.

Here are five tips on how to do it and keep your audience engaged.

1.    Be self-aware

If you aren’t sure how your communication style affects your audiences, especially when you are passionate about the subject, ask others.

Does your passion come through enough? Maybe it doesn’t, and you need to work on adding more emotions into your speaking. Or perhaps too much comes through, which can be received as intimidating or rude and you should tone it down.

2.    Think before you speak

Before you present, pitch anything or talk to your employees, think first. Know your audience, prepare adequately to the meeting and rehearse as required.

Think of any questions or anticipate objections they might have.

Have respect for your audience, never assume what they know or don’t know. 

3.    Body language

Maintain the open posture by being conscious of the gestures you are making with your hands. Crossed hands or hands in your pockets mean being closed off. Have your hands in an open position, more or less at your between your wait and chest with your palms up.

If you are standing, maintain balance by keeping your legs aligned with your shoulders with feet approx. 4-6 inches apart

If you are sitting, one way to show confidence is to clasp both hands together in a relaxed pyramid.

And don’t forget to smile :).

4.    Maintain eye contact

Being present and maintaining good eye contact serves two primary purposes:

–    It creates a connection between you and your audience making them feel important and valued;

–    It also allows you to read the room; I get that the bigger the audience, the harder it is to keep all participants equally engaged. However, if you are seeing that you are losing all participants either getting bored and drifting away in their thoughts or phones; or worse getting closed off an upset; it’s a signal to adjust your speaking approach radically.

5.    Tone of voice

With your voice, you have a few tools that will help keep the speech interesting; the audience engaged and convey the mastery of your subject.  For example, voice register (deep vs. high), timbre (rich, smooth, warm), tempo, pitch, and volume.

Julian Treasure shares some great advice on this subject in this TED talk on How to speak so that people want to listen. Below I am sharing with you the link to his great talk in case you’d like to know more.


To conclude, there is no doubt that confidence is a crucial factor of our business success. And it’s also definitely better to have more of it than none. However, as our confidence grows, we need to watch ourselves not to swing the pendulum to the other side of the extreme.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy.”

Norman Vincent Peale

Additionally, your business growth and ability to lead depends on effective communication where your confidence shines. Communication is a learned skill that everyone can improve.

Can you always get your message across in a way that inspires action and outcomes you expect?

Have you ever experienced issues with outcomes due to miscommunication?

Are you nervous about public speaking and presenting?

If yes, don’t worry! I can help you overcome those challenges so you’ll become a confident (yet humble) effective communicator :).

If you are open-minded to connecting with me, click here and let’s talk!

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