Confidence is key to your career success. Research suggests that those who display more confidence than competence are more admired, awarded a higher social status, and have more influence. But there are times when you may not feel confident, such as when speaking on stage to an audience, having a one-on-one conversation with a new person or an intimidating colleague or participating in a meeting. You have the opportunity to exude confidence even when you might not feel confident.
Focus on your physical presence. You can use your body, even before saying a word, to demonstrate your confidence. This is critical to helping others see you as a leader. To believe it, they have to see it. Here are eight simple actions you can take to instantly appear confident:
1. Lock eyes.
When you are engaging with others, make eye contact with them. Do not look at your surroundings or electronics, such as your phone. If you focus your attention on them, it makes them feel important. If they feel important, they will respect you.
2. Shake hands like you mean it.
Reach out to initiate the handshake when meeting a colleague, whether this person is someone you are meeting for the first time or an old pal. A firm handshake shows your intention of saying hello and that you are focused on them.
3. Briefly and lightly touch the other person’s shoulder.
Show confidence and warmth at the same time by briefly and lightly touching the other person’s shoulder as you go in for the handshake. Touch is powerful and, if done right, can both demonstrate to the other person your confidence and put the other person at ease. President Obama does this often. He signals his leadership by placing his hand on the shoulder of the person he meets.
This act may be bold to some, particularly if you are younger or in a subordinate position. If you want to advance in your career, you have to start acting like the leader you want to become. And don’t over think it. A quick, gentle touch on the shoulder conveys your confidence and leadership (which you can exhibit at any career stage), not an effort to exert dominance.
4. Stand up straight. Do not rest on an inanimate object.
If you are standing and speaking before an audience or with an individual, do not rest on a podium, the wall, or the bar. Stand up straight. You want to show that you are actively engaged and invested in the discussion and not just casually listening.
5. Keep both feet on the ground.
When speaking publicly or with an individual, have your feet firmly planted on the ground. Crossing your legs or shifting your weight from one leg to another makes you look like you are fidgeting and nervous.
6. Take up space with your hands.
The more space you take up, the more confident you look. Don’t be afraid to open up your arms wide and gesture with your hands (like Hillary Clinton does) or take up some space at the meeting table. Make yourself big. But keep your movements controlled. Too much or quick movement can look chaotic.
7. Don’t use your arms as a shield.
Many people, unknowingly, cross their arms or stand in a funeral director’s pose (palms inward crossed in front of you). Don’t do this. Covering or shielding parts of your body can be a sign of nervousness. It can also make you look standoffish and make others feel uncomfortable. Try to keep your palms open if you are on stage, your arms up at the stomach area if you are speaking with someone one-on-one, or in sight on the table if you are at a meeting.
8. Sit at the table.
Sit at the table. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sees that women often will sit in the overflow chairs lined up against the wall or chairs at the back of the room. If you are invited to a meeting, sit at the table. This is your opportunity to be seen and partake in the discussion. And as the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress Shirley Chisholm said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Let’s face it: We may not feel confident all the time. Leaders know that even when they do not feel confident, they need to look confident. These simple actions give you an opportunity to look and even start feeling confident.
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