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How to Sound Confident

By Lee Wilkinson

Early on in my career, I noticed the difference between men and women in [self-] promotion. A male colleague of mine was asked a question and I knew he had no clue as to the answer. He calmly stated that this was a controversial topic and that he would get back to the questioner with his view once he’d canvassed the matter with a few colleagues. I thought of how different my approach would have been – honest, and along the lines of “we don’t know but we’ll find out!” It would have created quite a different impression.

In our experience, women have more problems with sounding confident than men, though I have never seen any statistical data on it. Just this week I worked with a woman facing this challenge. She is communicating with a wide range of people about a very big change in approach in her organisation. The changes they have created are unique and regarded as a great improvement, yet she sounded so uncertain about them.

Immediate Changes to Create a More Confident Impression

  • Get rid of weak fillers such as “um” and “ah”. People use these to hold their place in a conversation but they create an impression of uncertainty. A better technique is to signal that you have several ideas you want to communicate. Examples include: “I have three concerns about this”; or: “I can see pluses and minuses in this course of action”.
  • Hack out self-deprecating words such as: perhaps, maybe, a little bit, sort of, just, kind of. Women use these expressions more than men and they quickly erode a confident impression. An example: “We sort of altered the organisational structure.” It sounds more confident as: “We redesigned the organisational structure.”
  • Build a definite tone: If you let your voice go up at the end of a phrase it sounds as if you need other people’s approval for your statement. Keep your voice on an even tone right to the end of a statement and voila – more confidence.
  • Shift to direct, active speech: People use the passive, indirect speech when saying things such as: ‘The project was completed on time.’ Listen to the more confident, active: “We completed the project on time”.
  • Choose more specific, interesting words: “uses” becomes “benefits”, “did” becomes “achieved”. Seek to strengthen the impression without overdoing it.

What Can You Do in the Long Term?

  • Get together with a supportive but honest friend and record yourselves communicating about work issues. Evaluate your confidence level by looking for the five pointers I have outlined – or any others you notice. Practise using more confident language and then listen to yourselves again.

Listen carefully to confident speakers. Ask the person how they do it – they could well be pleased that you noticed.

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