Standing on the side of the stage waiting for my introduction—which was my cue to walk up to the podium and present for the next 30 minutes—I thought my heart was going to be out of my chest.
Years ago, I wanted to get on the speaking circuit within digital marketing. I thought, "How hard could it be? I work for an agency that's well known, and I have a nice title. I should be able to get into any conference I want."
I found out right away that that was not the case, and it became discouraging. I would apply to speak at different conferences and wouldn't even get a no—I would get silence, which can feel even worse.
I kept asking myself, "How can I just get my foot in the door? I just need to speak at one conference." Then I would have the experience to get into more events.
I attended a social event after a day of sessions at one conference. I started talking to someone who mentioned he was in charge of securing speakers for the conferences.
I couldn't even believe my luck. Right away, I started my elevator pitch of why I should be brought on as a speaker at their next event. I don't even remember what I said, but I must have said something worthwhile because he responded:
"Okay, we'll give you a shot, but we're not going to have you speak at our large Las Vegas events. Instead, we'll have you speak at our smaller Florida conference. And we'll just see how you do."
I was so excited. This conference in Florida was about two months away, so it's all I kept thinking about for the next two months.
But then I started to get very, very nervous about the whole thing.
As I was explaining my anxiety about the upcoming conference to one of my supervisors, his response was, "Yeah, they'll eat you alive."
Way to go for building up my confidence.
I became even more nervous. I spent hours preparing for the conference and my 30-minute talk.
Fast-forward to the day of the conference. I wasn't supposed to speak until the afternoon.
As I sat listening to the speakers, I became even more nervous. Everyone sounded so confident in their knowledge. They didn't even seem nervous on the stage.
I went back to my hotel room and sat there for three hours, trying to talk myself into going back to the conference to speak. I kept thinking, "I'm not nearly as qualified or knowledgeable as all these other people who were speaking. What was I thinking?"
I also had my supervisor's statement in my head: "Yeah, they'll eat you alive."
I had to give myself the biggest pep talk to go back to the conference. I said to myself: "It's not going to kill me. At this point tomorrow, I'll have this behind me."
I got up on the stage, as nervous as you can imagine. I thought, "Here we go," and took a deep breath.
I gave my presentation.
When I finished, I didn't think, "Wow, I just did such an amazing job."
I thought, "That was horrible. I did a bad job. I'm never going to be able to speak at another conference in the digital marketing industry again."
After the session, people came up to me and told me what a great job I did and that they were excited about what I shared. The same thing happened at the networking event. I thought, "How can that be when I was so nervous?"
I was then invited to speak at the Las Vegas event, opening the floodgate to other conferences.
I didn't feel confident that day, but I projected confidence in some way.
Today I'm going to tell you about the psychology of self confidence and self esteem in business. Let's start by reviewing what self confidence is compared to self esteem, and what both mean for your business confidence.
Self Confidence vs. Self Esteem
Self confidence involves trusting your abilities and what you're capable of. It's about feeling worthy no matter what imperfections you feel you have.
There is a common belief that women are less confident than men, but that hasn't been proven in research overall.
What has been shown in research is that a lack of confidence is often situational. Your confidence can change depending on your situation.
If we lack self confidence, we're less likely to achieve business success. Projecting confidence is one of the key ways to succeed in this area.
Let's talk about healthy self esteem and its correlation with self confidence. High self esteem means you appreciate and value yourself. Your self esteem changes throughout your life based on experiences and interactions you have with other people.
Self esteem is your belief in yourself. This can also change depending on the situation. You need a good amount of self esteem to be self confident and meet challenges that come your way.
Studies have shown that a positive regard for ourselves impacts our mental health. That's something I have to remind myself of very often.
Research has also shown that self esteem applies to different areas of psychology beyond mental health and workplace matters. It's also associated with how we feel people around us are viewing us and whether they approve of us.
We can't control whether other people approve of us or not. If we experience a lot of criticism or rejection from others, it can hurt our self esteem in business and life.
However, there are other ways you can build your self esteem and confidence. Both are within your control. It starts with understanding your inner critic.
Your inner critic is that voice telling you that you can't do something or did a terrible job on what you did do. My inner critic presented itself when I thought, "Well, that was bad," as I was walking down that stage.
We need to get rid of that inner critic because it causes anxiety, anger, sadness, and a lack of confidence. It ignores our strengths and abilities and focuses on our mistakes and failures. It can even cause us to see rewarding challenges and situations as too daunting.
High Confidence vs. Low Confidence
I want to give some examples of unconfident versus confident behaviors.
An example of low confidence is staying in your comfort zone, being afraid to fail, and avoiding taking a risk.
On the flip side, a confident behavior would be taking risks and going the extra mile to accomplish goals while stepping outside your comfort zone.
Another non-confident behavior is waiting for other people to say you did a good job on your accomplishments and having that greatly affect whether you feel good about yourself.
A confident behavior is not being afraid to say, "Hey, yeah, I did a good job on this." It's being unafraid to talk about the results that you got on a project.
This last example might hit home for some of you; I know it does for me. An unconfident behavior is dismissing compliments: "Oh, that was nothing. It wasn't that hard. Anyone could have done it." That's downplaying your work.
Confident behavior involves accepting those compliments graciously: "Thank you. I worked really hard. I appreciate that you recognized my efforts."
Confidence in Public Speaking
At my first speaking event, I appeared confident even though I wasn't. I didn't know I appeared confident; this is something people told me.
There are actions you can take to appear more confident until you actually feel that way. A large part of a confident appearance is body language.
When we feel anxious, we hunch our shoulders and put our heads down a bit. We might even slouch. We don't always realize we're doing these things.
You can appear to have more business confidence by sitting up straight and making eye contact. Fidgeting or looking away makes you appear more nervous and disengaged.
If you present at a meeting—or at a conference like in my example—spreading your hands apart with your palms slightly toward your audience shows confidence. It also demonstrates that you're willing to share ideas.
Increasing Confidence and Self Esteem
There are ways to feel more confident and increase your self esteem. Let’s look at them.
Identify Your Weak Spots
First, identify what's causing you to feel unconfident. If there's an area that you don't feel knowledgeable in, read up on it or take a course about it before your meeting or presentation. That way, you will feel more confident about the topic.
If you don’t think you have the qualifications for a particular job, think about your workplace experience. Is there anything you can draw on that does tie to that requirement?
If there is a deficiency, fill it, going back to what I said about improving your skills.
Change Your Habits
You need to create good daily habits and break bad ones.
One good habit is exercise. Regular exercise is associated with improved self esteem. Exercise at least a few times per week, even if you just walk outside to get your body moving.
Healthy eating improves both your physical and mental health, which then leads to better self esteem, according to research. Studies have also shown that you also need to get a good night's sleep to improve your self esteem.
Taking these action steps will improve your self esteem in business and your whole life, which means your workplace confidence will also improve.
Personal Branding and Self Image
Let's talk about personal branding. You need to have a positive image of who you really are—your authentic self.
Write down key areas you excel in. This exercise keeps your strengths top of mind, boosting your confidence.
If you are unsure of moving forward or taking a risk, look at your past achievements. If you've achieved something in the past, there's evidence that you can achieve it again in the future.
Improved self esteem and confidence translate into more success in business, more opportunities on your career path, and overall satisfaction from your newfound business confidence.
What I love about the concept of self confidence and self esteem is that we have control. We can quiet that inner critic that tells us we can't do something. We can improve how we feel about ourselves.