Confidence is somewhat elusive. You know you have to be confident if you want to make a good impression in the professional world, but earning that confidence isn't as easy as it seems. For some, confidence comes naturally, but for most, it's harder to achieve--especially in unfamiliar situations or with unfamiliar people.
Rest assured that you aren't alone, and remember one critical fact about confidence: In most situations, it doesn't matter if you feel confident on the inside as much as it matters that you look confident on the outside. The goal is to appear confident, even if you really aren't, and there are several tricks you can use to accomplish this.
1. Stand tall.
Take up space by standing tall. Keep your shoulders back, and keep your spine straight. This is going to offer you a host of physical benefits, including better breathing and better back support, but just as important, it's going to make you look and feel more confident. People who slouch or minimize their bodies tend to be viewed as unconfident or uncertain. You can also practice the "power pose" technique before you enter the room by stretching your arms far above your head or putting your hands on your hips with your elbows wide. These "power poses" are experimentally proved to increase confidence, but you might look a little silly doing them during your event, so keep them as a preliminary ritual.
2. Make eye contact.
Eye contact is crucial for increasing your perceived confidence, and without it, you'll appear scattered or inattentive. When you speak, look at your recipient's eyes, or if you're in front of many people, alternate between them. Even in a crowd, you should be making eye contact with the various individuals in your audience. It's also important to maintain eye contact when the other person is speaking--the more you break eye contact or look around, the more indecisive or shy you'll seem. Just don't stare people down like you're a serial killer--do take occasional breaks.
3. Don't fidget.
Fidgeting is a major betrayer of low confidence, and most of us fidget without even realizing it. Different people fidget in different ways; for example, some people have a nervous leg-jiggling habit and others tend to wave their hands around in a flailing motion when they talk. You might also find yourself adjusting your standing position or nodding excessively. Instead, try to stand still and only move when it's in an appropriate, deliberate way. This can be tough, especially if you aren't conscious of your fidgeting habits. Practice speaking with someone you know and ask him or her to identify any peculiar quirks you may not notice about yourself.
4. Speak slowly and clearly.
Speaking too quickly or in a low tone of voice can make you appear less than confident. It also leaves you vulnerable to saying things you don't mean or slipping up with verbal nonsense. The solution to these problems is to speak slowly and clearly. Take your time with your sentences--it will give you time to come up with better word choices and will make you seem more confident at the same time. Practice articulating your words clearly and in a loud voice so you're used to the approach.
5. Allow silences.
There's nothing wrong with a little bit of silence. Too many people denounce the "awkward silence" as the indicator of a bad conversation, but it's actually a useful and necessary social tool. Use silences to your advantage; for example, you can end an important sentence with a long pause to let it sink in. You can allow a beat in the conversation between the other person speaking and you speaking to show that you really listened. Silences allow for consideration, and they show that you're confident in your speaking abilities. Don't neglect them.
6. Keep your hands visible.
Your hands say a lot about you, whether you realize it or not. Keep them visible and marginally active in the conversation. For example, you can gesticulate your words with a few deliberate actions--just don't go crazy and violate rule number three. You could also use your hands to offer occasional moments of touch if the situation warrants it. It's also important not to hide your hands by stuffing them in your pockets or folding your arms. Keep them visible to appear more confident.
7. Take big steps.
This one comes into play when you enter, exit, or move around in a room. Take wide, surefooted steps with every move, rather than quick, hurried, or frantic steps. Don't be in a hurry to get anywhere, and remember to keep your body posture aligned. This slow, deliberate series of movements will make you appear confident, so much so that people several yards away from you will be able to pick up on it.
The great thing about pretending to be confident is that eventually, you'll trick yourself into actually being confident. Like with good posture and conversational manners, the only thing preventing you from being able to implement these strategies regularly is practice. The more you practice appearing confident, the more naturally it will come to you, and the more confident you'll look and feel. With your newfound confidence, you'll be able to speak more articulately, command a more attentive audience, and be viewed with more respect by your peers.