Recently I was talking to Duff McKagan -- Guns 'n Roses, Velvet Revolver, Loaded, and a great solo album that comes out May 31 -- about the nature of confidence. (I'll run the full interview in a couple of weeks.)
Many people feel confidence isn't something you either have or don't have. But confidence is situational. You may feel extremely confident in front of your startup team... but anxious and insecure in a room full of potential investors. The situation is well outside the norm, the stakes much higher.
I mentioned to Duff I was doing a TEDx Talk the following week. "I'm comfortable speaking to crowds," I said, "but something about the TED style, format, and audience makes me nervous."
He paused for a moment, and said:
"Remember, people want to see you do well. They want to see you kick ass."
When you're nervous, when you feel the stakes are high, you tend to view your "audience" much differently.
Say you're anxious about a pitch meeting. You're afraid you'll bomb. You're afraid they'll tear your presentation apart. That perspective -- that fear -- makes you see the people in the room as potential enemies.
In fact, the opposite is true. They're not the enemy. They want to love you. Investors constantly search for great ideas, great ventures, or great companies.
They want -- they need -- to invest in great people. Which means they're on your side.
The same is true for Duff. When he performs, the audience isn't primed to be critical. His fans don't want him, or his band, to have an off night. They're excited. They're pumped. They want the show to be magical.
They're on his side.
They want him to kick ass.
They want Duff to succeed. Not just out of the goodness of their hearts, but also because his success is their success, because it makes their lives a little better.
In short: Believe that other people want you to kick ass, and you're much more likely to.
The Science of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Research backs up the phenomenon of anticipated acceptance as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In study after study, participants who expect to be accepted are perceived as more likable.
When you think other people will like you, you act more naturally and come across as friendlier... which then makes people like you more, since we all tend to like warm, friendly people.
Believe other people are on your side and you'll also feel more confident. (And so will getting a message from a guy like Duff before you go on that says, "You got this!")
While I later gave myself a B-plus for my performance, the audience deserved an A-plus. They were eager to be informed, entertained, and inspired.
They wanted me to succeed.
Just like other people want you to succeed.
The next time you're nervous, anxious, or scared, remember: People want to see you kick ass.
Say that to yourself, and as long as you've done everything you can to be as prepared as possible... you will.