During her 20 year tenure as city comptroller of Dixon, IL, Rita Crundwell embezzled more than $53 million of public funds. This moral failure makes her the perpetrator of the largest case of municipal fraud in U.S. history. While forcing staff lay-offs, police budget cuts, and neglect of public infrastructure, she used the funds to create one of the nation’s leading quarter horse breeding empires.
The documentary, ALL THE QUEEN’S HORSES (now on Netflix), investigates her crime, her lavish lifestyle, and the small town she left traumatized as a result.
Confidence is power.
To be clear, her accounting skills were as necessary as her communication skills in pulling off this crime. However, without her apparent knack for inspiring a complete confidence in herself, she could have never succeeded in this fraud.
Such misuse of power and corruption give my industry a bad rap. “You merely teach people how to sugar-coat things,” I’m told. Or, “Everyone just needs to say what they mean and mean what they say.” We all yearn to live in that ultimate meritocracy.
Words carry power.
Which is why Roman orator and lawyer Cicero defined rhetoric as “the good man speaking well.” Skill in communication can be used for good or evil.
Effective and confident messaging comes easily to some people. There are those who make friends effortlessly and seem to always be in the center of things. Neither of these was true for me, but early in my career I saw that competence and confidence did not always travel in the same suitcase. People notice confidence before they are even able to ascertain any authentic competence.
And most interesting of all, people who appear super ultra maximized confident, don’t always feel confident, but they give off all the right signals.
So even if you’re terrified of giving that presentation, assuming some of these confidence “tells” will help you and your audience. The last thing you want is your audience wondering if you’re going to make it through your talk without a breakdown! You want them to hang on to every single word, admiring each pearl of wisdom.
Confidence before Competence
The human person seems to be hard-wired to judge competence based on confidence.
To review, these are the most obvious “tells” of a confident person:
The importance of eye contact is especially true in American culture. In some cultures, it is disrespectful to look at people who are over you, in the eye. Here we connect eye contact with truthfulness, which is why we are especially bothered when people look us in the eye and lie to our faces!
If you feel weird or like you’re staring at someone, be sure to notice what color their eyes are and see if you can tell if they’re wearing contacts.
The thinking here is that if you’re relaxed, you’re not anxious and if you’re not anxious, then you’re confident. Research shows that women are much more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than men. Scientific American reports the lifetime rate of diagnosis of anxiety disorders is higher in women, with 33 percent experiencing an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, as compared with 22 percent of men.
Simply ask yourself, “What can I do to feel more relaxed right now?” Challenge your thoughts that are driving your anxious feelings.
Slumping makes you look tired. I tell my clients to stretch themselves to be an inch taller before entering the meeting; this author recommends using duct tape to improve your posture. I’m going to try it at my next big conference.
Your body speaks to your mind and your mind to your body. Assuming confident body position raises your mental confidence.
The person who speaks first is the one controlling the conversation. If you don’t know anyone, pretend everyone there secretly wants to get to know you but are too intimidated to make the first move. That’s actually most likely true.
Introduce yourself, ask how the other person is doing. If you’re not a natural storyteller, ask questions. Here are 25 Imaginative Conversation Starters. Surely you can use one or two of these on a consistent basis.
Take a few deep breaths S L O W L Y.
Insert some pauses in your conversation. The best time for that pause is right before answering a question.
This is one I have the hardest time with, but I find that when I slow down in my presentation, the audience is better able to receive what I’m saying. Rushing around increases everyone’s tension. Tense people can not easily focus on what you’re saying.
As you look folks in the eye, stand up straight, introduce yourself, and slow down all while feeling relaxed, you’ll come across as a confident person. Confidence is power.
Just don’t abuse it. I’m not bailing you out of jail.