When you walk into a room full of strangers, what do you do?
- Are you someone who owns the space – who likes standing in the spotlight, and walks up to people with an air of confidence?
- Or do you feel super tense inside, and hope no one notices you as you cower in the corner?
As much as I’d love to say that talking to strangers comes naturally to me, it doesn’t.
I always need to make a conscious effort to strike up a conversation and I wish I could connect to people more easily.
But one thing I’ve noticed time and again with successful people is that they’ve mastered the art of networking and building meaningful relationships.
When they speak, they have something about them that inspires CONFIDENCE.
The way they share their stories, how they look at you and how they talk, make them super likeable and easy to relate to. Just look at the first minute of this interview with Marie Forleo and you’ll see what I mean. With every word she says, every gesture she makes, she builds trust.
It’s easy to brush this aside and say that people like her are just naturally confident. But if you dig deeper, you can see that lots of people develop impressive social skills over time.
For example, if you compare Jimmy Fallon’s 2014 audition tape for Saturday Night Live to how he presents the Tonight Show today, you’ll see a massive difference (and I mean Jimmy Fallon was already a pretty good presenter in 2014).
I’ve been observing people like Jimmy and Marie for a while, and I’ve noticed that the people who connect to others instantly share surprisingly similar patterns in the way they communicate. Today, I want to share these patterns with you.
But before we dive into the details, remember this: even if your timid self gets nervous at the thought of speaking to people, you can get more confident with practice. Just fake it until you make it!
Your Body’s Way of Showing Fear
Let’s imagine for a second that you’re standing on stage – about to give your first Ted Talk. You’ve been introduced by the host, and now the room goes dark. All lights are on you and the crowd is watching expectantly.
How do you feel inside?
If you’re like most of the people reading this, you’re probably at least a little nervous.
Your heart might be racing and you could be having a hard time focussing. All of this is completely normal – and definitely something you would expect for your first Ted Talk.
But if you look closely, you can also pick up on other signs of anxiety that appear when you face a real, more dangerous threat.
When we’re scared, one of the first things we do is to slouch. We use our hands and legs to shield ourselves against a real (or imaginary threat) and take refuge in our own body.
By occupying less space, we also become harder to see by the outside world – and this reduced visibility may, from an evolutionary perspective, have helped us go unnoticed by predators.
Crossing one’s arms and legs
At the same time, we often cross our arms and legs. This can help us block external stimuli by creating a barrier between ourselves and the outside world.
Sometimes we don’t just fold our arms, but also wrap our hands around them. In these cases, we maximise touch, which according to Joe Navarro can help us self-soothe in stressful situations.
Our eyes can also give away that we’re nervous. When we are anxious, we tend to avoid eye contact, and instead, let our eyes wander. We also blink faster than usual and instinctively look out for any threats.
Alternatively, we might freeze and stare at a frightening object until it is out of sight or disappears.
Having a hard time sitting or standing still
When we are scared, some of us also make a lot of quick, erratic movements. This includes things like tapping our feet or rocking back on forth our chair. I also tend to fidget and play around with pens or other small objects.
According to scientists, moving around when we get nervous can help us calm our minds. It’s a way to get rid of excess adrenaline and provides an outlet for our stress hormones.
The Surprising Relationship Between Fear and Excitement
Physiologically, anxiety and excitement have a lot in common.
They’re both emotions that go hand in hand with arousal, which triggers our flight-or-fight response. Our body prepares us to run from danger, stay calm under pressure and keep us safe. This is why we get a racing heart, stomach butterflies and sweaty palms when we face a real threat or step outside our comfort zones.
And while we can’t fight these sensations, we can change how we interpret them. Reframing our anxiety as excitement can help us shift our experiences from what could go wrong to a more pleasant and positive outlook.
In its simplest form, it might just be saying something like: ‘I’m excited to speak in front of 100s of people today. I’m looking forward to sharing my story to help others thrive and grow.’
Other times, you might need to dig a bit deeper and acutely challenge your negative thoughts. For example:
NEGATIVE THOUGHT: ‘Why are we turning like this? Are we rolling over!? I need to get off the plane NOW!’
POSITIVE AFFIRMATION: ‘I enjoy the thrill of my plane taking off. It’s exciting to see how we twist and turn and stay in the air at the same time. I’m grateful for the excitement and adrenaline rush.’
Changing how we see these anxiety-provoking situations can make us more hopeful, confident and calm when dealing with the unexpected.
Five Posture Changes to Feel More Confident
The other way to boost our confidence is by improving our posture. This has been shown in scientific studies on both students and adults. The researchers suggest that small and contractive poses may reduce feelings of power, security and confidence. In turn, this means that a more open and joyful posture could help us feel more self-assured.
So, what changes can you make to your posture to feel more confident and self-assured?
Change 1: Smile more
Your smile is one of your most important assets. When you smile, you instantly relax and become more optimistic. Your glass is not half-empty, but half-full, and you think of the world in opportunities and challenges rather than problems.
Instead of feeling grumpy, you gravitate towards positivity and become more interesting to the people around you.
When I first started smiling more, it all felt very fake. I thought people were judging me, and seeing right through this bogus happiness.
But over time, I got better. Smiling became more natural and now I practice staying in that happy mind space even in difficult conversations.
HOW TO IMPROVE: This week, I want to challenge you to smile at the first 5 people you meet in the streets. It doesn’t matter if they’re total strangers, just see if you can make eye contact and smile at them for 1-2 seconds.
Bonus points if you can think of something nice at the same time. Your cute dog, your best friend or anything that lifts your mood. You’ll see that adding positive thoughts to your smile, will make you feel more confident and authentic.
Change 2: Maintain eye contact
Eye contact is the fastest way to connect with people. A single look can decide whether you click with a new group, or don’t fit in. Your eyes give away more than a thousand words, and they show those around you how you’re feeling. But improving your eye contact can also help you feel more confident and connected.
I’m the type of person that tends to avoid making eye contact, especially with strangers. Looking people in the eye makes me feel uncomfortable and I often come across as shy and insecure.
That’s why I’m making a deliberate effort to truly look people in the eyes. I’ve found that practicing with people I trust and treating eye contact like a game helps me feel more comfortable and improves how confident I feel in social situations.
HOW TO IMPROVE: Start small. Make eye contact when you greet people or say good-bye. Practice looking people in the eye for a little bit longer than you feel comfortable with. Eventually, I hope, making eye contact will come naturally to you.
Change 3: Sit up straight
If you tend to hunch over your laptop, slouch at the dinner table or walk with your head down, it’s time to make a change. Slumping in your seat is linked to higher stress, more anxiety and lower confidence.
That’s why is so important to make a conscious effort to improve your posture.
HOW TO IMPROVE: For the next five minutes, try this:
Set a timer, and then stand up straight. It’s very easy to fall back into old habits, so make sure you are doing this throughout the entire time. Then, after 5 minutes are over, see how you feel. Are you confident and relaxed than before?
If you want these effects to stick in the long-term, simply focus on improving your posture in your day-to-day.
Change 4: Hand movements
When you talk to someone, what do you do with your hands?
- Do you put them on your lap when you sit, or do you cross them?
- If you’re standing, are your hands in your pockets or by your side?
- And as you speak, do you use hand gestures to emphasise the best parts of your story?
While our hands might not seem like a big deal, we do use them strategically to welcome people or signal defensiveness.
And especially in presentations or important meetings, gestures like putting our palms together or opening our arms can help us be confident and inspire change in other people.
HOW TO IMPROVE: The biggest change you can make to feel more self-assured, it to use open and expansive hand movement. Don’t hide your hands in your pockets, but show them the crowd. Test different ways of using your hands, and see how they make you feel.
The more you use your hands to open up, the more welcoming and confident you will be.
Change 5: How you place your feet and legs
Just like your hands, what you do with your feet can transform your self-perception. There’s a big difference between crossing legs, spreading them out, or pulling your knees up to your chest.
I tend to cross my legs in public especially when I feel nervous or when I’m talking to guys. But I’ve noticed that sitting with my legs slightly apart, instead of awkwardly pushing them close together, makes me feel less stressed and worried about what other people think.
HOW TO IMPROVE: Experiment. Try different ways of placing your legs and feet in different contexts. If you always cross your legs, try leaving your feet next to each other and firmly on the floor. Or if you always pull up your knees to your chest, stretch out your legs on the sofa, and see how that feels.
Generally, as with your hands, the more open your posture is, the more confident you will feel.
Bonus Tips: Energy level + Speaking Speed
Though not directly related to our body language, I’ve noticed that the most successful people seem to have a much higher energy level and slower speaking speed than the rest of us.
Public speaking experts recommend adding up to 50% to our usual energy level when we want to appear more confident and outgoing. We also come across as authentic and emotional, which can make our presentations more engaging.
Even outside the public speaking context, ramping up our energy levels can help us feel more connected and confident to express and share our ideas.
Another thing that helps is reducing our talking speed. If you’ve ever noticed how fast nervous people can speak, you know this is true. By slowing down, we come across as more confident, secure and knowledgeable.
On top of that, slowing down gives us more to think, which means that we express ourselves better and are more likely to be understood. This makes it easier to communicate with people and can improve the quality of our relationships – which is a real confidence booster.
Now, I want to challenge you to take one of these tips, implement it for a week, and see what happens to your confidence. Let me know in the comments how this exercise made you feel.
And remember, what we think is awkward can be totally normal to other people.