Esther is the founder of the Confidence Box. She trained as an actor and spent over 10 years in recruitment, dealing with clients in the corporate, retail, property, design, publishing and advertising sectors. She works with very shy and unconfident people of all ages, across all kinds of industries. Esther is here to share her advice with us on how to feel more confident and perform under pressure in all kinds of different scary situations.
“Use your full breath
When we’re tense, we tend not to use our full breath. We breath from our throat. And it can tighten up. We’re not breathing from the belly. We’re breathing it from up higher up. That way of breathing tells our nervous system that we’re going into fight or flight, and we get even more anxious.
And so then our breathing becomes faster and therefore we trigger this, this mental thought of, “Oh my God, Oh my God, I’m going to, I can’t breathe. In an extreme circumstance you could even hyperventilate. So what we need to do is to slow down our breath; lower it.
If the idea of breathing from your belly, or diaphragm sound too difficult, focus instead of slowing your breath. When you do that you enable more oxygen to go to the brain. It tells your brain that everything is OK. The more you can deep breathe and connect with your breath, it will settle the mind. Just like in yoga.
Correct your posture
Next, let’s look at how we’re standing or sitting, because if we’re hunched over or if our posture’s bad, it can restrict your breathing. So always check in how you’re standing or sitting. And if you’re sitting before you have to do a speech or going into an interview, a little tip I can give you is to wrap your arms behind you, around the back of the chair so that opens up the chest.
If you’re at home and you have a few minutes, I recommend you actually lie on the floor, with your legs up on a chair and practice just breathing slowly and filling your lungs with your spine flattened into the floor.
Gravity helps with your natural alignment. It opens up your chest. You can have a small cushion behind your head so that your head’s not too far back and you’re not straining your neck. Just practice breathing in and out and being, becoming aware of all the tensions in your body.
We have what we call body memory. So the more that you do the exercise on the floor and then you roll up through the spine, you’ll feel that your, your alignment will change your spine.
Get clear on your intention
If you’re giving a talk for example, get clear on your purpose. You need to answer these kind of questions: Why am here? Who am I talking to? What do they want to hear? What is my focus?
I’ll give you an analogy. If you were an actor and you were going into a scene and you didn’t know why you were there and what you wanted to do with the character… the audience would know. There wouldn’t be clarity. Your performance wouldn’t be convincing.
Get clear on your intention and then you can come back to it. So, for example, if, mind talk you get distracted or suddenly start worrying about your voice.. you can pull it back.
It’s not about you
When you realise that the most important thing is the people you’re talking to… and what they need.. not how you look, or sound.. of what your hands are doing. If you take the focus away from yourself it relieves the pressure.
I’ve been to hundreds of meetings and done lots and lots of interviews and you know, people find it hard to accept that if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.
I say to people, if you’re nervous, I’d rather you be nervous and care about what you’re saying, what your purpose is.
Take little steps. Don’t just leap into doing a massive TED Talk, or playing Hamlet.
For example, if you’re at a networking event and you say one thing… that’s great. Or if you can meet just one new person at that big event. Or you introduce yourself in a meeting. That’s brilliant.
Instead of leaping in at the deep end, focus on building up those, those little things that we can do each day to make us feel, you know, a little bit braver each time.
Lots of people find it hard to speak up in meetings or at networking events. It’s really common. If that’s you, try going first or second, and getting it out of the way. And that way you’re not having to wait ages for your turn and getting all worked up and nervous.
Play to your strengths
Don’t try to be like other people, or sound like them. Be yourself. Play to your strengths. For example, if you’re great at listening and talking to people one on one and making deeper connections… then do that, and do it brilliantly.
Breathe through confrontation
In confrontational situations, remember to breathe. When we say hold your own.. that’s an interesting phrase isn’t it. Remember to ground yourself. Settle your breath. And let the other person let off some steam… don’t let them shout in your face… but keep breathing … breathe to them… let them say their piece.
You can also allow a moment of silence. People are often afraid of silence. But silence takes away the power and heightened emotion.
If someone is being confrontational, and emotional, let them say what they need to say. But keep breathing.
Take up space
The more you breathe, the more you’re taking your space. With someone who’s shy, you can sit in the way their body is behaving. So if you can stand firm or sit… in a way that’s grounded, you’re not making yourself small.
For example, in meetings, make sure you take up space. For example, make sure you put your coffee and your file on the desk in front of you. I know it sounds silly, but all these little things psychologically can really help. So don’t make yourself your space small, make yourself look a bit bigger.
Take up space!”