You have a presentation coming up, you’ve prepped, you know the information inside and out, but as prepared as you are, how do you know if you are conveying an air of confidence?
This is almost more important than whether what you are saying is true or not.
Turns out, our brains have a primal, vested interest in the mental state of who it is listening to. We are neurologically wired to determine whether the information given to us by someone is being given to us with confidence or insecurity.
On a neurochemical level we want to know whether whom we are listening to can be trusted. It’s a carry-over from our primitive days when we were focused primarily on surviving.
No one wants to waste their precious time listening to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And while you might know what you’re talking about the brains in the heads of your audience might be tuning out on a primal level based on certain factors.
1. Work on your tone.
Turns out, confident voices tend to be lower in pitch, have a flatter intonation, and a faster speech rate.
Xiaoming Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Neuropragmatics and Emotion Lab led at McGill University discovered that our brain activity lights up when a listener encounters a “confident” voice, suggesting our brains like and give attention to what it considers a confident voice. Simply put, our brains are attracted to confident tones.
Which begs the question…what is a “confident” voice?
Jiang and his colleagues determined that a confident tone tends to be lower in pitch, with flat intonation, and a faster speech rate. A non-confident tone tends to be higher in pitch, slower speech, and rising in pitch towards the end (think: upspeak).
Confident speech also ends in a period and never a question (when a question isn’t being stated).
Our neurons pick up on these tones and we receive encoded information about whether this voice is a voice to be trusted, based on it sounding like it knows.
And what’s more, this all happens in under a second. “When a speaker is very confident about something, this can be assessed at a very early stage,” Jiang says.
So as soon as you mutter “This might…” or “I feel…” or “I believe…” your listener’s brain has placed you in the non-confident realm.
2. Stop with the disclaimers.
This might sound stupid, but…
Everyone, at some point, has prefaced something they were about to say with a disclaimer that let them off the hook in case it did indeed sound stupid.
Unfortunately, you’re not winning anyone over with your humility and/or lack of arrogance.
I’m not saying it’s fair, but it’s time to stop because you are doing yourself a disservice.
If you are up against a competitor or a colleague with a “confident” tone you put yourself at a disadvantage. And your listener won’t even be cognizant of how their preference is being formed because it’s happening on a neural level in less than a second.
Whether the person behind the voice does actually know what he/she is talking about is another story, but for our own sake it behooves us to try and project a tone of confidence, thereby eliciting the trust of our listener.
3. Make sure your body language matches what you are saying.
Don’t be confusing. You might be saying, “this might sound stupid” physically but not verbally.
What are your shoulders doing? What is your stance? Are your arms crossed or open? How do you stand when listening to someone?
None of it is inherently bad, but your body has to be putting your best self forward too.
Maintain a relational philosophy throughout the day where you are not on automatic pilot but are instead aware and as in the moment as you can be, so that you are relating to people in a self-aware mode.
Sounds obvious but we can easily coast over many interactions and not really be present at the same time.
Remember: you’re sending neural signals to your listener / audience with your tone and physicality. You want them in your reign.
4. Recognize cues that say you aren’t capturing their attention.
Cues such as someone speaking over you, faces and physicality that indicate a lack of interest, your listener looking away, etc.
When you see this, acknowledge it, either internally or externally. “It seems like I may have lost you on that last comment, let me rephrase it” etc, and readjust.
Cameron Anderson, a professor of organizational behavior at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, has studied the effects and motivation of overconfidence. “When people are confident,” says Anderson, “when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior.”
In Anderson’s study, he concluded that overconfident individuals “…spoke more, used a confident and factual vocal tone…exhibited a calm and relaxed demeanor, and offered answers first.”
We see that mention of “tone” again. And what’s also interesting is that the overconfident individuals in Anderson’s study never made “explicit statements about their own abilities…or their certainty in their answers.”
How convenient! It suggests that tone and confidence is the only support overconfident individual require to put forth their opinions.
If there are those out there who can project confidence without having the skills to back it up – and if our brains are wired to detect confidence in under a second – then it behooves all of us to give ourselves a fighting chance in this competitive world.