Lack confidence in front of a group? Fake it!

 

When I was in my early 20s, I decided to try my hand as a public high school teacher. I secured a substitute teaching permit and got on the sub list for two districts in Orange County. I owned a nice suit and some high heels, I thought I would be a natural at teaching, and my youngest brother was still in high school, so I figured I had my finger on the pulse of what the kids were up to. I was going to be the hippest, most effective sub ever!

On my first day in the classroom, I wore my suit and my heels. I showed up early. I was ready to go! And then, as I entered my empty classroom and began preparing for the day ahead of me, I froze. Suddenly, I realized that I had not actually received any training for this position, that I remembered clearly how high school students treated substitute teachers, that I barely looked old enough to be out of high school myself, and that THIS WAS MY FIRST DAY. If they figured out any of that, they would eat me alive.

I remember standing in the dark classroom, looking at all the menacing empty seats that might soon hold my executioners… and I decided to fake it.

One of the most valuable things I’d learned in high school myself was how to effectively convince my teachers that I’d done more of my homework than I actually had. I knew how to think on my feet. I also knew that in the high school setting, students are conditioned to expect certain things– if I met their expectations, they wouldn’t have any reason to doubt my qualifications to lead their classes. I just needed to employ all of this knowledge now, and I would definitely survive the day!

As the first class trickled in, I greeted the students with as much confidence as I could muster, and I chanted the following mantra in my head: “I have done this a million times. I am very experienced. I am the boss of these students, and they accept me as such.”

And of course, it worked beautifully. The students accepted what I suggested: that I was an experienced sub who knew what she was doing, and that they were obliged to listen to me in their teacher’s absence.

The lesson I learned that day has proven to be invaluable in my professional life since. Every time I have ever had to give a presentation, lead a training, teach a class, or assume any role of authority, I remember that day in front of the (potentially) hostile mob of high schoolers. If I can convince the people I am addressing that I know what I’m doing (and I usually do), even if I have to fake the confidence that goes with expertise, everything always goes smoothly.

So my advice to any nervous public speakers is: fake it! Remember that the people you’re addressing assume at the outset that you belong on stage, that you know what you’re talking about, and that you deserve their attention. If you can maintain the facade of a person who also believes those things, you should be fine!

– Leona Laurie, Marketing Consultant & Social Media Trainer

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