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How to Appear Confident When You’re Actually a Complete Mess

There are times in life when you have to come across as confident, polished, and prepared. But these are usually big moments when all you can really feel on the inside is panic, doubt, and nervousness. When you’re giving a big presentation at work, asking your romantic partner to move in with you, or just trying to make friends in a new city, it pays to be confident. Even if you don’t feel confident on the inside, you can still show it externally. 

What is confidence?

Confidence is a perception we have of ourselves and of others. External factors like getting a pay raise, getting married, or winning an award don’t automatically deliver confidence. These things make you feel more confident in yourself and thus, you appear more confident to others.

But you don’t need these external events to feel confident. Confidence is simply the perception that you have everything you need to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Once you convince yourself that you’re prepared, you will feel more confident.

You can appear more confident to others with two approaches:

  1. Take simple actions to look more confident on the outside.
  2. Use a few mental tricks to make yourself feel more confident on the inside.

Be more confident on the outside

If you want the people around you to think you’re confident, despite the fact that you’re a nervous wreck, do the following actions when you’re speaking.

Stand up straight

Good posture goes a long way when speaking to others. With your back straight and shoulders back, people will perceive you as more self-assured. Let your body take up space, rather than minimizing yourself by slouching. Standing up tall also helps you breathe more deeply and evenly, which has a calming effect on the body.

Look people in the eye

When you’re speaking to people, make eye contact with them. Whether you’re having a one-on-one conversation or giving a public address, look that person or your audience  (one at a time) in the eye. Maintain eye contact when they speak to you as well. Lack of eye contact makes you seem shy or indecisive… definitely not confident.

Speak clearly

If you speak quickly, you can come off as being nervous or vulnerable. People who believe in what they say — confident people — speak slowly and clearly so everyone around them can hear and understand every word and emotion. By taking your time with your sentences, you’ll also have a split-second longer to think about the words you use, and more time to breathe.

Stop fidgeting

Many people fidget when they’re nervous, and may not even realize they do it. If you nod your head excessively or touch your face too much when you’re worried, make a conscious effort to stop that. Practice speaking in a mirror and make deliberate motions when you’re speaking with other people.

Don’t be afraid of a little silence

Not all silences are awkward. A pause can actually help you emphasize an important point. It can also show that you are listening to them, giving them the space to speak up if they choose to. Rushing to fill a silence with something irrelevant or unimportant will come off as nervousness.

Use hand gestures judiciously

You should use hand gestures when you speak, but don’t let them get out of control. A few small gestures now and then to highlight a point makes you seem measured and deliberate. Even if you don’t use your hands too much, keep them visible. Stuffing your hands in your pockets or folding your arms shows that you are uncomfortable or even annoyed.

Move, but don’t wander

Be strong and comfortable on stage, don’t just wander aimlessly like you are trapped in a dark room looking for your glasses. Be purposeful with your body movements.

Be more confident on the inside

Taking the actions listed above will let others perceive you as confident — and they’ll make you feel more confident as well. Now let’s focus on a few mental tricks you can use to create more confidence.

Don’t fixate on what other people think

A sure way to make yourself feel nervous or ill-at-ease is to worry too much about what other people think of you. Tell yourself that you are the gift they need, and focus on that.

Remind yourself you won’t feel like this forever

When you’re feeling nervous, it seems like your nerves are all you can think about. It’s important to remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way. Nervous or frazzled is not your new permanent state of being. In fact, chemical responses that trigger these feelings only last about 90 seconds. Once you start speaking, you’re only a minute or so away from NOT being nervous. So remember that.

Reframe your lack of confidence

When you lack confidence, it’s because you perceive that you’re not prepared. So prepare more, video yourself, record yourself. When you are happy with yourself, it’ll create confidence. And remember, you are not aiming for perfection… just being prepared.

Be more confident even when you don’t feel like it

With these tips and tricks, you can display confidence to the people around you, even when you don’t feel it. You can also train yourself to transform your nerves into self-assurance. With some practice, you’ll end up surprising yourself with a newfound confidence that shows.