In our last post, we talked about how to build confidence from the inside out. Specifically, by letting go of self-criticism on the things we cannot change and making action plans to improve the things we can. Today we are going to take on an opposite strategy and work to build confidence from the OUTSIDE in!
You have probably heard before that much of our communication as humans is nonverbal. In fact, researchers estimate that up to 55% of communication is from body language alone. (Apparently, we are much better at charades as a civilization than we thought.) When practicing the art of confidence, learning ways to portray physical self-assuredness will not only send a positive message to others, but will also condition you to feel in control of interpersonal situations.
Challenge Two: Emphasize Confident Body Language
During preparation for pageant competitions and public appearances, I had to learn ways to appear physically confident in times when I was actually very intimidated or anxious. I quickly realized that portraying powerful body language not only made me look like a star, but it naturally encouraged me to speak with more confidence too. Here is my list of favorite tricks to physically exude confidence in any situation!
Sit/Stand Up Straight
I vividly remember the first day that I went back to school after my car accident. The last time my friends had seen me, I was running around the playground with boundless energy – but now I was almost unrecognizable, awkwardly pushing a wheelchair with uncertainty down the elementary school halls. I went into the classroom with shaking hands and head hung low, expecting people to judge me for my new look. Thirty pairs of wide eyes stared at me with just as much uncertainty as I felt pulsing through my veins. I didn’t know what to think of myself so they didn’t either.
It wasn’t until I started to look at pictures of myself several years later that I realized the physical effect that my low confidence was having on me. In almost every photo, my spine was hunched forward with my arms protectively covering my center, while my gaze tentatively looked up at the camera. This posture wasn’t just a look of low-confidence, it was a clear signal of the fear I had around other people: the fear of judgement.
Years later, I decided that this posturing needed to change. Sitting in a wheelchair was no excuse for leaning forward and trying to hide myself from the world. I began to sit as straight as my spine would allow, pretending I had a back brace holding me tall and strong. I would even imagine that I was standing at attention, with orders to be ready at any moment.
What I didn’t expect was the almost immediate reaction I received from those around me. People began to comment about how great my posture and energy was. I even had a boss tell me that I looked taller! The thing that took me by surprise was that I began to think and feel different. The physical presence of being at attention made me feel powerful and strong, not to mention that I was literally getting stronger in core muscles I hadn’t used for a long time.
The key to fostering this habit is to find a routine trigger that reminds you to sit up straight. (Maybe every time you look at your phone or get out of your car!) Pretend like a string is attached to your head, holding your head up, locking your spine straight and pushing your shoulders back. Trust me, you and those around you will notice the difference!
Take Up Space with Your Movements
As I mentioned in the first step, I would often hold my hands protectively in front of my waist whenever I would interact with other people, hoping to make myself seem as small as possible. When I decided to begin my journey toward being more confident, I quickly realized that I needed to do the OPPOSITE!
Those who are confident and in control don’t feel the need to make themselves small. They own their presence and feel comfortable to take up as much space as they need. In order to create this effect, work on talking with your hands as well as your voice. Studies show that those who gesture more often with their hands are perceived as more passionate and energetic, with a greater sense of authority than those who don’t.
When you enter a room, let your body flow freely in movement and speech. If you feel yourself begin to tighten up, take a deep breath and encourage your muscles to relax when you breathe out. Remember that you can consciously control what your body does if you proactively go into a situation with a plan to take up space!
Smile, Smile, Smile!
Here are some quick facts on smiling:
- Psychologists have conducted studies that concluded smiling makes us appear more likable, attractive and competent in the eyes of others.
- Smiling releases endorphins that relieve stress and boost health. In fact, one study showed that those who smile more have a greater lifespan!
- People are more likely to earn trust and respect with others when smiling. Because of it’s contagious nature, you can easily trigger a smile in others and make them feel more comfortable with you.
The most natural thing that I was able to master in my journey to find confidence was smiling. When I didn’t have the words to share my true self with others, I would put all my energy and thoughts into my smile. This helped me to learn to build genuine connections with others and put them at ease. When others are more at ease with you, it becomes much easier for you to develop confidence around them.
My constant smiling became an asset (and trademark!) when I began competing in pageantry. I heard from judges that I caught their attention immediately because of my smile. This helped me to win Miss Congeniality in Miss North Carolina USA, which proved a simple smile can make others believe in your confidence and self-assuredness without even speaking to you.
For some of you reading this, smiling might not come as naturally as it does for others. Believe me, I know that it can be hard to convey a happy, light-hearted nature when you are going through a difficult time. Remember that you have a light inside you that is meant to shine bright.
By shining your light, you not only ignite a spark in others, but you reaffirm a belief and confidence in yourself.
Maintain Eye Contact
In the animal kingdom, the one that can maintain eye contact the longest is the one who establishes dominance. Funny enough, you can easily spot this in humans as well! Have you ever began speaking with someone who intimidated you and found yourself looking to the ground?
That is something I found myself doing often with my peers at a young age. I felt that they were higher on the proverbial “food-chain” and assumed that I was the last person who could ever assert anything close to dominance.
Here’s the thing, you get to CHOOSE the level of dominance that you exude. Look people in the eyes without looking away. You don’t have to act the prey anymore, act like the king (or queen) of the jungle.
Limit Fidgeting Movements
In the days when I had high social anxiety, my hands would gravitate toward anything possible to fidget with. If I was wearing a ring, I would turn it around my finger over and over again. If I had a straw wrapper, I would find a million ways to twist and tie it in a bow. If I had nothing at all, then I’m pretty sure my hands just spasmed awkwardly with desperation until they found a new victim to take out their anxiety on. If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I would rub my hand against my leg so many times that I made myself need to pee! Let’s just say, my bladder decided to take on the spastic energy of my hands and found new and fun ways to augment my stress tenfold. (One of the reasons I immediately pursued full-coverage Aeroflow products.)
Whether you realize it or not, your body will often try to soothe itself in situations it perceives as stressful or uncomfortable. If you go into a social situation with the awareness that you have subconscious tendencies to fidget, you can actively amend your behavior by proactively placing your hands calmly in front of you and work on simply breathing out your nervous energy. It can take some time to stop this common behavior, but I promise that once you realize it is happening, you can begin to portray yourself as a strong and confident presence to others!
Take Out The Word UMM
While this is not specifically “body language” but rather falls in the category of speech patterns, I thought it was definitely a worthy mention. Frequently using the word umm in your speech (or any of its cousins: ah, you know, like), especially in a professional or public situation, is one of the best ways to derail your air of confidence. It conveys to your listeners that you are not completely certain about what you are saying. These kinds of fillers make you stumble over message and quickly take away the interest of your audience.
I used to have a terrible time getting rid of the word umm! I would pepper my sentences with it and rarely said anything with authority. Pageantry forced me to get rid of this habit for good. I had to speak with confidence in order for people to believe in my mission - a lesson that I learned the hard way...
I was in the final five in a national competition. It was my turn to answer the final question of, “How do you believe you can encourage people with disabilities to find greater independence?” Because of my nerves, I stumbled over my words and let umm slip into my answer immediately. “Well, I believe, umm...” That was the word that took me away from a win. My friend and competitor said her answer with complete confidence that day and ended up winning the competition, leaving me as the much-devastated runner-up.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes and begin to monitor your speech in the competition of life. Be intentional about your words. Choose them wisely. Say them with complete confidence and authority. This will immediately gain the respect of those around you and will boost your sense of self-assuredness!
After miraculously surviving a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down, Madeline Delp decided that she would refuse to be a victim to her circumstance. She’s a Ms. Wheelchair USA winner, keynote speaker, and fear chaser. She founded her nonprofit organization, Live Boundless, to provide wheelchairs to those in need.
Madeline has also been an Aeroflow Urology Brand Ambassador since 2019. During her time as Brand Ambassador, she has helped spread awareness of the Aeroflow Urology brand and has assisted in tackling the stigma associated with incontinence.