How to be more confident in conversation
Speaking with authority isn’t easy for everyone, but these tips can help build confidence.
Originaly published in FastCompany
Each week, KATRINA KIRSCH interviews founders, CEOs, and investors who run multimillion-dollar companies.
Every one of them is incredibly professionally successful, with decades of experience running million-dollar companies and venture-backed startups.
Yes, it can be nerve-wracking. The first time I interviewed a founder, I started sweating so much that my legs stuck to my chair. But interviewing is part of my job as an editor at a thought leadership agency where I spend between five to seven hours per week talking with people across various industries–biotech, retail, marketing, finance, you name it.
In other words, it requires a lot of confidence from me.
The thing is, people rarely feel comfortable diving into detail if the person they’re speaking with doesn’t sound confident and competent, regardless of whether they’re dealing with a high-level executive or simply a new coworker.
After holding hundreds of interviews, here are a few tips I’ve learned to speak with confidence:
USE YOUR VOICE TO MAKE A STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION
People establish a first impression of you in the time it takes to say “hello.”
While some vocal qualities can immediately rub you the wrong way–shrill, scratchy, squeaky–a voice can also be a great tool to portray confidence and connect with someone.
Personally, I use this to my advantage since all of my interviews are held over the phone. There’s no body language to interpret, no eye contact, no silent cues. So my ability to connect with someone relies heavily on how I speak.
The key is to adjust your voice based on the situation and the perception you want to convey.
So if you’re aiming to sound competent and trustworthy, research has shown it’s best to adopt a lower-pitched voice. But to exude warmth, you want to raise your pitch. Of course, there are differences when it comes to gender. Women with a higher-pitched voice are perceived to be warm, while men with the same vocal trait come across as more friendly and less dominant.
An easy way to check your vocal characteristics is to try saying the same phrase in a high and low pitch, and then see how people react to one versus the other. Personally, I have a naturally low voice. So when I say “hello” in my normal pitch, people respond back with a more serious tone. But if I use a higher-pitched “hello,” my calls start off on a cheerful note. While it may sound like a basic experiment, research shows this type of vocal matching allows people to empathize and engage with one another.
Remember, the goal is to create a connection with the first thing that comes out of your mouth.
REFERENCE A PREVIOUS CONVERSATION OR SIMILAR EXPERIENCE
Remembering what someone said shows an amazing amount of competence and care.
Say you have a quick chat with a colleague on Friday about your weekend plans. You’re going to a concert, he’s trying out a new restaurant. You both go your separate ways. But as you roll into the office on Monday, he asks, “Hey, how was that concert on Saturday night? Was the band good live?” He actually remembered what you said three days ago.
Now, you feel a connection and are more likely to share your funny story from the show.
Looping in details from a previous chat is conversation 101. But just like it’s tough to remember what you ate for lunch, it’s tough to recall every detail from every conversation. If you focus your mind and take notes to help remember an important detail or two, you’ll sound confident the next time you talk to them. You already have a great way to start the conversation–and to make them feel instantly comfortable.
And when you’re trying to relate to someone, remembering the little details quickly gets you beyond the automatic, “My weekend was great.”
UNDERSTAND WHO YOU’RE SPEAKING TO SO YOU KNOW WHAT TO TALK ABOUT
Nothing kills confidence (or a conversation) faster than saying, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I learned this very quickly when I started at Digital Press and began working with a blockchain expert. She cofounded a high-growth startup that was on the cutting edge of one of the buzziest topics in the tech space–talk about intimidating. I still do basic math with my fingers, so blockchain was exponentially beyond my comfort and knowledge zone.
But I did a number of things to learn more about her and the industry:
Took a trip down Google’s “blockchain for beginners” rabbit hole
Listened to talks and podcasts about the technology
Spent time reading industry news and articles she had authored and shared
Scrolled through LinkedIn and social accounts for information about her work and interests
Looking back, it was clear I didn’t know what I was talking about on those first calls. But I became more confident after a few weeks, and we began diving deeper into difficult concepts. I’m nowhere near understanding the intricacies of blockchain–looking at you, cryptography–yet I feel engaged when talking about it because I’ve developed a base knowledge.
When it comes down to it, most people enjoy sharing their expertise if you show interest and can navigate the basics.
Yes, it takes time to be able to sound confident without relying on body language or social cues. But if you can make an immediate connection, understand the person you’re speaking to, and show genuine interest, you’re going to increase your confidence–and others’ confidence in you, too.