When teaching speaking skills to lawyers, the first question is why participants are there. What do they want out of the session? The most common answer is they want to feel more confident. They want to feel or be somewhat different from what they are, or to have something they haven’t got. So we’re talking about emotion, self-perception and the desire to acquire a certain skill.
Emotion and self-perception are long-term projects to tackle with a coach. Skill acquisition is a more objective goal.
How can you learn confidence? Sometimes you have to figure out how to act like you’re confident until you feel it. Here’s one way to go about it.
Be Your Own Superhero
The New York Times published an entertaining article on how certain body postures can jump-start your confidence. Titled “The Right Stance Can Be Reassuring,” it featured photos of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, Angelina Jolie on the red carpet and Yul Brenner in the “King and I.” All three actors exuded power and confidence by posing, well, imposingly: hands on hips, facing straightforward, legs apart in a commanding stance.
In effect, they were striking poses just as soldiers do when they stand at attention. They give careful thought to where their feet and hands are and brazenly look their viewers directly in the eye. If they feel afraid, we sure don’t know it. If they need to “Whistle a Happy Tune” to fake us out, we’d be shocked to learn it.
Strike a Power Pose
Social science research, the article says, finds that an expansive posture, or “power pose,” actually results in a short-term testosterone boost that can make you feel more positive about yourself. So, the experts’ advice is, stand in such a pose for a couple of minutes before you have to give a speech. Preen in front of your bathroom mirror. Stride around your living room before a networking event. Gather yourself to your tallest, brashest self while walking to work. Dale Carnegie and generations of speaking coaches in the past 100 years would agree — at least in principle.
If the idea appeals to you, go for it! But remember to keep it behind closed doors. This stance triggers feelings of confidence — and swagger, too. You’ll need to modify your stance when you are actually in the courtroom or giving a presentation. But if it helps you to take it over the top and pretend when no one is watching, I wouldn’t dream of discouraging you.
Meanwhile, for your public behavior, simply align your spine, face your listeners and think of these words:
Marsha Hunter is a principal in Johnson & Hunter, Inc. She teaches attorneys how to speak persuasively and spontaneously. Co-author of “The Articulate Advocate” and “The Articulate Attorney,” her specialty is human factors — the science of human performance in high-stakes environments. Marsha teaches communication skills for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, the Department of Justice and upper-echelon law firms. Follow her on LinkedIn and on Twitter @bjohnsonmhunter.