There I was, on an early Saturday morning, in front of a group of haggard, hung over, middle-aged men, presenting my company’s new products to a key distributor’s sales team.
After the presentations, the group of men voted on the best and worst speaker of the day. And guess who was voted the worst?
I was humiliated and horrified, but honestly, it was a good decision—I was terrible.
So, I immediately hatched a plan to find a new job that would never require me to speak in front of a group of people again. How could I go through with it?
But, I also figured out an alternate escape route: If I simply gained the confidence to speak in front of people, I’d never again find myself in that horrifying situation in the first place.
I’m happy to report that the competitor in me prevailed, and I chose the latter course. And if you’re in the same boat—maybe you’ve had a similar catastrophic experience, or maybe you just don’t feel “good enough” in your day-to-day role—know that you, too, can boost your confidence in your abilities and face your weakness head-on. Here’s how.
1. Build Relationships and Trust With Others
When you build strong, trusting relationships with your co-workers (and even the clients you work with), you’ll gain an army of supporters—so even if you don’t fully believe in yourself, your team will.
After my career mishap, I approached my team to let them know how I intended to improve for future presentations. And suddenly, I had a group of raving fans who constantly encouraged me, gave me honest feedback, and shared their own trials and slip-ups with me. (When someone you trust says, “Hey, I had an epic fail once—but I overcame it, and you can, too”—it’s a pretty powerful confidence booster.)
I also approached my customer and promised that I’d never be the worst speaker again. He encouraged and supported me, and he trusted that I’d follow through with my commitment.
Having a team (and clients) that wants you to succeed is empowering. And with their motivation and votes of confidence, you’ll be encouraged to push forward.
2. Have Clear Objectives and a Plan to Meet Them
While looking to others for encouragement is great, something that we often trap ourselves in when trying to overcome a weakness is looking to them for approval. On the contrary, when you set your own goals for success, you have something to grab onto and own yourself. You can be more concerned with reaching your own objectives than with meeting the approval of others.
So, once you set your mind to something, put a plan in place to meet it. My goal, of course, was to learn to speak and present myself more effectively. To get to that point, I went to a local university and signed up for two terms of communications courses. And I didn’t just sit in the back and take notes; I asked for feedback on everything from my presentation outlines to the way I pronounced specific words.
It was a humbling and powerful experience—but the end result was well worth it. What’s more, I learned that with a goal, well laid-out steps, and self-directed action, I had more power and potential than I ever imagined.
3. Focus on Small Wins
That said, as you work toward your ultimate goal, remember: You do not need to win the gold medal on day #1.
After all, did I return to the sales group the next week and knock them off their feet with a killer speech? Wishful thinking! But no, I didn’t.
In my communications classes, the professor had us take baby steps and get small wins. So, we started by writing a good outline. Then, we gave a short speech on that outline. Next was a longer speech, then more complex and even longer speeches. Then, we recorded our speeches for feedback. And eventually, we attempted extemporaneous speaking (how’s that for nerve-wracking?).
Small step by small step, I gained experience, new skills, and confidence. Each small win gave me an opportunity to celebrate—which helped push me further.
And you can do the same. As you work toward your goals, keep track of your progress in a journal or calendar—and celebrate each and every victory, no matter how small.
4. Leverage Your Strengths
While you work on building your skills directly (like taking a few classes, as in my situation), surround yourself with opportunities to use your other strengths, too. This will amplify your sense of accomplishment—which will boost your confidence even more.
For example, I wasn’t a great speaker, but I knew I was good at building rapport, following up, and developing account management strategies, and I could help people understand complex situations quickly and easily. When I focused on these natural talents, it helped me build my confidence in every area of my work—including public speaking.
Too often, we focus only on weaknesses (“I’m terrible at public speaking, so I don’t even deserve this job!”), which dissolves any semblance of confidence we have and can impact our performance in other areas. So, although your strengths will never erase your weaknesses entirely, they’ll be a good reminder that you are competent—and that with those skills, you’ll be able to overcome any shortcomings.
The takeaway? Even if you’re faced with a “weakness,” don’t be afraid to stretch yourself, try new things, and take more risks. The more things you try, the more choices and opportunities you’ll have—which pretty much puts the world at your fingertips.
Most of all, believe in your ability to succeed. Once you have that confidence, you’ll roll with the ups and downs of your job without a second thought. Surprise presentation? Bring it on!