I still haven’t shaken it.”
In Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking, he tells his readers that there are four things which are essential to becoming a good speaker. One of them is to “Act Confident.” He states “To develop courage when you are facing an audience, act as if you already had it.” He goes on to say “…look your audience straight in the eyes, and begin to talk as confidently as if every one of them owed you money…Imagine that they have assembled there to beg you for an extension of credit.”
Wow. There’s just so many things I hate about this advice.
Before I pounce upon this strategy with teeth bared, let me say that I understand its appeal. First, fake it, then you might make it. You might fool yourself into actually becoming confident and assured by acting as if you are. Or, at least you might feel more comfortable if you think no one can tell just how nervous you really are.
It’s that old adage, “Fake it until you make it.” But when it comes to self-expression, public speaking and performance, this adage stinks.
Let me tell you why.
Faking it perpetuates the old, messed-up belief that if you actually show up as yourself, feeling the way you do, you won’t make the grade. You won’t be good enough. It is this kind of wrong thinking that makes people scared of public self-expression in the first place. They scare themselves because they don’t believe they can just be who they are, as they are, and still be successful, interesting and worthy of an audience’s attention. And that’s just not true.
As Lee Glickstein of Speaking Circles International will tell you, this kind of not-enough self-consciousness exists in epidemic sized proportions throughout our species and is at the crux of our lack of self-confidence and ease when we’re sharing ourselves in public. Isn’t it time to stop this nonsense?
You get to show up and just be yourself. Even if you feel nervous and anxious and insecure. Pretending to be someone other than you are, while tempting, is insulting to both you and your audience. And it sets you up for even more self-doubt, worry and anxiety.
Faking it also severely compromises your ability to connect with your audience in an authentic way. If you’re faking it, you have automatically created a barrier between you and your audience. Your audience no longer has access to you. Instead, they are in the presence of your created character of confidence. And if you’re busy pretending to be other than who you are, how do you stay connected to you? You’ve not only created a barrier between you and your audience, you’ve created a barrier between you and you. You no longer have full access to all that you know and all that you are, because…
…Faking it demands too much of your focus and energy. How much focus, energy and passion can you direct towards your speech or performance, your reason for opening your mouth in the first place, if you have to supervise this confident character you’ve created? Instead of focusing on your reason for being there, you are directing and acting out this character of confidence you’ve hired as your front man. This split focus of thought and energy keeps you from what’s really important: your message, your ability to be present and responsive with your audience, and your availability to connect with people in a genuine way.
It’s no fun to fake it. It may sound like a pleasant alternative to feeling scared out of your wits, but in reality, it leaves you feeling cheated, cut off and dissatisfied. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier. If you’re faking it, you don’t get to enjoy the pleasure of making a real connection with your audience. You don’t get to be fully present for the experience of sharing yourself and what’s important to you. As nervous as you may be, you want to experience the satisfaction of being available to your audience, the freedom of expressing yourself fully, and the joy of creating an authentic connection with the people who showed up to listen to you.
Now sure, you can put on a confidence costume, go out there and spew words about the room in a confident manner, come through it unscathed, wipe your brow and say, “Whew, glad that’s over!” But where’s the fun in that? That sounds like a big drag to me.
And you know what? It’s a big drag for your audience as well. Your audience doesn’t want a fake you. They want the real you. YES, even a very nervous real you. They want to be with someone they can trust and if you’re pretending to be other than you are, how trustworthy is that? No one trusts a fake. People can be entertained by actors and created characters when they are watching a play, a show or a movie, but when someone is expressing themselves as a real person, not a character, people want to hear it from someone who’s real and sincere.
Now, you may be saying, “Well, that all sounds just dandy, but I don’t want to look like a nervous, sweaty, insecure idiot. It’s bad enough that I feel that way. I’d rather fake it than look like a scared fool.”
Okay, I hear you, but the good news is that you don’t have to fake it to look confident and sure of yourself. You can actually be confident and sure of yourself without faking it!
Maybe that’s why this whole faking-it philosophy really pisses me off. Not only does it perpetuate the practice of self-doubt, it’s completely unnecessary. You can feel genuinely and authentically confident and self-assured. You don’t have to fake it. Even if you’re nervous, you can still be confident, eager and at ease when you speak or perform in public. Why fake it when you can HAVE the real thing?
This would be the perfect time for me to launch into a commercial for the Unconditional Confidence program — which offers numerous programs and opportunities to become genuinely confident and comfortable anytime you are speaking or performing — but before I go there, I want to acknowledge that there is a way to use the fake-it strategy that is useful and helpful. Now that I’ve panned it, let’s use it.
Some performance and acting coaches will tell you that by taking on the physical characteristics of a character, you can start to feel as they would feel. Fans of the “Fake It Until You Make It” might say the same thing; if you act as-if, you CAN start to FEEL more confident. Suddenly, the act is no longer an act.
So, if you can actually tap into your own feelings of confidence, ease and self-assuredness by acting-as-if, then go for it. But use it as a way to tap into your own genuine, innate feelings of confidence, not as a way to disconnect from yourself and others.
The truth is, you are naturally confident. You are naturally fearless. You just learned a bunch of nonsense along the way. You can unlearn all that stuff and start to have the self-confidence, freedom of self-expression and creative joy with which you were born. And if the fake-it method serve as a jumping off point, a way to enter into your own genuine feelings of confidence, then by all means, work it, baby!
So, let’s rewrite the phrase “Fake it until you make it.” Let’s change it to, “Fake it so you can Feel it.” Fake it only as a way to connect with and call upon your own feelings of confidence, eagerness and fearlessness. If you can fake it to feel it, and if you can really let yourself feel it, then guess what? You’re no longer faking it.