We all want to be confident, do not we? It's a word that crops up fairly often in coaching sessions, even with people who are very talented and successful. We are all human, and for most of us there are times, places, audiences and situations where we feel we'd like to be a little more confident. For creative professionals, these typically include high-pressure performance situations, such as presentations, pitches, interviews, auditions and stage shows.
Of course we want to perform at our best in these situations, but I think the word 'confidence' creates more problems than it solves. I usually advise clients to change the word to 'enthusiasm'. Here's why:
1. Confidence is about you - enthusiasm is about your subject
As long as you are focused on 'being confident', you are the focus of attention. And when it's all about you, it's very easy to get caught up in self-doubt ("Am I really up to this? Will I be able to do it?"). But when you focus on a subject that's important to you - the work you're presenting, the information you want to share, the message you're trying to get across - then chances are you'll find yourself overtaken by enthusiasm. You will be energized, your voice will sound stronger, your hands will start gesturing, and you'll find your whole body moving as you warm to your task. You will lose your self-consciousness and be lost in the work itself, in the words and ideas you want to get across.
2. Confidence is about you (again) - enthusiasm is about others
I repeat - when you are trying to be confident, your attention is on yourself. But when you focus on your audience - whether one person, a roomful or a whole stadium - you stop worrying about your own performance. Instead, your attention is on the audience's experience: How are the ideas coming across? How do they look? Engaged? Confused? Intrigued? Have they 'got it' yet? If not, what can you do to help them? What feedback are they giving you? How can you use this to make it easier for them to learn, to enjoy or to see your point of view? How can you get them to share your enthusiasm?
3. Confidence is impressive - enthusiasm is infectious
How many times have you watched a presenter or met someone and been impressed with their confident manner - but without really warming to them? Confidence can be impressive, but beware the kind of impression you are leaving. Enthusiasm on the other hand, is highly infectious. Think of a time when you heard someone talk about a subject you had previously no interest in, but they were so enthusiastic about it, you could not help being intrigued, even fascinated. There is something contagious about the body language of enthusiasm - when you see someone talking excitedly, smiling, gesturing, full of energy and keen to share what they know, you can't help responding. It is as though at some level we look at an enthusiastic person and think "That looks good, that looks fun" and can't resist the urge to join in.
4. Confidence is certain - enthusiasm is creative
You can feel confident when you know what you are doing, and are sure you can do it well. There are lots of times and places for this kind of confidence, but too much certainty can be stifling. With enthusiasm, there is always an element of uncertainty, the excitement of not knowing exactly what you are going to say next and looking forward to surprising yourself. That is why scripted speeches are so dull, and why the atmosphere at an improvised show is electric. Accounts of the creative process abound with stories of images, ideas or words 'popping into' someone's mind - and invariably, the subject or medium is one for with the person has huge enthusiasm.
5. Confidence is serious - enthusiasm is fun
When you start talking or thinking about being confident, you are likely to start taking things a bit seriously. When you want to be confident about doing something, it is because you think it is important. And when something is important, it means Bad Things can happen if you get it wrong. Thinking about Bad Things is enough to make anyone serious. But when you're enthusiastic, importance translates into passion - and the whole thing becomes fun. There are few things more enjoyable than talking enthusiastically about something you are passionate about, and feeling others share your enthusiasm.
I will climb off the soap-box now. Enthusiasm is one of my enthusiasms. What are yours?