Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Do you need self confidence to start a conversation?

Recently, a reader of my email newsletter, Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor, wrote that her biggest self promotion challenge is how to begin and have conversations with people about what she can do for them.

“Whether they be in my network, cold calls, organizations, "warm" prospects – whoever, I often feel that I need some sort of script. Not having one holds me back from any interaction at all. I also feel like other people know how to have these conversations, and I don't - despite the fact that my services are beneficial.”

Is it a lack of self confidence that prevents us from talking to people (and makes us think others have it all together)? What exactly is self confidence and where does it come from? And more important, how do we develop it if we don't already have it?


Blogger Neil said...

Interesting question, Ilise, and one that lots of creatives wrestle with on a daily basis. It seems to often come with the creative territory.

By the way, this topic touches a chord, so I’ll apologize now for being wordy.

A Men’s Health Magazine readership study showed that confidence ranked ahead of assertiveness, patience, communication skills and ambition as one of the characteristics. guys felt would earn more respect. Interestingly, it also ranked second on the skills guys felt they needed to work on the most.

Confidence can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one says, “I can’t do thus and so,” odds are they can’t and won’t even try. Fear of failure seems to rear its ugly head.

Clients might hire a less confident person, but they usually won’t trust them too much and then tend to micro-manage a project. Plus, some clients tend to bully those who are perceived as less confident. Yeah ... hard to believe, but true.

I was getting a lot of email that centered around confidence, so I wrote an article about it. “How much should I charge?” “My client is a nightmare ...,” “How do I get clients,” and other typical questions often are cloaks for questions about self confidence. The article is titled “The question of confidence” and can be found in the "Neil Newbies" secion of

Confidence has a quiet, Zen-like tone. It’s evil twin is brashness ... being overly cocky or boisterous. To have true confidence, one has to pay one’s dues. But, the ticklish thing about confidence is that to get it, you need to have a taste of success. And therein lies the Catch-22.

I’m of the belief that confidence comes from doing something over and over (correctly, that is) until you become comfortable with it. It becomes second-nature. It’s an art that can be learned. To do that, one really needs to allow themselves to fall on their hind quarters a few times, but remember that that’s okay. Unless one is very gifted in something, being perfect, from the get go, is pretty unrealistic.

I think it’s important, and also rather tough, to do a personal reality check. I recommend for folks to sit down, grab a cuppa joe and write down their good qualities and their not-so-hot ones. The trick is being cuttingly honest with one’s self. That’s paramount. The exercise is a lot like doing a SWOT Analysis for a business. We all have our good qualities as well as the not-so-good qualities. It’s key to be able to recognize them. Some people need a bit of help, though. Getting with some close friends and asking their opinions can help. Friends and loved ones don’t usually throw tomatoes.

Another thing is talking to clients. I’m amazed how many people don’t do this. They don’t have a follow-up strategy in place. When the gig’s over and done, they don’t touch base with their client until the phone rings again. Talking with a client right after completing a project can yield some pretty useful information ... especially if it was successful. If it wasn’t, then you learn from your mistake(s) and try to not revisit them.

Confidence doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a series of steps. But, it can be done. It’s a good idea to set some goals. Realistic ones are a nice touch. And, it’s also important to write the suckers down ... in permanent ink. Blood’s also a nifty touch for a motivator.

Once you have your goals in hand on paper, break those down into smaller ones. Action plans, of a sort. Take these and put them some place where you can readily see them. The bathroom mirror or the side of your monitor are good choices. My goals are stuck up there on the wall behind my computers. That’s the place I tend to stare at when I’m dazing out. It helps me remember what the heck I’m supposed to be doing.

The other thing with this goal stuff is to make them measurable. But, goals like, “Make a million by next month” aren’t likely to happen. But, “Bill $6000 next month,” just might. Over time, and with some proper financial planning, the goal of a million might just happen.

Always keep your eye on the prize. Over time, with good planning skills, a little here ... a little there, the next thing you know, you’re a confident person. Not the short-term, “I’ve got a sales presentation tomorrow,” pump-me-up, but honest-to-goodness self confidence. The kind of confidence that allows you to say, “Nah ... that’s not the type of project I’m interested in doing,” or, “Yup, I’m expensive ... but I’m worth every stinkin’ penny.”

5:54 PM  
Blogger Richard Fouts said...

I think you need confidence to start a conversation ... in the form of sincerity. People often turn up the volume on what they think is confidence, only to come off as slightly arrogant. I think the best way to start a conversation is with sincerity and honesty. Or asking for an opinion. Like, "I'm always challenged with life/work balance. Do you ever feel that way?"

7:31 PM  
Blogger Ilise Benun said...

Just read this in an article about a woman who climbed Mount Everest.

"She’s an “introvert” she tells me off the top, and though the description seems in conflict with the confidence it takes to climb peaks and speak publicly."

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Vanessa Kelly said...

In the course of introductory conversations, I sometimes find it
hard to answer the simple question of "what do you do for a living?" in a short, concise and interesting way. I don't want to ramble on or sound uninteresting or rehearsed by giving a pat answer. Perhaps I put too much pressure on myself to give the perfect 2 minute elevator speech, but that's what I strive for. Sincerety, humor and a method to make a connection, all in the space of a few minutes.

Any thoughts??

6:14 AM  
Blogger wallowmuddy said...

Vanessa, Can you describe yourself with a question? Let's say you're an interior designer and someone asks what you do. Your response could be: "Have you ever walked into a room and felt happy just because of the feel of the space around you? That's what I do, I design the interiors of office buildlings for creative companies." Or you could be a project manager. Your reply might be: "Have you ever put a meal together for 20 people? You buy all the ingredients, get things in the oven at the right time and work really hard to have something come out right? Just like you coordinate the meal, I coordinate technology projects, making sure everyone works together on a new product so it comes out perfect!" These answers give you a chance to sell yourself because you're describing how ably you do your work while describing your work. And DON'T feel pressured to say everything. Giving the listener a memorable sense of what you do could be more valuable.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Ilise Benun said...

Here's an idea that's been rolling around in my mind this week as people have been responding (and thanks so much to all of you) to this question:

What if self-confidence is minding your own business?

Because a lack of self-confidence usually indicates that I am comparing myself to someone else, who I perceive to be smarter or better.

But if I know that the only comparison to make is between my past and my present performance, then I might focus only the actions I need to take to get better, which seems to be how we develop self-confidence anyway.

Does that make sense?

12:11 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. A lot of that is somewhat force fed to us by the media and advertising. But, it also comes from our parents, relatives and peers. We see and hear these messages so often that we can begin to think we’re not up to snuff if we don’t have an unnaturally white smile, a hefty income, washboard abs, or a supermodel’s figure. But, I thinks it’s important to do a reality check. Frankly, it’s the supermodels who are a wee bit abnormal.

Western cultural, in particular the US, tends to focus on material things. As it’s said, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s a tough nut to crack. My belief is that we need to discover what success really means to us as an individual. The thing is, if we focus on other people and compare ourselves to them, we can’t win. There’s always going to be somebody we see as more successful, attractive, smarter, etc.

That’s not to say we should just sit there and do nothing. We need to grow, learn and expand our horizons and abilities. But, the trick is to do it on our terms, not somebody else’s.

When we define what’s really important to us, what success and happiness mean to us, and work toward those goals, we begin to gain confidence, self-respect and integrity.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Morgan said...

Do you need self confidence to start a conversation? I think you do. But that self confidence doesn't have to come from an I'm-better-than-you perspective. It should come from I'm-the-best-that-I-can-be perspective.

Someone will always be better than you, prettier than you, more well-spoken than you. But you are the only person who has your combination of skill and what you've experienced.

You know what you're capable of and that you're good at your job, or knowledgable on a particular subject; so, you should feel able to contribute to a conversation, knowing that you're providing a more well-roundeness to the conversation at hand because of your knowledge or skill.

Knowing and believing that you're a unique person who has a unique perspective that people want to hear will help you find the confidence to join in.

9:02 AM  
Blogger morgan said...

As far as "minding your own business" being a fruit of self-confidence, there is something to be said for that. But you have to be careful for the reasons behind your quiteness. Is it because you are comfortable enough with yourself to let others shine in the conversation or is it because you are scared that someone will overpower you in a conversation?

If it's the former, than good for you. That's the more leadership-oriented direction.

If it's the latter, than you should learn to voice your opinions knowing that someone might be more knowledgable than you, but that you had contributed to the conversation. And through your contribution, you may have brought up a point that the other, more knowledgable person, might not have mentioned if you hadn't made the comment, and that more knowledgable comment explained a question that another person was thinking to ask. You just never know the positive cause-and-effect relationships that your comments might make.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Ilise Benun said...

Here's a new book with lots of ideas about how to start a conversation: The Fine Art of Small Talk, by Debra Fine. (There's also a review of it in today's USA Today, which was outside my door at the Hilton here in College Station Texas, where I'm speaking at the regional IABC conference).

The book has some good ideas but is just skimming the surface when it comes to why we have trouble starting conversations.

It's good research for my book, though, and has given me lots of good ideas and has sprung me directly into the writing process.

More soon...

9:46 AM  
Blogger Jeff Fisher LogoMotives said...

From outside appearances most people wouldn't know it, but I have always been uncomfortable in social situations. To be perfectly honest, I'd much rather stand in the corner and be entertained by watching all going on in a room full of people. However, as a business person that's not necessarily the best way to drum up potential project work in business-related gatherings. I've always been confident in my work, but not always confident (or thrilled) to strike up a conversation in a group or one-on-one.

Still, past training in initiating a conversation does seem to kick in when needed. That ability evolved out of my college "damn glad to meet ya" fraternity rush days. To get certain fraternities to want to offer you a bid to pledge you needed to convince them that you wanted to be a part of their organization. That process required an individual to quickly learn to how to put any insecurities aside and be able to highlight their strong points in short interactions with as many as 100 guys in less than a two-hour process - kind of speed-dating without the possible romantic outcome. It may not have initially been the best exercise in personal self confidence building, but it was boot camp for learning how to talk to just about anyone on any topic. Over time a confidence in conversational abilities is developed, making it easier to convey a self-confidence in what one has to offer.

Participation in business organization, conferences and workshops offer similar opportunities to stretch one's conversational skills. I've learned that if, as I enter a room of strangers, I initiate the conversation with "Hi, I'm Jeff Fisher (erasing from my mind the secret desire to add "damn glad to meet ya') the boundary of uncomfortableness is broken down (for myself and others). By doing so, I often find that due to being the first to break through that invisible barrier I am then in the "driver's seat" of the conversation, and come across as a very confident person.

8:11 AM  

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