Winging it isn’t always the best approach to public speaking. Supplied
Last week I ran a large event in the city, attended by more than 400 people. I’d spent weeks organising speakers and promoting ticket sales. The event started at 5pm and I was to give the opening address at 5.15pm. At 4.30pm, I was still adjusting seating arrangements and printing out the guest list. I had no idea what I’d say in my opening or closing talks.
At 4.45pm, I began to pace in a quiet corner of the building and construct my speech out loud as I walked. Only 15 minutes until doors open. Why hadn’t I written this earlier? Lines tumbled together as I grasped for an introduction and a few key points to make. I felt a strange mix of terror and confidence. “I’ve spoken in public hundreds of times,” I thought. “If I don’t prepare, it’ll still be good.”
On the train later that night I started to question the relationship between confidence and success. Some confidence is important, but that night I’d had too much. I needed to add some healthy spoonfuls of self-doubt to ensure that next time I wouldn’t be so foolhardy. I reflected on other times I’d spoken in public. Everyone seemed so positive, I figured I must be good. It occurred to me that I’ve often told speakers they were great – even when they were terrible. It feels right to give encouragement. What if I wasn’t a good speaker at all? What if the positive feedback I’d received was just people being nice? What’s the right balance of self-confidence and paranoia?
Role of internal reference
Michelle Duval is the founder of Fingerprint for Success, a people analytics platform. In 2018, her team conducted a global study into the attitudes and motivations that distinguish successful entrepreneurial leaders from the rest of the population. The study tracked the leaders’ psychology with the business outcomes they achieved over five years. I asked Duval about confidence and its relationship with success.