By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
When an audience decides whether someone is credible or not, what do they look for? To a large degree, they look for confidence. In some ways, confidence can be viewed as performed credibility. Someone who is telling the truth is confident. Someone who is winning is confident. Of course, we know that neither of those statements is necessarily true, at least not all the time. But what matters is how the message is received. And in human communications, confidence is one of the most important external markers. Whether a speaker’s confidence is merited or not, viewers interpret confidence as a sign that a source is certain, and as an indication that the content is worthwhile.
For those reasons, the display of confidence is a necessity for attorneys, witnesses, and even for others in the courtroom who assist or sit at counsel table. While we might think that confidence is a feeling, at the end of the day and in the way that matters most, it is a behavior. And whether in deposition or trial testimony, opening statements or closing arguments, oral arguments, negotiations, or meetings, that behavior needs to be on display. In this post, I’ll share seven factors that serve as a kind of checklist for confident communication.
When you are confident, you are:
We come across as comfortable when we talk as we would in a more comfortable setting. In other words, the more a speaker is able to drop the filters, and the closer a speaker is able to use the style they use when in a familiar and relaxed setting, the better. For each person, there is a vocal tone (pitch, pause, emphasis, etc.) that is used when they’re in comfortable surroundings, and for each person, that tone probably represents a “personal best” in confidence.
Being direct applies both to the words used (e.g., simple, straightforward, nonevasive phrasing), and to the nonverbal communication that accompanies it (e.g., eye contact aimed directly at your questioner and persuasive targets). The direct communicator conveys confidence because they’re purposefully and eagerly engaging: They aren’t hiding anything.
The confident speaker or witness is giving their full focus and attention to the task. They’re not distracted by externalities or self-absorbed with their own performance. Instead, they’re focused on the audience, and on what that audience perceives, understands, and believes. That focus shows itself as positive interest and attention, and not evaluation or smirks.
Confidence is displayed and embodied in posture. More specifically, a confident person knows they’re always in view and uses their space. For a speaker, that means gesturing powerfully, with arms out and away from the body. For the witness, that means adopting the “power pose” of sitting forward with forearms on the table, and maintaining that posture without giving in to nervous movement.
The confident communicator shows she isn’t stressed or worried and, for the most part, that display is physical. The body posture is alert and attentive, but not rigid. And the face in particular should be relaxed and pleasant, and shouldn’t “wear” the tension that the speaker might nonetheless feel.
Confidence is conveyed when speakers are feeling good about the message and about their success in conveying it. That means, when it is appropriate to the content, smile. It not only displays confidence and credibility, but it also conveys a positive feedback cycle such that it makes the speaker feel better, which in turn makes the speaker do better.
Ultimately, these aren’t necessarily natural or automatic behaviors. So it all comes down to preparation. Rather than just hoping that you’ll feel confident, witnesses and presenters need to practice the behaviors of confidence so that they will come across as second nature even when you’re under pressure. The best way to think about the time spent on preparation and practice is to remember that it is self-persuasion: Every time you run through it, you are convincing yourself that you can do it. And that’s confidence.
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