When I was a child, I remember hearing someone important say that sometimes you have to act confident even if you don’t feel it. I have wondered about that statement for many years.
How can someone pretend to feel confident?
How can you fake confidence?
Perhaps an actor can fake confidence, a person trained to feel and exhibit a wide range of emotions and make them all believable. But I doubted that this display of unfelt confidence was possible for ordinary people.
I was wrong.
I recently went to a classical music festival. A young Eastern European conductor led the Brussels symphony orchestra in playing Dvorak. I had an interesting seat because, from a particular angle, I could glimpse part of backstage, immediately behind curtain. This glimpse would provide me with a great vision.
In typical fashion, the orchestra came onstage first and seated themselves. After the usual pings, pongs, toots, and other musical adjustments, the orchestra quieted down and sat still. We waited for the conductor. The stage was silent.
From my seat, I could see the conductor backstage standing immediately behind the curtain. He stood very still. He started taking deep breaths. His breaths became faster; he was almost panting. He suddenly looked pale, his forehead became shiny with sweat, and he started to walk out on stage. But he stopped, still behind the curtain. He took more deep breaths and made the symbol of the cross on his forehead, chest and shoulders. Then he did it again. And again. The audience and orchestra continued to wait. He took another deep breath.
He stepped forward…
Within seconds, he stood up tall with his back straight, shoulders down and chin high and strong. His facial expression changed, his eyes looked straight forward, and his breathing normalized.
He stepped from behind the curtain and onto the stage.
He faced the audience. He turned and faced the orchestra. He shook hands with the first violinist. He faced the audience again.
He was a different person.
Confident. Controlled. Slightly conceited.
The audience applauded.
He turned back to the orchestra, opened his music, raised his baton and signaled for the orchestra to begin.
It was a sublime moment.
Of course, the music was transcendental and uplifting. I was swept away by the music.
But I was also enlightened by the transformation of this conductor from frightened and nervous into a poised, self-assured, and skillful leader of the orchestra. The backstage scene that I described lasted less than 60 seconds. But his behind the curtain to onstage transformation took less than 10 seconds.
Had I not personally witnessed this backstage scene, I never would have guessed that this conductor felt anything but total confidence. Fortunately for me—and for you, too—I did see that other side of him.
I admit that I was truly impressed.
And I finally understood that wise saying from that important person in my childhood: A person can decide to look and act confident, which can make you feel confident. You literally step into the role of a confident person, do what the confident person does, look like him or her, act like him or her, actually become him or her. And guess what? You then become that confident person, like the transformed conductor on the stage.
You have faked it until you could actually become it.
I believe that this approach works for everyone, not just conductors. It can work for:
Teachers before giving a lecture,
Students answering a question in class or taking a test,
Business people giving a presentation, speaking with a supervisor or customer, or even ringing the opening bell at the NYSE
Athletes before a game, match, or competition,
Musicians before a performance or competition, and
Anyone in a challenging situation or even simply walking down the street.
This “faking it” approach can work for anyone and everyone. And it often does.
I wonder how many people are feeling nervous and frightened yet they step into the role and “just do it” with confidence (or at least, looking confident.)
That takes courage but I believe that it gets easier after that first transformation. Sure, the stakes will get higher but this approach can work for anyone from a teenager taking his first order at MacDonalds to a world leader speaking at the United Nations.
Everyone can fake it and become it.
So, this week’s challenge to you is to fake it. Make others believe it. Make yourself believe it.
And you can do something great.
Remember to be more than good.