Demonstrate Clear Thinking, Confidence & Presence

March 31, 2012 § 8 Comments

Last week, a young project manager was informed that he’s smart, knows his stuff, but his delivery often takes away from his message.  He said he wasn’t surprised to hear that, since the “sweaty palms” activity of speaking in front of a group causes him to lose his focus. To compensate, he rambles and equivocates.  There are many of us who resonate with this challenge.  The advice my friend was given was to be less nervous and act with more confidence.  Well meaning advice, but not specific enough to be helpful.  Here’s some tips:

Be Seen as a Clear Thinker: Avoid Equivocating Language. While attorneys caution corporate officers to avoid forward-looking public statements of conviction, if you are delivering a project status update to your business leader, you want to engender confidence.  Here’s an example of an ineffectual, cautious, non-assertive statement:

            “With the demographic trends in this region, and the superior technology we have, I think you’ll see that the project continues to position us  for growth.” 

When you say “I think,” that is equivocation, and that introduces doubt.  If you want to influence others, and be seen as confident and capable, your job is to provide as much certainty as you can by switching from conditional to declarative statements.  It would be better to say:

“With the demographic trends….and the superior technology….you can see that the project continues to position us for growth.

It’s just a matter of tightening up your pitch. Even when the future feels unsure, avoid saying:  “I think, maybe, perhaps, I believe, I feel, I’d like to, I’ll try.”  Do add power to your statements by saying: “I’m confident,  I expect,  I’m optimistic, “I’m convinced, I will.”   To build the habit of clear speaking, Jerry Weissman recommends (Harvard Business Review) that we pay attention to the public announcements we hear.  Does the flight attendant say: “I’d like to be the first to welcome you to San Francisco,” or does he say “Welcome to San Francisco!”

More Tips To Develop and Show Your Presence:

  • In meetings, sit up straighter, square your shoulders (pretend you’re in the military) and lean into the table with your forearms resting on it.
  • Smile more.  It subliminally relaxes others and makes them more predisposed to keep you in their radar.
  • When joining your boss at a meeting with more senior execs, be relevant.  Say something in the meeting, even if it’s just asking a strategic (and prepared) question. Don’t let people leave the meeting wondering why you were there.
  • You have 2 ears and one mouth.  Act accordingly.
  • Maintain eye contact (within the bounds of cultural norms).
  • Keep your emotions in check.
  • Say “And” instead of But.”
  • Iron your shirt, match your belt to your shoes, shave, wear a sport coat or suit without a tie, show less cleavage, select appropriate jewelry.

People want to count on you to deliver and be in control when the unforeseen happens. If you show them that you’re in control of yourself, they are more likely to feel confidence in you.

§ 8 Responses to Demonstrate Clear Thinking, Confidence & Presence

  • Paul says:

    Great post – hope you are well!
    Best Wishes,

  • Bob Faw says:

    These are great points, Allen. How we deliver a message influences how it’s received in so many ways.
    This plays into the concept of personal brand as well, to a certain extent. I.e., Focusing on the best of who you are and how that’s seen by colleagues. I like to think of this as your “Best DNA”. To be truly effective we need to focus on both what and how we do things.
    Keep these great posts coming!

    • Thanks for your comment Bob. I couldn’t agree with you more. We live life with a view of ourselves, coming from our own personal lens. Others have different lenses. It’s like when I see myself on video, or hear myself on audio. I put old family VHS’s onto DVD last week, and viewed some with the kids. I asked them if that’s really how I acted. They just stared and nodded at me. And said, “you still do!” Brand.

  • John Halper says:


    Excellent advice. One comment: Do you think that the statement “you can see…” could be interpreted by an uptight listener as “I know what’s in your head”?

    Just my two cents.


    • Welcome back John!

      As for your comment, possibly, but from my experience, saying “you can see” is almost like pointing and saying “look.” Notwithstanding, in a conversational interaction, it would be good practice to follow up and ask if the other person actually does see what you see.

  • Lee Bryner says:

    Great insight Allen. Thank you. I immediately went back and proof-read a recent study I produced around one of our new product initiatives, and in my recommendation section removed the many “I think,” “perhaps,” and “likely to” statements. One of my many developmental needs areas that your lessons continue to help me address and improve upon. Thanks again.

    Hope all is well.

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