Putting yourself on the line publicly with an idea you've hatched or art you've created is one of the toughest things you'll ever do. Here is a powerful but simple process that will build your confidence quickly.
Are you terrified of public speaking or performing? Do you have a collection of poems or short stories you never show anyone? Maybe a basement full of watercolours you keep safely hidden away? If fear is getting in the way of your sharing your work with others and you'd like to change that, I have a solution for you.
I personally have used it to build my confidence as a songwriter, writer, public speaker, and trainer. I've seen it work wonders for people who really didn't think they would ever cope well in public.
The Real Secret to Creative Confidence
Have you ever been told, "Just do it!" or "You need to be more confident!" or "Show more attitude?" That advice probably didn't help much, did it? That's because it doesn't get to the root of the problem.
Lack of confidence comes from feeling — or actually being — unprepared in new situation. Think about it. In any job you learn or skill you master, the more experience you get, the more confident you feel going into it. You may never really like it, but you know you can handle it.
The more you can anticipate, prepare, and rehearse a successful outcome (whatever that means for you), the more confident you will feel going in. Here's a powerful six step process that will build your confidence quickly.
Get a Strong Vision for What Success Looks Like to You
A vision is really just a clear picture in your head of what a successful outcome means to you. It's long term and may be a couple years away or more. A strong vision helps motivate you when you get discouraged and helps you stay focused when you feel overwhelmed.
For example, you may want to be the first wedding photographer people in your city think of when they are looking to hire someone, or to be able to support your family with your writing.
If you have trouble articulating this, try asking yourself the questions, "Why me? Why now?"
Get Specific with a Checklist
Now keep that vision in mind, but let's break it down into things that will help you today. Imagine the next time you have a chance to show your work to someone. What would you like that outcome to be? Here are some examples to give you ideas:
- You look totally comfortable when performing, pitching, displaying, or describing your work (whether you feel it or not).
- Your voice is clear, confident, and not stammering.
- Your art displays, performances, or speeches are well planned and totally professional.
- You know your work inside and out, you know what it does for people, and you can confidently answer any questions about it (including price).
- You have all your supporting marketing materials in place and you can tell people how to keep in touch if they like your work.
- You have attractive reasons for people to do business with you now or to sign up for your list for the future.
Understand that some goals may involve tradeoffs — in a musical performance or speaking engagement you may be fast, technically accurate, or connect emotionally with the audience but not all three. If you strive for speed, for example, accuracy will suffer at some point. If you try for 100% accuracy, you may miss connecting with people. Choose your priorities.
Practise, Rehearse or Prepare with All These Objectives in Mind
If you are doing a speech or performance, or practicing your pitch to interest someone in your writing or painting, this is where you start rehearsing to the point of memorizing. Make sure you hit all the objectives you listed above.
This will be the "script" or plan that you work from. Get comfortable with the structure first, then you can deviate as you get more confident.
Choose One or Two Trusted People Who Will Give You Good, Kind, Honest Feedback
At this point, you don't want to open yourself up to feedback from just anyone. Find just one or two people who you know are on your side and who have the wisdom and experience to be truly helpful. Have them review your dry run and ask them specifically whether you are meeting the intentions you've previously identified.
You can have them share feedback together or separately, that doesn't matter. Just keep it manageable for yourself. Conflicting advice from many people can make you more confused.
Ask them things like, "I know that I don't have the presentation completely memorized yet, but is my voice and posture confident?" or "The story hasn't been edited yet, but is the plot logical? Are the characters believable?"
Work it out till you are satisfied. Video is also very useful at this stage, if it applies.
Host a Supportive Test Run
Now you've pinpointed specifically what success will look like for you at the moment, you've developed a script and you've rehearsed it. This is where you'd get a small group of people to help you. If it's a poetry reading, comedy, or musical performance maybe you can find a small, supportive, laid back open mic setting or performance circle. If it's a book unveiling or art show, consider hosting a small, invitation-only open house.
Make sure your one or two trusted feedback-givers from step number 4 are there as well.
Here's the key. Toward the end of the event, use a very short, handwritten survey. Ask the attendees for written feedback — but ONLY on what they like about what you are doing. The single question on the paper could actually be, "Thanks for attending this evening! Please take a minute to tell me your favourite thing about the work I'm doing."
Review and Adjust for the Next Time
You and the person who previously helped you are the only ones who will be critiquing for improvement, in a separate conversation after the event. You will probably already know what you could do better next time — because you will know which objectives you hit from your list.
I guarantee that if you try this approach, you'll be very pleasantly surprised at how it turns out.
You should find that once you have set your vision and your targets, and you've practiced and prepared to make sure you meet these targets, you will be in a place to more objectively view your own work. You'll have lots of positive feedback from people about what you are doing right (which is hugely valuable for your confidence) and you'll have kind, constructive criticism from one or two helpful people who know what your vision is.
A few final tips
- Take baby steps. People vastly underestimate all that is involved in getting your work out there.
- You'll never be without fear. Successful people learn to act in spite of fear.
- Mistakes aren't the end of the world, and when handled gracefully they can win you fans and friends.
- Everyone won't like your work, and that's OK. It doesn't make you less of a person or artist.
- Celebrate your victories, even (especially) the small ones!
So many people never go public with their work. Just getting started is a huge accomplishment.
In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them: Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!"
Every creative person faces demons. Learn to plow through in spite of them. We all will be better off for your contribution.
Leanne Regalla teaches creative people how to pursue their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death. Get "The Rebel Artist's Manifesto - Having the Audacity to Make Good Money From Your Creative Work" at her blog, Make Creativity Pay. While you're at it, why not also follow her on Twitter?