by Steve Adubato, PhD

Recently, I visited my son Nick’s third grade class to talk about the importance of confidence when communicating in public situations. His teacher has been working with the students on a variety of communication skills including presentation, listening, and the importance of being able to converse with each other as part of their morning activities.

Instead of simply giving a speech about communication (what a snore for third graders), I decided to talk about some of my own fears and nervousness that I’ve experienced in the past when communicating in pressure-filled situations. I also shared that even today, on occasion, I experience some of those same uncomfortable feelings.

I used specific examples that I felt would resonate with the students, including my first appearance on the “TODAY Show” as well as speaking before a particularly large audience as a keynote speaker for the first time. I told the students that it was natural to be nervous when having to speak or perform in public and that some of the greatest and most successful superstars—including musicians, actors and athletes—have acknowledged these same feelings under pressure. I even told them that I was a little nervous speaking in front of THEM because kids can be a challenging audience.

However, I ultimately told this group of 8- and 9-year-olds that any confidence I have developed over the years is a product of a few things including knowing my subject matter, getting to know the audience and, most importantly, caring deeply about wanting to help. When I said this, I got more than a few confused looks, but that’s exactly what I meant. I call it going in to “help mode”. Think about it. When you are really helping someone, regardless of the circumstance, and you know you are actually making a difference, are you nervous? No. The reason you are not nervous is because you are too busy HELPING. This is true for teachers, public speakers, first-day camp counselors or anyone who has to do anything in front of an audience.

The nervousness we experience, or lack of confidence, comes from a whole range of emotions but the biggest is the uncertainty of what is about to take place and the reaction we are likely to get. However, once you go in to “help mode,” and you truly believe that you can and will make a difference because you care deeply, it can give you tremendous confidence in front of any audience.

Finally, I asked the students where THEY get confidence and what I got back was enlightening. Some said they got confidence from having made mistakes in the past and realizing that nothing terrible happened because of it. Others said they got confidence from practicing…a lot. One of Nick’s classmates said that she got confidence because her parents told her after a big performance that she was a terrific singer, even when she knew she missed a few notes. Other kids said they got confidence from the smiling faces of audience members and their friends cheering them on. Think about that. Smiling faces. People applauding. Getting a positive reaction from your audience communicates that you are having an impact, which is very similar to helping or making a difference. You are helping people feel better and have a good time.

The bottom line is that confidence comes in many forms. We all need confidence, regardless of our age. For me? It is about trying to be helpful. If I can do that, I feel pretty confident. What about you? Where do you get your confidence to communicate, present or perform in public?