How to be confident in a conversation
Here’s how to be confident and relaxed when you make conversation with new people.
1. Speak slower
Pay attention to how fast you talk compared to others.
Speaking faster than everyone else can signal nervousness or fear of taking up space in a conversation.
On the other hand, speaking a bit slower gives you more time to formulate your thoughts and signals confidence.
Make sure to not speak way slower than the one you’re talking to.
2. Accept your nervousness rather than trying to fight it
Remind yourself that nervousness is something all humans deal with.
Confident people also feel nervous. It’s just that they still talk to people they want to talk to despite their nervosity.
Accept that the feeling is there and act anyway. Feeling nervous isn’t dangerous. In that way, it’s no different than, say, feeling hungry or excited.
Knowing that nervousness isn’t dangerous makes us “less afraid of feeling afraid”. Ironically, this makes us less nervousness over time.
3. Know that the way you see yourself is far from how others see you
You see yourself through all your history. “I’m nervous”. “I’m bad at X”. People you talk to have no clue about your history.
Studies show that we feel like we stand out in social settings when we really don’t. Other studies show that we think people know how we feel, when they don’t.[2, 3] Remind yourself that people you make conversation with likely see you in a more positive light than you do.
4. Focus on the topic to be more authentic and charismatic
Bring your focus back to the conversation when you end up in your head.
Someone: “I work as a consultant for a media company”
A nervous person’s mind: Uh oh, sounds fancy, and I’m still studying. I wonder what she’ll think of me, is my posture weird? What should I respond!? etc.
Instead, focus back to what they said and be curious about it.
Your mind when focusing on the topic: I wonder what it’s like to be a consultant? What kind of media company? What made her want to go into media? Is her passion creativity or what does she like the most about media?
(This is an example of what can go on inside your mind. You shouldn’t ask all these questions.)
You’ll be more present, so your facial expressions become more instant and authentic. You have more ways to continue the conversation
Practice your curious focus whenever you watch someone talk on Youtube, TV, etc. It’ll help you be more present in real social settings.
5. Use tonal variation to sound relaxed and confident
Varying your tone signals that you are relaxed. It can make you sound more charismatic, too.
Here’s an example where I recorded myself speaking with and without tonal variation:
6. Name your nervousness to make it more familiar and less scary
Here’s a powerful routine therapists teach their clients to overcome nervousness:
- Observe your nervousness. Where in the body is it? (My nervousness is often a rotating pressure just below my chest, for example.)
- Accept that it’s there. You can even name it. (My rotating pressure’s named Bob. Naming makes it less scary and more familiar.)
- Let go of the feeling, and go on doing whatever you were about to do. You’ll notice that your feeling gets weaker after a while.
7. Be interested in the other person
Ask sincere questions and genuinely try to get the person you talk to. This signals that you’re friendly.
In my personal experience, people come off as more confident when they care about others. On the other hand, nervous people, tend to be too self-focused in social settings and not able to care about others.
8. Look at people’s feet and eyes to know if they want to talk to you
Look at the direction of people’s feet and gaze if you’re worried that they might not want to talk to you.
If they look at you and point their feet toward you and add to the conversation, you can be confident that they want to continue talking.
If they point their feet away from you or look away from you, and stop adding to the conversation, it’s a signal that you want to wrap up.
Here are more ways to know if someone wants to talk to you.
9. Be comfortable with opening up and sharing about yourself
Go back and forth between asking about the other person and sharing things about yourself. People prefer a balance between sharing and learning about someone else.
You: What was it like to visit Germany?
They: It was nice, but I prefer France.
You: How come?
They: I love the food culture there and how everyone seems so culturally aware.
You: I see. I was in Europe many years ago and visited Italy. And I was blown away by the food there as well.
10. Don’t take responsibility for awkward silence
Remember that the other person is trying to come up with things to say just as much as you are.
They don’t wait for you to take responsibility or think you’re awkward. They might even think you’re waiting for them to come up with something smart to say. Knowing this can help take the pressure off.
11. Be comfortable with silences
Don’t try to fill all silences. Confident people are okay with silence once in a while.
Be calm and don’t stress about coming up with something to say. If you show calm, the other person will feel calm, and the silence won’t be awkward but relaxing.
12. When a topic dies out or gets boring, you can go back to a previous one
Feel free to go back to anything you talked about before in a conversation.
Friend: So that’s why I don’t like potatoes.
You: Oh, ok.
You: By the way, you mentioned that you started writing poems again?
Another reason a conversation dies out is that the other person might want to end it. Here’s a guide to see if someone wants to continue talking.
13. Practice a good posture
Lift your chest upward with your upper back. It allows more air into your lungs so your voice gets stronger. A good posture can also make us feel more confident.
This video has helped me permanently improve my posture.
14. Relax your face and let your authentic expressions show
Make sure to relax your face muscles and avoid looking angry or tense. Allow for your natural expressions to show. This can make you look more authentic.
Remind yourself to “open up” your face if you notice that you tense up.
15. Use a confident voice
Some who feel nervous soften their voice and sound like they’re second-guessing themselves. Use a voice that signals that you believe in what you say.
If you are uncertain about something, it’s better to with certainty say that you’re not certain. With a certain voice: “I’m not certain about this, but I believe that…”.
16. Speak loud enough but not louder than necessary
Speak loud enough to always make yourself clearly heard. However, avoid trying to be “the loudest one”. That can come off as trying to compensate for insecurity.
Here’s our guide on how to overcome a quiet voice.
17. Lower your pitch one octave
Lower your pitch one octave when you speak louder. Most make the mistake of trying to talk so dark that they lose their tonal variation.
Lowering one octave or one “step” is enough to sound confident but also natural.
18. Show that you listen
Show that you listen carefully. Presence makes you look more confident. People who are confident and good listeners are often seen as charismatic.
- Keep eye contact
- Nod occasionally
- Give feedback by humming and saying “yes” or “wow” when appropriate
- Don’t prepare what to say next in your head – be present with what they say
19. Don’t smile constantly
Smile when you say hi or bye, or when something’s funny or amusing.
Avoid having a constant smile when you’re making normal conversation. That can come off as insincere or nervous.
20. Make eye contact while talking, look away while thinking
Make eye contact when you or someone else talk. The exception is when you walk side by side with someone and talk.
In normal conversation, we often take small breaks to gather our thoughts. Break eye contact during this time. It can feel too intense otherwise.
Keep one second of extra eye contact when you greet people or say goodbye. It signals confidence to not look down or away.
Make sure to have a relaxed, friendly facial expression.
More eye contact makes a pleasant situation more pleasant and an aggressive situation more aggressive. Therefore it’s important to signal friendliness together with eye contact.
21. Ask yourself how a confident person would react
Ask yourself what a confident person would do if they made the social mistake you did. Often, we realize that a confident person wouldn’t care.
Seeing our mistakes from the perspective of a confident person can help us feel more relaxed in a conversation. We know that mistakes aren’t that bad and that it’s OK to make small mistakes.
It’s better to speak freely and make mistakes sometimes than always guard yourself.
22. Know that everyone’s full of insecurities
Remember that the people you meet are full of insecurities. As an example, 8 out of 10 feel uncomfortable being in the center of attention.
It’s likely that they are as worried as you are about coming up with things to say or to sound nervous. Knowing this can make us feel more confident.
23. Practice your conversation skills
Improve your conversation skills to feel more confident that you’ll know what to say.
- Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(2), 211.
- Savitsky, K., & Gilovich, T. (2003). The illusion of transparency and the alleviation of speech anxiety. Journal of experimental social psychology, 39(6), 618-625.
- Macinnis, Cara & P. Mackinnon, Sean & Macintyre, Peter. (2010). The illusion of transparency and normative beliefs about anxiety during public speaking. Current Research in Social Psychology.
- Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.
- Cuddy, A. J., Schultz, S. J., & Fosse, N. E. (2018). P-curving a more comprehensive body of research on postural feedback reveals clear evidential value for power-posing effects: reply to Simmons and Simonsohn (2017). Psychological Science, 29(4), 656-666.
- How Eye Contact Brings You Together (or Pulls You Apart). (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/neuro-behavioral-betterment/201609/how-eye-contact-brings-you-together-or-pulls-you-apart
- Mandal, Eugenia. (2008). Shyness and gender. Physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral consequences and strategies of coping with shyness by women and men of different gender identity.. The New Educational Review. pp 264.
8 years ago, I committed to build my social confidence and become great at connecting with people.
Hundreds of books and thousands of interactions later, I’m ready to share with the world what I’ve learned.
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Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.
Viktor is SocialPro’s expert in communication and relationships.
He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology
Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.
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