Do You Project Your Lack of Confidence in Spite of Yourself?

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I frequently give to clients who are preparing for a big presentation is: “Stop trying to sound smart.”


All too often, I hear people using tons of jargon and going into excruciating detail, leaving me and their audience more confused at the end of their talk than we were at the start.


This is usually due to one (or both) of two reasons:


1. They are suffering from what I like to call “The Expert’s Curse,” i.e. they’re so in love with their own topic that they’ve totally lost sight of what the audience does or does not already know, and does or does not need or want to understand.

2. They’re projecting their lack of confidence, and are desperately trying to prove themselves, show how much work they’ve put into their analysis, and hopefully preempt any possible questions (answering questions can be scary) by providing as much information as possible up front so there’s nothing left to ask.


That second reason acts like a giant blinking yellow arrow pointing at you, saying “I’m not confident – please don’t ask me any questions and just let me finish and sit down!”


It makes the audience immediately think, to play with a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The speaker doth project too much, methinks.” (Apologies to any literary purists out there, but I couldn’t resist.)


This is just one of the many signs Ellen Gallagher, Chief Operations Officer at Wilkes University, identified in this week’s episode of the Speaking to Influence, regarding how she can tell when a speaker lacks confidence.


She also addressed the first problem – how to break free from the expert’s curse in presentations by adjusting your communication style to match what will most resonate with the intended audience.



As a matter of fact, she went on to explain that confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive. She wisely shared how it’s possible and necessary to be confident in your abilities, while simultaneously being humble enough to be able to learn from others' perspectives.


And if that wasn’t enough, she even explained why she believes everyone, regardless of their role, has the ability and responsibility to represent their organization on social media.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


But if nothing else, remember that sometimes trying too hard to “sound smart” is a losing strategy. My advice to clients is always:


The best way to make people think you’re smart

is to make them FEEL smart,

by presenting your case in language that is so crystal-clear to the audience

that the only possible response is,

“Got it!”