Three Transparently Phony Ways to Appear Less Confident

By Laura Bergells on

Confidence. Somehow, this word became virtuous in the 1980’s. It remained a positive trait — until fairly recently.

Confidence men, we called them in the 1930’s and 40’s. Over time, we shortened this to “Con Men” or “Cons”. Overly charming, smooth. Hucksters. Yech.

Cons transmit that they are absolutely positive in their correctness. Who trusts the overly confident?

Bernie Madoff and his ilk have made us collectively uneasy about confidence again.

Striped bachelor
Creative Commons License photo credit: Matti Mattila

How to appear less confident

If you’re an overly confident speaker, you might have a big problem connecting with a modern, tech-savvy audience. (Especially here in the American Midwest!) In an era of quickly produced, less-than-polished user generated content — your confidence might seem inappropriately over-the-top.

Here are 3 quick and completely insincere ways to tone down any over-confidence you may have as a speaker or presenter.

  1. Toss in filler words. A few, “ums and ahhs” and nervous shuffling can go a long way to instill the idea that you’re thinking about what you’re saying. You’re not glibly reciting a speech. You’re not absolutely convinced that you are unequivocally correct. You’re open to starting conversations and creating a dialog. Your social awkwardness in public speaking indicates that you’re thinking. That you’re concerned. That you care enough to be nervous. Audiences warm to this kind of humility.
  2. Ugly up your PowerPoint slides. Nothing says, “I’m overly image conscious” like professionally designed PowerPoint presentations. When it looks like a presenter spent 80 hours in meetings with a team of designers, writers, and speech coaches to deliver a one-hour presentation — that’s the take-away. That’s what the audience will talk about behind the speaker’s back. The message won’t stick when all people talk about is how pretty the slides were and how Hollywood the storytelling was.
  3. Dress out-of-sync. I watched a multi-millionaire give a presentation to 200+ business people. The audience? In modern business attire. The presenter? In a sad, schlumpfly suit from the 1980’s. The audience LOVED him. Think they merely tolerated his eccentric garb because he was rich? Guess again. I also watched a junior software engineer wearing an unpressed polo shirt and lumpy khakis present to a board wearing business suits. They ADORED his presentation, too.

If you’re an awkward or eccentric speaker, rejoice. This is your time! Embrace your humility! Hug your weirdness!

And if you’re a con artist, your audience will likely see through your naked attempts to “Aw, shucks it up” for them. After all, this is the age of authenticity and transparency — two achingly glorious buzzwords that shine a bright, unflattering spotlight on slick over-confidence and transparently phony faux-humility mannerisms.

Social awkwardness is in!

Nerds, enjoy it while it lasts…

What will the next wave of popularity be?