It’s not just dogs that can smell fear.
If you have a big meeting to walk into or a hot date that you’re really putting yourself on the line for, you might be all nerves and no confidence.
Well, OK, they might not be able to smell your fear exactly, but it’s surprisingly easy to tell when someone is nervous and lacking confidence.
People look at body language and the way you speak and can usually tell.
So then the question is, can you do anything to make yourself appear more confident?
Can you fake it ‘til you make it?
The answer is yes, as long as you can focus on controlling your body language and keeping your voice steady. And once you can, you’ll find people respond better to you, and that will make you feel way less nervous.
So here are 15 body language gestures that will make you appear confident even when you’re not and help you get through any tough social situation.
1) Give appropriate eye contact
Sitting with your eyes downcast is normally a sign of either low confidence or sadness.
It certainly doesn’t convey power or dominance.
But then again, staring someone in the eye doesn’t quite shout confidence so much as aggression or a challenge.
With eye contact, as with most things, there’s a healthy balance to strike.
If you find that people often tell you that you don’t make enough eye contact, this can be something to improve to make you seem more confident.
Try this trick: while having a conversation, count along and look the other person in the eye every ten seconds. Just make sure it doesn’t make you lose your focus on what they’re saying!
2) Stand up straight
Mom was right.
Good, upright posture provides a host of health benefits ranging from improved circulation to better digestion and fewer headaches.
As a bonus, it also helps you appear a lot more confident than someone who slouches (he writes while slouched over his keyboard).
Sitting and standing straight can make you seem taller, more dominant, and more secure in yourself, so it’s worth practicing in front of a mirror.
Or just invite your mom over to whip you into shape.
3) Firm handshake
There are few body language gestures that convey confidence better than a good, firm handshake.
We’ve all been handed a limp, dead fish when we thought we were going to receive a nice, healthy clasp, and it just doesn’t feel right.
It seems meek and timid rather than assured.
But don’t go overboard.
Most people like their hands the way they are and won’t be too pleased if you crush theirs until the bones crunch and they need reconstructive surgery.
4) Move slowly
Moving quickly can make you look like a nervous little mouse instead of a confident, cool cat.
When you feel your heart racing and your palms sweating, try to slow down, at least a bit.
Take it from me: slowing down will also stop you from tripping over your own feet and knocking over coffee cups, saving you from further embarrassment.
Longer, slower strides also seem a lot more confident than short, quick ones. Try practicing your walk in a mirror and see if you can make any changes that make you look more confident.
5) Stand with your feet wide apart
Say you’re at a party where you don’t really know anyone, and you feel a bit nervous.
One thing that can help is to move your feet farther apart.
I’m not talking about doing the splits unless you’re a regular Shannon Miller or Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Just look down and try to position your feet so they are shoulder-width apart or perhaps an inch or two more.
This position actually makes you seem both more relaxed and more powerful, like you’re rooted in place like a grand old tree.
To anyone looking at you from across the room, you’ll look a lot less likely to run screaming for the hills.
6) Lean into conversations
If you’re chatting with strangers or perhaps in a tough business meeting, you might have a natural inclination to incline your body away from them.
Leaning back gives the impression that you’re intimidated by them, overly smug, or worse, disgusted by how they smell.
You don’t want any of these.
If you lean forward, however, it makes you seem engaged and interested, and that’s definitely positive.
Just make sure you’re not going so far that you have to prop your chin up with your hand, elbow on the table. That could just make you look sleepy.
7) Keep your chin up
Part of great posture is to keep your head nice and level.
But for people who are true shoe-gazers, this can be tough.
So try to be conscious of keeping your chin up. You’ll look more confident and also find it easier to breathe.
Sounds easy, but giving the right smile at the right time isn’t as simple as it sounds.
But it’s amazing that if you just coach yourself to remember to smile, it can really help.
People don’t smile when they’re scared and intimidated, so a smile definitely helps make you look confident even when you’re not.
9) Breathe deeply
OK, it’s not really a gesture or even truly body language. However, breathing deeply can help lower your heart rate and calm you down.
So why not use this trick when you need it?
Amazingly, people can actually tune into your breathing and also slow their breathing down, too.
So everyone can get calmer in the situation.
10) Get closer
If you keep too far away from people, they’ll read that as you being intimidated by them.
It varies across cultures, but social space for Americans is the zone 4-12 feet away from you.
If you find you normally keep people more than four feet away, try to take a step or two closer. This can make you seem more engaged and confident than if you’re halfway across the room.
11) Keep your hands out of your pockets
People generally view someone with their hands forever stuck in their pockets as either timid, hiding something, or overly relaxed.
None of those things is equivalent to self-confidence.
So try to keep your hands where others can see them. Gesture more when you talk, and you’ll seem more natural and engaging to others.
12) Control your fidgeting
I know you get nervous.
I do, too, and in fact, I used to have a weird habit of rolling my head around and cracking my neck when I was nervous as a kid.
Thankfully, I managed to break this habit, which, understandably, showed everyone how I was feeling.
If you’re inclined to fidget, focus on stillness. Deeper breathing and slower movements will also help.
When you can stop fidgeting, people won’t be so distracted and will also be able to focus better on what you’re trying to communicate.
13) Do a power pose
A power pose is a posture or a gesture that you can try before you actually go out and let people see you.
According to research, holding these poses for two minutes can make you feel more confident and less stressed.
Try standing up straight, lifting your chin up high, and holding your arms out to either side and higher than your head. You can also do a variation of planting your hands firmly on your hips.
Hold it for at least two minutes, then walk out of that bathroom cubicle and into the party, looking and feeling more confident than ever.
Here’s another physical act to get you ready for action.
While doing your power pose, breathe in deeply and then let out a bellow.
Not a scream or a squeak or even a roar – a nice, deep, hearty, and loud bellow.
This can release pent-up nerves and stress and quickly boost your confidence.
Try it at home, though, rather than in the office!
15) Mirror other people’s body language
Mirroring means doing what they do, but not like a mime.
Please don’t try to move at exactly the same time as someone else, as though you’re pretending you’re their reflection, unless you’re working as a clown at a children’s party.
Instead, adopt the same poses that they do.
If they cross their legs, do the same thing a few moments later. If they clasp their hands together, clasp yours, too.
Doing this shows that you’re at least as confident as the other person is, but also displays non-verbal empathy by giving the other person subconscious cues that you’re relating to them.
These 15 body language gestures can make you appear confident even when you’re not feeling it.
But as you practice them and reap the social rewards, I think you’ll quickly find that your confidence will naturally improve as well.