How a 'confidence coach' taught me to be more confident

Fortune 500 female CEOs: Growing in number, but still rare
Fortune 500 female CEOs: Growing in number, but still rare

We all know confidence is an important trait on the job. But, like many women, I could use a little more.

Confidence is learned. Or so I've been told. So I looked for a teacher -- and found Sheryl Goldstein, senior vice president of global strategy and business development at Own the Room, an executive presence training group based in New York. Own the Room works with individuals as well as organizations to train employees on public speaking, presentation and more.

Goldstein and some of her fellow coaches offered "confidence coaching" sessions for women at The Girls' Lounge, an event I recently attended during Advertising Week in New York. She says she's often approached by both junior and senior level workers, all looking for a way to up their game when it comes to "executive presence" and workplace confidence.

"What we see in the younger ladies, coming up in their first or second job, a lot of it has to do with insecurity and feeling confident in their ability to be taken seriously, to be heard," she says.

Here's the advice Goldstein had for women like me:

Avoid weak language

Goldstein immediately picked up on the timidness I wanted to correct. She said she recognized it as soon as I told her a bit about myself -- a two-minute elevator speech riddled with "ums" and "likes" and "yeahs."

When she's coaching other women on doing this, she said she'll even go so far as to suggest a small exercise: as you walk around a room, pay attention to your language and pour water in your coffee cup, soda can or wine glass for every "yeah" or "um." At the end of the hour, take a sip -- and notice how much you've watered down your language (literally).

Know "the power of the pause"

Goldstein asked me what I wanted to work on. I didn't have answer so I blurted out the first thing I thought of: "do most women come with a problem in mind?"

That's another one of Goldstein's tips: if you don't immediately have an answer to a question, take a minute to come up with a more constructive response before saying whatever comes to mind.

Goldstein points to Barack Obama as "The King of the Pause."

"He says things like, 'I haven't given that enough thought. Let me think on that to give you a smart answer,'" she says. "And it comes off as very commanding."

Don't wait for people to involve you -- involve yourself

I talked to Goldstein about how unusually shy I've felt starting out at a new job, having to prod myself to speak up in meetings and connect with colleagues at happy hour. Goldstein observed that during my conversations with others, I may be waiting for an invitation to join the chit-chat. And it's not going to come.

She gives the same advice to women who sit and wait for someone to welcome them on a conference call. Her suggestion: speak up right away.

"It gets harder with every minute you haven't spoken," she says. "They don't even know you're on the call. Just say the agenda. Ask 'we're going to be covering x today? Just wanted to confirm.'"

She suggested if I'm nervous about being seen as an active participant in a work conversation, I should pipe up with questions or comments that involve the group as a whole -- that way I don't just appear like the newbie outsider looking in on the already-established group dynamic.

"Ask lots of questions," she says. "And turn it back on them: ask 'have you done this before?' 'I have this idea -- what do you think of it?'"

Just in soliciting that feedback and involving myself in the convo, I'll be less timid about engaging the next time.

One more step to confidence.

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