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The Ongoing Battle: competence versus confidence

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Many moons ago, I was asked to present at my first foreign media research conference. This in itself was a blooming' big deal. I literally couldn't believe anyone would be daft enough to ask me.

Firstly, I was a relative newbie in my job and the conference attracted an array of seasoned industry types. Secondly, I was flabbergasted that I’d been trusted to represent not only my organisation, but our inaugural piece of research. And I was to do it entirely on my tod. (Granted, I was presenting in tandem with one of our research partners, but I was there for the duration - alone.) I was both terrified and a bit elated; apprehensive - but just a teensy bit proud.

But the sheer terror that I'd make a tit of myself on stage and show myself up for knowing nothing, propelled me to do something I’d never done at work before. I demanded some training.

I wasn’t picky, any presentation training would do, so long as it helped me survive the conference and not die a death on a stage in front of hundreds of my (very senior) peers.

Thankfully, my boss obliged and I spent a day holed up in a London basement in a room full of strangers. The course was basic and proffered a long list of things I shouldn’t do when presenting. It was scary as hell for a reluctant public speaker, but it was timely and if nothing else, it gave me a sense of accomplishment just for getting through it.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was conference time - and things did not go how I envisaged..

For an introvert, surviving a two day conference in a foreign country full of senior people I didn't know was achievement enough. But when it came to the presentation, something totally unexpected happened..

My presenting partner, a hugely fabulous researcher and business owner who far surpassed me in both intelligence and experience, was totally, utterly overcome with fear.

We'd both rehearsed our own parts of the presentation, but when it came to the crunch, she just couldn't communicate. She muttered a few quiet words and then petered out completely, leaving a horrid, awkward silence where neither us nor the audience knew what to do.

Thank god I’d demanded that training!

In that moment, it gave me just enough confidence to take hold of the reins and lead us over the finish line.

Now I can't say I did a decent job. (To be honest I can't remember what I said at all, I was so terrified.) But I knew I had to do something. I can safely say, that without that little shot of confidence from the training I'd had, there was no way I could have filled in for her. We'd have both died a death in the spotlight and gone home with our tails between our legs.

But the best thing to come from that scenario?

That little shot of confidence turned into something bigger. It made me realise that I was capable of way more than I thought I was. I'd always focused on my competence, but I realised my abilities weren't the problem. The lack of confidence in my abilities was the brick wall in front of me!

Confidence is the art of looking like you know what you’re doing, whereas competence is genuinely knowing it.

You may expect that when you feel competent, the confidence will just follow. (This is why many people put conditions on their confidence, e.g. 'I will feel more confident when I've gained that qualification or 'I will feel confident when I've made my tenth sale').

But nah, it's rarely that simple.

Typically, your brain is your own worst enemy. The impact of negative self-talk - those pesky little words of doubt you subconsciously utter to yourself - soon add up. You'll remember criticism over praise and ‘failures’ over successes.

Countless research studies have shown that what you believe to be true tends to predict your future performance, regardless of your capability.

If you believe you’re incompetent, you'll damn well prove it to yourself time and time again.

It takes time and perseverance to build skills, but confidence can be knocked down in seconds. Learning to switch your self-talk from restrictive to resourceful, and perceive yourselves more positively, must be one of the most valuable life-lessons there is.

In my case, just a tiny sprinkling of extra confidence was the difference between freezing on stage and strutting off feeling like a super-hero!

I know that it takes inner confidence to truly showcase your competence. Whilst gym memberships go unused, haircuts grow out and hobbies fall by the wayside, improving your self-confidence is one of the most valuable, impactful and long-lasting investments you'll ever make.

Nicole x

P.S. If you’re a woman who wants to powerfully put yourself out there without cringing or worrying what others will think, then I’d love to welcome you in my Facebook group, The Confidence Build for Women.

It’s a friendly, supportive community full of women just like you. It’s jam-packed with no-fluff support, inspiration, expert training and will help you find the motivation to show up and be the you that you deserve to be. I’ll see you there!

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