“To be more confident!” is common feedback at work.
But does this advice actually help you speak better English? And what can you actually do to speak confident English at work?
How can I improve my confidence in speaking?
Were you ever told to “be more confident” at work?
When a group was asked this question, a high percentage of the employees said yes. They were then asked if that advice had helped them improve and feel more confident. The answer quickly turned into a no.
Telling a team member to be more confident when they speak English, although well intended, doesn’t help.
We should also question ourselves about what we actually MEAN by this. How do you define confidence at work?
Why do we need to be confident in speaking English?
This article focuses on speaking English in a business setting.
Professionals with higher self-confidence at work are more willing to challenge themselves and speak up to make their voice heard.
But being confident isn’t only about producing a quick stream of English words.
It’s also what you say, and how you say it. How do colleagues and customers perceive you? Some students freeze as soon as they hear the question “tell me about yourself”. That’s easy to fix.
Let’s look at some of our teachers’ advice to become a confident English speaker. 7 hands-on expert tips! And we prepared a YouTube video at the end to inspire you.
1. Don’t speak too fast
A common mistake among professionals is to speak English too fast. Here’s the problem.
If you’re speaking with someone who isn’t used to hearing your accent, chances are they won’t understand you. There are also many native English speakers who aren’t used to hearing anything but their accents. Never mind a foreign accent!
Also, if colleagues have a low level of English, they won’t be able to follow your fast pace.
Many students who speak fast in their own language (yes, that’s you, Spanish speakers!) tend to speed up their English too.
Breathe! Talking without rushing makes you sound more trustworthy, and confident.
Using subtle pauses in English at the right time helps your message come across.
How to speak English with confidence:
- Slow down and focus on pronouncing words the correct way.
- The goal is always to communicate and for people to understand 100% of what you’re saying in English. Not to impress others with how fast you speak.
- To practice, force yourself to speak extremely slowly for 2 minutes, then evaluate. What did you learn? How did it make you feel? Why?
If you speak too fast because you’re nervous, our next piece of advice will help.
2. Control your nerves
In language training courses we tend to put a lot of effort into WHAT we say.
As teachers, we’ll drill you on new vocabulary, grammar and learning phrases. But not so much on stance, or attitude. Speaking English with an air of confidence plays a big role at work though.
Again, it’s not just what you say, it’s HOW you say it. As an example, you can pronounce an English phrase the exact same way, and get different results depending on your tone, and your body language.
Colleagues receive your message in a different way when your message arrives with conviction. This makes you look more knowledgeable and capable at your workplace.
You don’t want to look nervous during a business meeting or let anxiety dominate your voice. This could be mistaken for incompetency.
In an ideal world, you should focus on the topic and getting your message across during the meeting. Not focusing on your English. But of course, to achieve this, you need to have a high level of English (our language coaches can help you with that).
How can I speak confident English if I’m nervous?
- Focus on thinking about how capable you are at work. Remind yourself that you’re knowledgeable about your topic, and how strong you are.
- Visualise how good it will feel once you’ve done the task well.
- Visualise a time when you did something successfully in English, and how you felt at that moment. Stay with that feeling.
- Learn to control your mind. Avoid thoughts like “this is going to end badly” or bringing up past, negative, experiences. “I can handle anything that happens” is your mantra to staying positive and self-assured.
You can ask to practice different techniques with your teacher during English class.
3. Body language
Where are your hands when you speak English? Is your back straight? Do you look people in the eyes during a conversation or a presentation?
Gestures help you express your thoughts in an effective way. The problem is when you start flapping your hands around without intent. Your words and motions should match.
Non-verbal communication can make a huge difference in how colleagues perceive your English.
“Hand gestures are a powerful aspect of communication, from both the speaker’s and the listener’s end.” This is a quote from Dr. Carol Kinsey, a body language expert. She’s also the author of “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work”.
What body language indicates confidence in English?
Us humans process a lot of impressions subconsciously. This means you need to LOOK fluent as you talk in English!
- Practice showing off your most confident body language. Start with a posture that looks like you’re in control.
- Put your shoulders back, straighten your back and look people in the eye.
- You can learn a lot from YouTube videos, podcasts, or books like Dr Kinsey’s.
4. Fluency Training
Where does confidence come from? In terms of English, it comes from being fluent in the language.
Fluency training with a teacher is a shortcut to mastering confidence in English. Tailor-built classes can focus on fluency mixed with exercises to converse effectively.
You start with an online test to determine your level, and you can then ask the teacher to focus on fluency, and pronouncing words clearly. Using materials and resources adapted to workplace settings, you can quickly sound more confident in English during a business meeting.
An experienced teacher helps you learn proper intonation and use subtle pauses. Over time you’ll learn to avoid common mistakes.
And remember, learning should be fun! Depending on where your company is based, you can get subsidies to cover the costs of the classes.
5. Find different ways to speak English with confidence
Practice is key.
Both to learn a language and appear more confident at work. Apart from fluency training with a tutor or online coach, you can practice on your own, and with others.
• Friends. If you have an interview or an important meeting at your workplace, practice with friends. Ask them to give (honest!) feedback on both language skills, and non-verbal communication. Can they put words to how you look while talking? You could also ask colleagues you trust.
• Video. Make a video of yourself speaking. What mistakes do you repeat when you give a speech or answer an interview question? What is your body language communicating? Look for inspirational videos on YouTube to know what you can improve.
• Record your voice. Read a book out loud for 5 minutes, then listen to the recording. What can you learn from your tone of voice? How does it sound? What would you improve? Make a new recording based on your learning, and another one, until you notice improvement.
• Mirror. A friendly face goes a long way. Do you smile more, or less, while speaking English? How does your facial expression change, compared to your own language? Do you look more confident in your native language? Practice a good look.
If you’re a man, practice smiling more. If you’re a female professional, read this.
• YouTube has great resources. Look for online strategies and skills to help you speak confident English. Search for videos related to learning communication skills, how to improve your small talk, how to speak confident English during a job interview, etc. There are also excellent podcasts and YouTube videos to improve intonation.
6. Techniques to sound more assertive in English
In a workplace setting, people tend to look at you with different eyes when you’re assertive.
• Don’t soften. Avoid constantly saying words like “sorry” or softening phrases like “Could I perhaps ask…”.
• Be as direct as you possibly can, and use assertive phrases in English like “I think..” (Mind the business culture, or country culture though, the Brits love their “sorry”!)
• Interruption training. Someone who speaks without confidence at work is more likely to get interrupted. Practice techniques to finish your sentence or interjection, after someone hijacks your turn.
It’s important to get back on track and make your voice heard. Stay calm, make eye contact with the person who interrupted you and say: “Let me finish my sentence and then we can move on to…” or “As I was saying, I think…”, or “Just a second and I’ll finish my…”. Be polite, and assertive.
Learning phrases in advance helps you plan ahead, and you’ll know what words to use. Again, YouTube has many resources if you need inspiration.
• How loud do you speak? See what happens when you speak louder than you usually do (or louder than what feels comfortable). It’s good practice for noisy meetings, and to practice feeling more confident in English.
• Structure content and key points in advance. This helps you calm your nerves while saying stuff in English. “Well, I have two thoughts on this. Number one, is that we can…”
• Stuck trying to remember a word in English? If this happens during a sentence, give yourself a mini moment and signal what is happening. Take a deep breath or hold up your hand to show that you haven’t finished your sentence yet, there’s more to come!
• Practice feeling more confident in English-speaking settings by attending online webinars. Search for educational events and courses. Watch YouTube, movies and series to learn new vocabulary and improve your fluency.
7. Visualizing vs. Fake it till you make it
Don’t worry about making mistakes.
If you’re stuck in a pattern of only visualising mistakes, grab your phone and start a list. For every negative thought, write down something that you got right.
We’re NOT talking about an English public speech that you aced.
We’re talking details.
Small things, like, “yesterday I realised I look different when I straighten my back as I talk”. Or “This morning I spoke English in front of two colleagues and I didn’t make any mistakes”.
You’ll end up with a long list of examples that help you focus on positive aspects. Experiment and visualise your learning! It’s all about the mindset.
Train your brain to stay focused on the positive aspects and push back negative thoughts. In a stressful moment, you might feel your confidence in speaking English winding. Take charge of your brain and visualise the list and how it makes you feel.
Because this is what it comes down to. You can speak English confidently even if you have a low language level. You just need to FEEL like you’ve got this.
This is where “fake it till you make it” comes in. Sometimes it’s helpful to put on an act and pretend you feel more confident than you actually are.
If you keep practising your fluency and English level, you’ll find that you’re not faking it. Over time, you’ll simply speak confident English.
And last but not least, learning a language is hard.
And hey, learning to speak English with authority in a business setting is even more challenging.
Congratulate yourself on small wins, like every new Business English word you learn, and keep your chin up.
Keep talking in English with assertiveness at work, you can do this!