To Boost Public Speaking Confidence, Take Time to Take a Bow

Eleni Kelakos Executive leadership coaching, Peak Performance, presentation skills training, public speaking training, speech coaching, Women in Leadership

Claudia had spent weeks working with me to prepare a high-level presentation for a prestigious conference that would showcase her considerable expertise.  The effort she’d put into developing and internalizing the presentation was almost as mighty as the effort she’d put into managing the anxiety she’d had about giving it.   I was confident that she was ready, and that her performance would make us both proud. On the day Claudia gave her presentation, she shot me a brief text:  “Went great! More when I see you next week.” 

Claudia’s brief text sounded triumphant. Which was why I was so taken aback when, at our next coaching session,  Claudia immediately launched into a treatise on what had gone wrong with her presentation. She’d been a little breathy and nervous at the beginning, she explained. She tripped over a word or two halfway through. She’d almost—but not quite– gone over her allotted time. All minor issues, in my estimation.  I held up my hand to interrupt her relentless recounting of the negative.

“Claudia,” I said, “Let me ask you a question: Did you solve your intention? Did you do what you intended to do on behalf of your audience?”

 “Yes, I’m pretty sure I did,” Claudia said.

“And did your audience appear engaged and involved in what you were saying?”

“There was lots of head-nodding and interaction throughout the presentation,” Claudia said.

“And what about when you were done, did people applaud?”

“Well, yes” Claudia replied. “Some of them even gave me a standing ovation”

“And after that, did anyone come up to you and make positive remarks?”

 “Sure,” she replied, “and some of them even asked me to speak at their events.”

“Claudia,” I said, it sounds to me like there’s a great deal about your presentation that went brilliantly! But instead of highlighting those positives, your vaulted right over them to the not-so-good-negatives. The fact is you’ve earned the right to take the time to feel good about what went well. You worked your buns off on this presentation, and it was a huge professional and personal accomplishment for you! So, before you go to the fix it phase, go to the celebrate it phase: By that I mean stop and take a bow, metaphorically speaking. You deserve it!”

The sixth and final phase of my Take the Stage success cycle is Take a Bow:  Breathe, be, and acknowledge the hard work, commitment and fortitude that moved you from the shadows of the wings to the visibility of the spotlight.  Unfortunately, too many women decline or forget to take a bow. Like Claudia, they’re perpetual perfectionists who pooh-pooh or overlook what they’ve just accomplished as speakers or leaders and move too quickly towards what needs to be fixed instead of what needs to be celebrated, often beating themselves into a pulp in the process. And because they do, they not only rob themselves of the good feelings that come with acknowledging the good, hard work they’ve done, they deny themselves the satisfaction that comes with completing an important goal, project or performance.

I learned the value of taking a bow when, as a professional actress, I joined my fellow cast members in assembling on the stage after the show was done and taking a bow while the audience applauded. We did this night after night, performance after performance. We bowed whether we’d given a brilliant performance or even one that– in spite of our efforts– was fair-to-middling.  We bowed to acknowledge our appreciation of the audience’s appreciation and to honor the hard work and commitment that went into our performance. Finally, we bowed to allow ourselves a precious, blissful moment or so to bask in the applause and the good feeling of a job well done. We knew that, soon enough, our director would be cornering us with notes and suggestions on how to improve our performances—because when it comes to acting or speaking mastery, there’s always something to more to fix and to finesse.

What about you? After you’ve given a speech presentation, do you allow yourself to take a bow, metaphorically speaking, giving yourself some time to appreciate what you did right? Or do you tend to leapfrog over the bow in favor of beating yourself up over what went wrong?

Taking a bow puts a graceful period on what you’ve accomplished. It opens you up to receiving appreciation not just from others, but from yourself. And it allows you to consciously add one more accomplishment to your “I can do it” box— which builds up your confidence and elevates your presence, so you can become an even more effective presenter.