To Show Up With More Confidence, Play a More Confident Character

Some people just seem to be born confident. When they enter a room, you feel the power of their presence. They don’t hesitate to ask for what they want — a raise, a promotion, or a free upgrade on a flight. And when they speak, people listen.

But are they really born that way? Or can confidence be learned? If you’ve lost yours, can you find it again?

After two decades spent coaching organizations and executives in using the tools of theatrical performance to enhance how they show up in the workplace, I’ve come to believe that confidence is, fundamentally, a choice. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can decide how you portray yourself — which impacts both how you are perceived and how you perceive yourself at work.

One of the first steps to having more confidence is to perform more confidently — even if you don’t feel that way. And yes, I mean act and perform, the way professional actors do. We all have the ability to do this — to creatively perform as who we’re not (yet), and to do things before we know how. It’s how we learned almost everything when we were children, and for adults it’s also a method for lifelong growth and change.

It’s easy to get started. First, observe your current performance. Visualize your workplace as a scene onstage or in a TV show. Now imagine yourself in the audience, watching yourself in the show. What role(s) do you play? How do you interact with the others? Would you describe your character as confident? When, why, and why not?

Now, what are the more confident performances you’d like to see from yourself? Speaking up at meetings? Taking more risks? Being more relaxed? Negotiating bigger deals?

As you perform confidence, you will become confident, and here are some theater techniques to get you started:

1. Craft a confident character.

Identify a colleague who conveys confidence and presence that you admire. Picture that person in action. How would you describe him or her? Use adjectives — for example, clear, calm, brave, warm, assertive, generous. Each of these attributes can be performed. Try them out one at a time as part of your new, more confident character.

2. Don’t fear what you don’t know.

Business, culture and technology are all in flux. Not knowing is the reality of our times. Make the strong choice to perform as someone who embraces ambiguity in the world of business and life. Be the learner who is interested in discovering and understanding as the changing situation unfolds.

3. Build your board of advisors.

These are mentors and friends who care about your success — ideally, it’s a small group of people who know you well and will give you honest feedback and encouragement. Ask them to help you identify strengths you may have overlooked, and identify assets to build upon.

4. Transform your tale.

We all have stories to explain who we are and how we got here. Is yours stale and self-limiting? (You should ask your board of advisors.) If so, rewrite it. The same goes for the habitual scripts that may be undermining you. Do you begin statements with, “I’m sorry but…”? Cross out these empty apologies and excuses. Write yourself some new lines (and feel free to borrow them from the confidence role models you identified in #1).

5. It’s showtime.

At your next presentation, please do not just read the bullet points on your slides. Perform your presentation with some drama. Rehearse, prepare, and experiment. Try starting with “Once upon a time…” Or, create a fun premise — for example, talk to the audience as if what you have to say is top secret. Or find the most interesting thing about your presentation and start there with the grabber, then go back and fill in the details.

Finally, when you receive appreciation — accept it. As a lifelong performer, I sometimes like to literally take a bow — but you can do it your own way. Accepting praise can be a challenge for some people. Don’t deflect it — take it in, and say ‘thank you’ like the confident person you’ve become.

Originally published on

Cathy Salit is a performer and a founder of Performance of a Lifetime. Her book, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work (Hachette Books) is on sale everywhere books are sold.

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