As a Senior Account Executive, I’m still fairly junior in the world of PR and Communications.
While I’ve worked in the industry for more than five years in PR, events, external and internal comms, creative and corporate writing (and the list goes on), I still find myself a little nervous picking up the phone with an important pitch to a big name journalist or presenting a strategy to a major client for the first time.
Part of a publicist’s role is to be calm and confident at all times, and keep those around them feeling the same. And you know what? We nail it every time. But that doesn’t mean we’re not battling some nerves on the inside.
I’m a firm believer that nerves are a positive thing. They put adrenaline to good use, giving us energy and enthusiasm to dazzle the people we’re speaking to and help us to communicate with that extra bit of sparkle.
As someone who has had to build up my confidence throughout the early stages of my career, here are my top tips for nailing confident, even when you’re not.
Preparing is everything.
As the saying goes, ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ – as obvious as it sounds, this is absolutely true! If you don’t feel confident to answer questions or further explain something you’ve said, the chances are you’re unprepared. Spend some time getting to know the topic you’re covering; read up on the client via their owned channels, check out any recent media coverage, flick through a book on the topic, or (my personal favourite) watch one of the thousands of educational videos available on YouTube.
As a bit of a bookworm, I find my confidence skyrockets when I enter a room armed with information… and to be honest, I often find that I have picked up a fact or piece of information that even the expert in the room doesn’t know (extra brownie points for you).
Understand what you’re saying.
As publicists and communication experts, we often need to work with clients in a field or industry that we are not overly familiar with. It’s part of the job and one of the biggest challenges we face every day – how are you supposed to explain or ‘sell’ something you don’t understand yourself?
It’s simple, really. Learn to talk about the topic/client/product in a way that you understand – don’t worry too much about how it was originally briefed, or written in a book, or explained by an industry professional. When you know what you’re talking about and could explain to almost anyone, you immediately seem more confident and those around you feel like they are in safe hands (because they are!).
One of the perks of being a publicist is that you very quickly become the person who knows something about everything – motor sports? Here’s the results for the latest Supercars event. Mining? Here’s a great article I read this morning on employment within the industry. Disability in the community? There’s a festival launching in April aimed at people of all abilities.
Practise your presentation skills.
The tone and pace of someone’s voice is one of the easiest ways to pick up on nerves. Are you churning through words at light speed or finishing every sentence with that incredibly annoying habit of rising inflection?
As a naturally fast and animated speaker, I struggled with this for a long time, rushing through presentations and tripping over my words. Over the years, I have worked hard to hone this skill by actively slowing down my speech, enunciating words and managing my tone. I also had to train myself to conquer my fear of pauses – these are a fantastic time for the person you are speaking with to process what you’ve said, ask questions or for you to regroup before continuing.
While you might still be nervous when giving a big presentation (like most people are, regardless of their experience), the only person in the room who will know is you.
Talk to your mentors.
If there’s something specific that’s knocking your confidence, the very best way to address it is head on. Sure, the feedback you receive might be difficult to hear, but it’s often the harshest feedback that helps us the most in the long run. Worried that your body language might be off? Ask someone to observe you next time you’re speaking to a group. Noticing that you often need to repeat yourself when speaking over the phone? Ask someone to listen in on your next conversation and see whether you’re speaking too quickly.
Once you identify areas for improvement, you can work on them one at a time until your delivery is crystal-clear, passionate and bang-on every single time.