10 tips for overcoming the fear of being bold

I’m working on being bold – whether it’s in a one on one conversation or in a presentation. In the past, I’ve often watered down what I say to avoid upsetting anyone. And I’m not alone. Many of the people that I coach are concerned about being bold. As a result, they dilute their message so much that they have zero impact on their audience.

Cultivate an attitude of boldness

Being bold is not something that you can “pull out of a hat” when you’re giving a presentation or speech. You need to develop an attitude of speaking out in your day to day life. Otherwise you won’t develop the courage to be bold in your presentations. Practice saying what’s on your mind when you’re with just one other person or a small group.

I’ve found blogging to be extremely useful in helping me be bold. Some posts I’ve written have taken me some time to publish because of my fear, but having done so I’m bolder. Here are some thoughts to help you develop an attitude of boldness in everyday life.

1. Stop being nice

What stops me being bold is that I want to be liked, I want to be nice. I don’t want to have to deal with anyone being upset or offended by what I’ve said. It’s worked for me in many ways, but it holds me back too. I keep this quote on a post-it above my desk:

2. Saying what you think enhances your career

Do you hold back saying what you think because you want to make sure that everything you say makes perfect sense and is supported by evidence? Me too. But research shows that people who speak up more are seen as leaders. Now that makes sense, but here’s the topsy-turvy kicker – what they said didn’t have to be particularly brilliant or clever or original. So don’t worry about being perfect, just speak up.

3. Not saying what you think annoys people

I’ve sometimes held back on saying what I think fearing that it will upset people. Then the situation deteriorates and I end of saying what I think, only to be told “Why you didn’t tell me that earlier?”

4. Your ideas can help other people

Do you think your ideas are not worth sharing, that they’re obvious. Then watch this gorgeous, short video (H/T Rich Hopkins):

5. What’s the worst that can happen

Sometimes when I want to say something bold, I stay silent because I just imagine a nameless disaster. But if I think it through  and ask myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” then I realise that the worst that will happen is that the person I’m speaking to might be upset for a day. Can I handle that? Yes, I can! And then often they don’t even get upset for five minutes. They just thank me for being straight! Often the consequences that we fear from being bold don’t materialise.

How to be bold in your presentations

Here are some tips for developing boldness in your presentations:

1. Ask your audience to take action

Just giving your audience information is the safe option. But what does it accomplish? Instead, answer this question:

“What do you want your audience to do with the information you’re giving them.”

Then use your presentation to persuade people to take that action.

For example, in my presentation on Kiva (see my Guide”How to make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation”) I could say to the audience:

“Lending money to poor people is an effective way of helping them.”

It would be interesting information, but I haven’t accomplished anything. Instead I say:

“Lend $25 to a poor person so they can start a business.”

2. Be provocative

In my research on learning styles I came across Frank Coffield, an academic challenging the prevailing mythology of learning styles in education. He said he was inspired by Karl Popper, who wrote in his autobiography:

‘My custom, whenever I am invited to speak in some place, of trying to develop some consequences of my views which I expect to be unacceptable to the particular audience. For I believe that there is only one excuse for a lecture: to challenge. It is the only way in which speech can be better than print’. (Unended Quest Open Court Publishing Company, 1976, p 124)

A friend said to me yesterday “If you don’t miss at least one plane a year, you’re arriving at the airport too early!” Now, I’m not going to change my habit of arriving at the airport in plenty of time, but I can see his point. Similarly, “If you’re not provoking at least one person in your audience, you’re being too nice.”

3. Imagine the friendliest audience

Imagine what you would dare to say if you knew that the audience were the friendliest most supportive bunch of people. That they’re already on your side. Now say that.

4. Express the main point of your presentation in one succinct sentence

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I call this your Key Message. The work of crafting your point into a Key Message has you think through what you really want to say. If you allow yourself several sentences to express your point, you’re likely to have woven all sorts of qualifications and caveats. So don’t. Say it in one clear and succinct sentence.

5. Get rid of weasel words

Do you pepper your phrases with weasel words and phrases? Like “I’d just like to” or “sort of” or “kind of”. They reduce the power and boldness of your ideas. You may not know you’re doing this. So either record yourself and listen back, or ask a friend to give you feedback.

Stop holding back – be bold. You’ll get your message across, spread your ideas and enhance your career.

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