Editor's Notes: Learn to project confidence and credibility

You’ve got the same levels of education and experience as others on your team, but their ideas are heard while yours are overlooked. The problem may not be what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it.

“You may be derailing yourself by behaviors that are invisible to you, but very obvious to your audience,” said Cara Hale Alter, president of SpeechSkills, a San Francisco-based communication training company, and author of “The Credibility Code: How to Project Confidence and Competence When It Matters Most” (Meritus, 2012, $19.95).

Noticing that actors can project credibility or a lack thereof in an instant, Alter spent two decades studying the signals that people send with their posture, voice, gestures and eye contact. She has coached many executives on how to project more confidence and competence.

“As a leader in global health, I know that the right medicine is useless without the ability to deliver it to those who need it. The same is true for ideas,” Dr. David R. Bangsberg, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital for Global Health, wrote in the foreward to Alter’s book. “Credibility is not about having great ideas but, rather, about saying those ideas so that people will listen.”

Because they interact with peers, supervisors, patients and families, “health care professionals have the additional challenge of balancing authority and approachability in their daily communications,” Alter said. “They need to look like experts and function on a collaborative team, but patients need to see them as empathetic and accessible. The professional who knows how to appear competent and approachable has an enormous advantage.”

That begins with self-examination.

“The first step is to learn what confidence looks like and then take a courageous look at how you speak,” Alter said. “A video camera is your best tool for recording your normal speech patterns.”

The good news is that you can recognize and fix blind spots that impede job effectiveness. Some common derailers include:

Not keeping a level head. Hold your chin too high and you look aggressive or condescending.

Holding your chin too low and looking submissive or deflated. “Lengthen your spine, stand up straight and keep your head level. You project confidence when you take up more space,” she said.

Using empty words. “Speech fillers like, ‘um’ and ‘you know’ are ubiquitous in our culture, but they distract from your message and extinguish your passion,” Alter said.

Misplaced upward inflection. “Traditionally, sentences that start high and cascade downward in tone sound like statements. You mean what you say,” Alter said. “If you start low and end high, it sounds like a question.”

Excessive movement. “Jiggling your knee, bobbing your head or shifting your weight can weaken your personal power,” she said. “Stillness sends a message that you’re calm and confident.”

Losing eye contact. “When you drop eye contact, you drop out of the game [conversation]. Give your listeners the same respect you want from them — your full attention,” Alter said.

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