I remember the first lesson I ever taught. The thought of standing up in front of thirty children and expecting them to listen and do as they were told made my heart pound and a cold sweat prickle on my brow. I was full of nerves. But I walked into the classroom and I taught that lesson. It wasn’t brilliant – but I did it. And, having done one, the next one was easier – and better. Now, over twenty years into my career, I think nothing of standing up in in front of 270 students in assembly, or a hall full of parents on our Open Evenings, or even (as I did recently) in front of nearly 400 teachers in the conference centre at Old Trafford, Manchester!
This is how confidence in built. It’s not something that you either have or you don’t: it’s something you develop with practice. The first time you speak up in front of a group of people can be terrifying: what if I make a mistake? What if I get it wrong? What if they think I’m stupid? Those feelings never go away, but the next time they will be lessened, and the next time lessened further, until you think nothing of them at all. That’s when you start to come across as confident.
At Churchill we aim to empower everyone at the Academy to develop knowledge, skills, character and confidence, as we believe these ingredients give young people (and adults!) the best chance of success later in life. We try to create opportunities for our young people to build confidence through practice. One example of this is our Year 8 public speaking competition. Every Year 8 student has the opportunity to give a speech in front of their class. The winners go through to the Year 8 finals, and the winners of that have a chance to compete in the regional Youth Speaks competition organised by the Rotary Club. Each time, the audience is bigger and less familiar, but the staging up allows the students to build their confidence each time.
The same was true at the fantastic Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition, held on Monday evening at St John’s Church in association with Churchill Music! Eight young musicians performed with such self-assurance, commitment and skill that the audience was gripped and enthralled by every one of them.
The chair of the adjudication panel, violinist Ruth Rogers, spoke afterwards about nerves, and about how even she gets nervous every time she performs. Her advice was to focus on another musician, rather than the audience, and to enjoy the performance. Our young musicians definitely benefitted from her advice: if they were nervous, they didn’t show it, and this enabled the audience to put their faith in the performers, to trust them, which allowed them to be carried away by the wonderful music making on display.
Over recent weeks I’ve been interviewing Year 11 students for places in our Sixth Form, and they have all presented themselves really well: good eye contact, a firm handshake, and clear, well articulated answers to my questions. Just like the musicians on Monday night, or the Year 8s the week before, they might have been nervous inside, but they came across as confident, self-assured young people. And it’s the impression you give which matters, not what’s happening inside. That impression of confidence gives people faith in you and your abilities, which in turn helps you to feel more confident in yourself.
So, even if you’re not feeling confident, pretend. Act as if you are. Because the next time, it’ll be easier, and the next time easier still, until, eventually, you’ll find that the confidence you were pretending to have has turned into the real thing. As five times Wimbledon champion and four time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams said:
Believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and some day, you will.