How to instantly seem more confident, according to Deborah Frances-White

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Moya Crockett
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The host of The Guilty Feminist podcast shares her ultimate advice for looking and sounding self-assured.  

Feeling and appearing confident isn’t always easy, particularly in professional settings. Even if you know that you’re capable of doing your job to a high standard, communicating that competency – whether you’re delivering a big presentation to colleagues, networking at an important event or being interviewed for a new job – can often feel daunting.

As a comedian, corporate speaker, confidence coach and host of The Guilty Feminist podcast, Deborah Frances-White has to give off an air of unshakeable confidence almost every day. So at Stylist Live 2018, we asked her to share her advice for seeming self-assured – even if you’re really quaking in your boots.

The word ‘confidence’ comes from the Latin word confidere, Frances-White explains, which means ‘trust’. “That’s what self-confidence is – I trust me to do this.” 

So the first step to feeling and seeming confident is having faith in your own abilities. Remember: you wouldn’t be where you are today if you weren’t good at what you do.

Ellen DeGeneres: one of Deborah Frances-White’s confidence icons

The second step is “your ability to signal to the room: ‘I trust myself to do this.’” This is something that women tend to struggle with more than men, Frances-White observes.

She attributes to the fact that the world at large still does not always trust women – especially women of colour – to hold positions of power. Sometimes this prejudice will be overtly performed, but often it will be more subtle: “tiny little micro-signals from the group that question whether you are up to this task”.

These micro-signals “can start to erode your trust in yourself,” Frances-White continues. “So the trick is to start to ignore or override the signals you’re getting from the tribe when they’re negative, and start to act as if they’re positive.”

This is difficult to do, but it is “absolutely possible,” The Guilty Feminist host says. How? In a nutshell, it’s all about including ourselves in a situation – rather than waiting to be included by others.

“Our tribal confidence is really our ability to feel like we are included,” says Frances-White. Think about the situations where you feel most lacking in confidence, such as awkward networking events where you don’t know anybody. Why do you get so nervous? Because you don’t feel like you’re part of a group.

Given that women and particularly women of colour “have been routinely excluded by history,” Frances-White continues, “it’s really easy to self-exclude.”

But there is another way. Rather than deciding that you feel so uneasy and left out at an event that you’re just going to sit in the corner and look at your phone, force yourself to include yourself.

Frances-White cites three examples of famous ‘self-includers’: Oprah Winfrey, who grew up as “as a young black girl with fluctuating weight growing up in an abusive household”; Michelle Obama, “a working-class black girl from a working-class neighbourhood”; and Ellen DeGeneres, who was shunned by “half of America” after coming out as a lesbian in the 1997.

Michelle Obama: one of the world’s great “self-includers”

Neither Winfrey, Obama nor DeGeneres were automatically included in the worlds of media, law, politics, comedy, television and film that they went on to dominate, Frances-White points out.

“Here’s the real secret of what Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama did to become as powerful as they’ve become: they assumed their own inclusion,” she says. 

“They come onto the stage and say, my world is a wonderful place to be. I wait for nobody to give me permission to take this space, live my life and share my dreams. I give me permission.’

“And then they say, ‘Do you know who I need to fulfil these dreams? You. I include you.’ They are the greatest includers of others.”

Remember the idea of self-inclusion whenever you’re feeling wobbly, Frances-White says. “When you walk up to someone you want to meet, walk up the way you think Michelle Obama would, the way you think Ellen would, the way you think Oprah would. Or pick someone else you admire and do it the way you think they would do it.

“Never make ‘them’ include you. You include yourself – and then you include them.”

To get more insider insights from Stylist Live 2018, click here.

Images: Getty Images