A few weeks ago, I attended the Skift Global Forum, an amazing event some have called the “TED of Travel” for about 1,000 travel executives from around the world to discuss the future of our industry.
At $2,500 per ticket, this event isn’t for beginners. You better be ready for some firm handshakes, to meet some straight-talking CEOs, and to realize that most of them in travel (despite what it looks like as you move down the ranks and into the customer base) are white, middle-aged men.
So here I am, sporting a short mauve dress and a white blazer while mingling in a crowd of tall, black suits. I walk back and forth around the lobby of Lincoln Center, looking at my phone or snacking or pretending I need to be somewhere because I’m terrified of breaking into someone else’s conversation.
I go to an exhibitor table where a women in her 20s or 30s barely smiles. I try to engage her in conversation by asking her to tell me about her company. When she does, I smile broadly. “I run a global network of women who travel,” I say with as much confidence as I can muster. “This would be great for them to know about.”
The young woman clearly doesn’t care.
As I walk away, I can’t help but wonder if she’s judging me. I wouldn’t blame her for her bias. I’m sure she’s been to dozens of events like these, and has made the time-saving observation that a middle-aged man means CEO and a young woman means coordinator or assistant. It’s probably served her well for her professional career.
I text my team. “So intimidated!!” I write. “Everyone in here is a CEO.”
My digital content manager, Ariel, replies right away. “Beth, you’re a CEO too,” she says.
It’s true. I forget that. I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ever felt nervous walking up to a CEO at a conference and introducing himself. I try to imagine it and it seems impossible. I can only see him strutting in, perhaps even interrupting someone mid-sentence, and in his head thinking, “I’m much smarter than you, and if you don’t care to listen to me, I don’t care about you either.” Or something to the effect.
Does it have to do with my being a woman that makes me such an insecure CEO at times like this? Am I judging myself as harshly as that woman was?
That evening, I have dinner with my cousin, Ann Marie. She lives in a tiny dorm room in Greenwich Village and it’s absolutely adorable. I tell her my fears and she laughs. “I’m sure you’ll be fine in the morning,” she says lightly. “You probably just need a day to warm up.”
Sure enough, the next morning I feel ready.
It doesn’t always happen that way. Some days I run events with 400 people and make confident jokes on stage. Other days I shrink behind my hoodie in the soft lighting of a Starbucks. I am both an introvert and an extrovert – it just depends on the day you catch me.
Yet it can be hard to run the world when you’re not sure if you’re going to feel confident one day or shy the next. So what you have to do is figure out how to make your confidence come to you whenever you want it.
Here’s how to be confident — at the very moment that you want to be.
Think About a Time When You Were a Total Badass
Before going into your next social situation, take a few minutes to think about a time when you absolutely nailed something. Close your eyes. Really visualize it. Imagine yourself when you walked into that room, how you smiled, what you did, what you said. Imagine how people reacted. How did it feel?
Open your eyes again.
There are psychological studies that prove that if you visualize a situation when you were a total badass, you are more likely to display more confidence immediately after.
Do Power Poses (I’m Not Kidding, They Work)
Have you seen the TED talk about power poses? They’re real. Stretch your body out and take up lots of space. Then close it tight. Then repeat.
Simply taking up more space – the very basic practice of reaching your hands out as far as they can go – and holding it for a moment can make you exude confidence.
I have seen so many women, including myself, serve as victims to this simple function. We scrunch ourselves into little balls, closing our arms around our chests, crossing our legs. And what happens? We speak up less. Let’s be proud of the space we take up.
Reflect on What You Have to Offer (and What They’re Missing)
Sometimes being in a moment of excitement and stress causes my head to blank. What am I here for? Who am I again?
Take some time before you arrive to think about what you have to contribute to the conversation. Sure, everyone here is a middle-aged man, but do they have a first-hand understanding of the female travel demographic like I do? How can THEY benefit from learning about OUR community?
Have a few points in your head first so that when you go in, you know exactly why you’re there and what you can contribute to the conversation.
Wear Boss Lipstick. Put on a Power Suit. Walk in With Your Favorite Coffee. Strut.
Sometimes just playing the part makes the biggest difference in the world. If I walk into a place with bright red lipstick and a sharp suit I’m already feeling more confident. Not to mention if I walk in with my preferred coffee of choice. I basically look like I own shit.
Don’t be afraid to look the part. You might just be the first person you fire up.
Talk About Anything But Business
This is my husband, Marvin’s, trick. He makes more business contacts than Bill Gates simply by talking about Star Wars, ‘80s music, Kanye West’s recent outburst…you name it. He has an uncanny ability to turn strangers into friends.
But there’s something about not talking about business at all that makes a world of a difference. When I walk into a room, I’m already looking for who I can pitch, who can help my business, and whose card I want. Marvin just looks for someone who is willing to talk about where to find the best New York slice.
There are two things that are brilliant about this:
First, it keeps the conversation open to others. It’s easy for other people to join in when you’re debating if Michael Keaton or Ben Affleck played a better Batman. It also allows you to build friendly relations with someone, who will then be much more open to you talking business when you approach them later.
Second, it underscores the fact that not everyone always wants to talk about business. As an entrepreneur, this is a completely foreign concept to me. My job – my life – consists of talking about Wanderful and meeting people with the passion that I have. But when you run your own business, you need to realize that not everyone runs their own business too. Sure, someone may love their job, but it might not be the first thing they want to talk about at any given moment. And if that’s the only thing you ever jump to, you’ve just become exceptionally boring.
I hope these tips help you find that confidence when you need it most, and I would love for you to share your favorite tidbits in the comments section below! Let’s help each other own the floor. The difference between you losing and winning the deal of your life may just come down to a pep talk, some stretching, and a tall caramel latte.