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Third Law of Confidence

The third law is devastatingly simple: saying your own name loudly and clearly. I don’t mean shouting it out, or enunciating it like a prat, I mean saying it so that everyone who needs to hear it can; and that they will hear it said with ringing clarity and…confidence. Or that is what they will infer. Even if your little heart is beating a hundred a minute and your palms are sweating, if you can say your name loudly and clearly when someone asks you, you will strangely become confident. The sweat will miraculously start to dry, the heart subside.


There are supporting acts to this law which I have gleaned from the always fascinating sci-fi author A.E. Van Vogt. These are- be able to offer sincere congratulations to someone- be it for birthday, promotion or new child, to be able to say Hello in a clear and unaffected way and to be able to ask again if you did not catch someone’s name when it was first spoken.


This is it. Nothing more. Confidence doesn’t start on the inside. It starts on the outside. If you act confidently, you become confident. Everyone has an anxiety machine inside them. Turn it to your advantage. Use that anxious voice to focus and deliver external behaviour. Don’t let it cripple you with inner dialogue. Just say to yourself- how can I use this excess emotional energy to my advantage? OK I’ll use it to be super sharp and precise in what I say.


The power of names


I was at a party and a woman of about thirty five introduced herself as Scraggy. She was good looking, had an attractive manner and yet she was proudly calling herself by a name that surely no one found anything less than repulsive. It was of course, as she told me, a school nickname. “Everyone calls me that,” she said with defiance, “I couldn’t care less.” Maybe not, but could. It’s like telling someone about a novel you like that has a stupid title. It’s embarrassing; it may even stop you recommending it. Though Scraggy was admirably unconcerned her school name lacked dignity. And it showed a willingness to bend to old school ‘pals’ who wanted to trap her in the submissive position of having to live with a daft nickname.


I’ve noticed that many successful writers and artists date their success from the moment they renamethemselves. There is something magical about a good name – and I speak as someone who has had to invent names for novels and short stories I have written. A good name brings a constellation of associations and is just easier to write dialogue and action for. A bad name is positively deadening. In between are the usual familiar names that are neutral- offering neither inspiration nor its opposite.


Some people have a habit of repeating their own name to themselves as a kind psyching up technique- how much more effective that is if your name is one that has the right associations and overtones. My good friend Helena Edwards, a writer and traveller, changed her name from Joan after a meeting with the celebrated Russian thinker G.I. Gurdjieff, “Joan? Joan? Everybody called Joan!” he said on meeting her. Helena told me she had always disliked the name but just stuck with it out of habit. And the thing was, Helena suited her much much better.


Traditional tribes- meaning people still living with an intact understanding of ancient knowledge- often have three names- the ‘public’ one that is used for dealing with the outside world, one that is used in the tribe and one that is reserved for the most secret purposes. To some extent this mirrors the ‘state name’ that many marginalised folk in the UK maintain alongside their ‘street name’. The ancient fairy story of Rumpelstiltskin shows the power of a secret name- once known, the knower has power over the named one.


Names summon up an identity in condensed form. They affect how people view you in the crucial first 30 seconds in which they make up their mind about you. Though there is something admirably uncaring about sticking with a silly name (the jokes Ed Balls must have lived through…) there is no harm in benefiting from the slipstream of a good name that people like to repeat. All this has a bearing on your ability to say your name clearly and loud enough.


So find the version of your name you are comfortable saying out loud in front of strangers. If it isn’t ‘you’, change it- or start using another. Or simply practice saying your name to the mirror in a blank and unstressed way- focusing on clarity and lack of overt emotion- no need to sound as if you’re laying an egg. A fairly flat unemotive tone can be your baseline as long as it is clear and pervaded by conviction. Of course people might mistake you for a copper…With practise, though, you will develop a way of speaking that convinces both yourself and the listener. Don’t shy away from videoing yourself offering congratulations and saying your name. It’s what actors and TV presenters do, so in this video-saturated age- why not you too? It may show up some alarming glitches and previously unknown habits, but it will improve your performance ten times over.


Performance? Exactly. You may have been labouring under the misapprehension that it is ‘the real you’ people are perceiving when you stride into a room. Nonsense. Only your closest friends and family know the real you in any kind of meaningful detail (and even they are probably half in the dark). No, the real you is something that people who meet you CANNOT perceive. You need to perform, to act, to present in order to re-present. You re-present your inner self by providing an analogousversion of your real self. And by real self I mean the ideal self- the best version of you. Who is naturally calm, collected, confident and coherent.


So you need to perform confidently in the way you speak. We have dealt with the neurological feedback of posture already. A confident way of speaking also feedsback and helps stem the anxiety. People barely register the content of what you say compared to HOW you say it (this varies, depending on how intellectually oriented they are, but broadly all people react to container not content). And the container is: the tone and volume of your voice. That is the real message you convey during such seemingly meaningless interchanges as saying your name and asking another person theirs.


Why do you think many Americans seem so much more confident than Brits in everyday encounters? Because these very skills- speaking clearly and offering congratulations- are things they learn early. I have seen some very shy and introverted Americans delivering witty and amusing and ‘confident’ speeches when they have to. Inside they’ll admit they are churned up and nervous- but the culture- in which being ‘relaxed’ is almost an artform- has encouraged them to disregard these feelings. Lacking ‘confidence’ of this kind is simply unAmerican…


Contrast this with the Japanese where it is good manners to act ‘nervous’ on a first encounter. It’s funny when you meet someone obviously relaxed doing their best to appear a little nervous and wary when meeting you for the first time. Of course the next time you meet it can be very different. But even the Japanese are taught from a very early age to shout out their name loudly and clearly when asked.


Nervous or not, the act of speaking with clarity and a decent volume will communicate confidence. And confidence breeds confidence. Your interlocutor will assume you are self-assured and act accordingly. Which will increase your steady bearing and so on in a virtuous cycle.



How deep is your voice?


Studies[1]have shown that deep voices are correlated to higher earnings as a CEO of a big corporation. Since such jobs are as much acting as substance, this isn’t too surprising. The fraudulent CEO of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes- who was listed by Forbes in 2015 as the youngest and wealthiest female billionaire in the US (before it was realised her blood sampling invention didn’t work) managed to raise colossal sums of start-up money with a stellar list of investors. The ability to convince investors was her speciality and she was known to have a special, unnaturally deep, voice for presentations… and a much higher voice for her private life. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, suffered from voice problems for several years after he adopted a fake deep voice while he worked in the corporate world. He claimed that though he was incompetent at his job he was always seen as promising owing to the ‘respect’ garnered by his deep voice. People thought he sounded confident even though he was talking bullshit…


Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending the ‘con’ side of confidence. I am just revealing that confidence is NOT about inner state, it is about outer behaviour.


Status again.


Certainly higher status is signalled in primates by a deeper voice. A louder voice also has the same effect. As with our earlier discussion about posture and status, a kind of reverse high status can be achieved by having a very quiet voice- like the Godfather actor Marlon Brando- when a loud deep voice is expected. (Oddly enough many real life tough guys like Mike Tyson have high pitched voices.)


But confidence is not just about being high status. You can be confident and low status too. As long as that posture serves your needs. The hilarious Fast Show sketch that features the intrusive menswear shop assistants who keep saying ‘suits you sir’ ostensibly act low status- as befitting their humble occupation- but they end up dominating the poor customer with their lewd questioning. The fall guy or the straight man in a comedy act make act high or low status- it doesn’t matter which since it is all in the service of making people laugh. We in the West get too hung up in status without realising how malleable it is and how it is there to be used, rather than using us. It’s easy to confuse a high status manner with confidence, but real confidence is measured by what you do, not how you appear. Isn’t that a contradiction of the whole importance of speaking loud and clear? Not really- functional confidence requires good and clear communication skills- nothing more or less. The purpose of the third law is to eliminate hang-ups you may have about your ‘inner state’ when you are about to open your mouth. By greeting and congratulating people clearly and loudly enough you slay those fears.


How to speak on any subject for 15 minutes


Anxieties about speaking in public famously rival those of possible death. It is something that can reduce the most confident seeming person to a drivelling wreck and yet the solution to the ‘problem’ is fiendishly simple and based on improvised acting. From impro acting classes you learn to lose inhibitions about going on stage unprepared- which is as close to real life as it gets. The following exercise is from impro coach Keith Johnstone and it will give you everything you need to quell inner anxiety about public speaking- I mean if you can talk on ANY SUBJECT for 15 minutes what else is there to scare you?


It is irrelevant whether you know anything about the subject or not. For the first five minutes simply state what you are thinking. If it’s hot in the room, say so. If you had a bad car drive there, say so. If you are feeling nervous, say so. The bizarre fact is, once you admit you are feeling nervous in front of an audience you will no longer feel paralysed by that fact. What’s more, the audience will now be on your side and you’ll feel it. Just as a wedding audience are on the side of the best man, so an audience you tell the truth to, will be on your side. And by truth I simply mean what is going on in your mind and in the theatre. You have ceased mining your memory for a ‘good speech’ and become simply a transmitter of existing material.


After five minutes of this though your audience may be expecting more.


The next move is always interesting. Ask the audience. You’ll be surprised how often an expert in the subject you are supposed to be discussing is actually sitting in front of you. Partly it can be explained by the need of people who know a subject to test others in the same field. Partly, too, many experts are rather shy of putting themselves forward but wait for opportunities to do so that are created by others. Your talk could be such an opportunity. And if you are tasked at the last minute with talking on a subject you know absolutely nothing about for 15 minutes you need all the help you can get. You ask the audience politely and when you find your man or woman you introduce them respectfully to everyone in the room. You converse with them in an interested way and then you thank them sincerely and also ask the audience to give them a big hand too.


That’s another five minutes gone.


Now you are in the back straight and you have a final trump card: change the emotion. If you have been talking positively about nuclear power, killer bees or orchids you must now make a stunning revelation to the audience, “I am actually something of a fraud as I really hate XYZ”. You then go on a rant espousing the opposite point of view employing hate instead of admiration. If you have earlier been talking in an aggrieved manner, reverse it and start speaking in a relieved manner. Whatever you do REVERSE that emotion. The audience will be stunned…for another five minutes. At which point you wind up your impromptu speech.


These techniques can be used anytime and in any situation when you have to engage your ‘talking machine’. You can reverse emotion in a conversation to get things going. You can relay what you are feeling RIGHT NOW. You can show a real interest in another person and find out the subject they really know about.


When you know that never again will you be stuck for words it will cause a considerable dip in the anxiety you feel about speaking in public- and a consequent rise in all round confidence.


What’s your job?


Many people feel somewhat unnerved when they meet strangers and have to answer the inevitable question “and what do you do?” Some feel their job title is boring- so they answer “I’m a boring accountant”. Some soldier on and then chose to ignore the glazed eyes when they answer. But there is another way.


Instead of answering ‘accountant’ you could say what you really do each day- “I move things into different categories in order to get money for the things I want to get done.” I sometimes answer instead of writer, “I mostly write proposals for books that get turned down, maybe four out of five times, but sometimes become bestsellers.”


It doesn’t take much thought to come up with a description of what you reallydo rather than the tired old usual handle used to describe your work. And it is genuinely informative as many people don’t actually know what an accountant or a tax inspector does on a day to day basis. So, shift the emphasis from the usual to an unusual description in the active concrete present not the abstract and generalised past.


Another interesting tack is to say what you did that day- people are always interested in a day in the life of a stranger…


But the source of this anxiety is deeper, lying as so much does, with our sense of identity. Who am I? the philosopher has always asked and so, of course, does just about everyone else, I mean, who am I really?


Doubts about your real identity, the real you, your core, afflict everyone from time to time. If it strikes when you actually have to do something active and it gets in the way it looks very much like a failure of confidence. The fact is, your identity is made of up of multiple strands of self. Different ones come to the fore depending on the situation. Some can lie dormant for years, only to reappear with a vengeance. If you are wise you’ll weave these strands into an integrated self- as much as you can. And the ones that seem to contradict each other you just acknowledge and establish a work-around. For example – you may love the outdoors but your ambition has driven you to take an office job. In that case every month take off with no tent, minimal food and some warm clothing and simply rough it in the wilderness. Get an extreme version of the outdoors to counteract your long days indoors. Once a self-contradiction is acknowledged its destructive power is curtailed. It is when we try to force ourselves to be one thing or another but not boththat we face a backlash, when the dismissed self stages a comeback.


Establishing who you are, is less about introspection and more about being observant- especially when you are in a new or unfamiliar situation- such as travelling abroad. Watch what you do and what you gravitate towards and what you avoid. All this will supply useful information about who you really are.



The kind of attention we can work with


When you reply in a clear and loud enough voice you are being functional. The needs of the situation have been met. People standing near will know you know the score: that being shy and hesitant is a non-useful attitude. Their palpable relief (unless they are weird and sadistic and like picking on the timid) will result in easy conversation and follow up behaviour. But what has really happened is that you been in an attention exchange and behaved honestly. You have not demanded more attention from it than the situation can supply. If you talk over loudly, or in a whisper that people can’t hear, you are demanding attention, more than the situation is equipped to dish out. You are being needy and no one likes a needy person. When you realise that a lot of life’s misunderstandings stem from people who have too little attention trying to get more out of situation than it is designed to yield, you’ll be able to adjust your own behaviour- and instead of having that attention denied (what we do to ‘punish’ needy folk) you’ll get your fair share. Constructing a day so that it has enough fair attention interactions is not a difficult thing to do. And knowing how to get enough attention is a key part to being confident.





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