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Fake it until you make it

Fake it until you make it

Fake it till you make it

Before I turned my attention to using drama in learning, I did tread the boards as an actor. At that time, I was crippled with stage fright. The fears were many. I would forget my lines, I would mess up the direction, I would speak badly or just generally be rubbish. 

Leading up to a performance, this feeling was so intense that it was difficult for me to sleep or to communicate effectively with anyone. Once the performance was underway, however, the nerves became an energy that I channelled through another character.  And this, to the audience, looked like confidence.  

In my drama studies, I learned that nerves are something that you feel, it does not necessarily have to be something that other people see. 

Close to the same level of fright used to haunt my early forays into the training world.  I was frightened I’d miss the learning, afraid people would ask a question that I couldn’t answer, scared they would not take me seriously or again that I’d generally just be a bit rubbish! This was what was going on inside me, but this anxiety was something that would not have been helpful to show the delegates in whom I was trying to inspire confidence; so, I put on a front.        

I developed my confident persona. Just like the characters I used to play, I would wear it like a cloak, another level of disguise. Taking insight from the acting legend Archibald Leach (AKA Cary Grant):  

“I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.”

There is an unhelpful belief that confidence is something others are born with, an immutable trait.  It may be true that some people are more extrovert than others, but for most people, confidence is not an inherent talent but a skill. If we adopt a growth mindset then we see that like any other ‘skill’ the more you practice, the better you get.  

Over all the years I have been delivering training programmes, having ‘real’ (and often challenging) conversations is invariably the part people say that they feel nervous about and lacking in confidence. We provide all the tools and support we can to help them over those first few times of ‘acting it out’. Despite their initial feelings one of the most rewarding parts of my job is to see people relaxing in to a new, more confident, way of communicating and engaging with others. They take on the ‘role’ and then make it their own, part of their skill bank for the future.     

As for myself, after nearly thirty years in the business the confidence that I once faked has now become a reality.  I often present to conferences of 300 or 400+ people, and even though I still get the pre-delivery twinges, they are not debilitating in any way. Indeed, I now see these as a very positive thing. The residual nerves I still feel are a reminder that I care, that I want to get it right, and are a prompt to always be prepared and never to become complacent.  

Shaun Curry specialises in safety cultures, and you can get in touch with him via

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