Terrorists. Security breaches. A global pandemic. Our media, entertainment, and political figures fixate on imminent perils to captivate audiences. Fear may be a great motivator, but unfortunately it tends to make us feel powerless rather than proficient.
Despite a focus on our (or their) shortcomings, we live in a time of unmatched abundance and technological wizardry that dwarfs the wildest imagination. We have decoded the human genome, developed new sources of clean energy, and made advances in human rights. We carry hand-held computers that can map every location we visit, play every song we’ve ever heard, and show cat videos on an endless loop. We land a spacecraft on Mars and people yawn.
We should feel empowered by our triumphs against long odds and all manner of dangerous obstacles. One would think we’d be more optimistic about outcomes based on our successful track record. Why aren’t we brimming with confidence?
The missing ingredient
Some people just have that “it” factor. In the boardroom, on the big screen, or on our bookshelves, we gravitate to confidence. It may show itself in different ways. Confident people can be funny, smart, or kind, but they are all driven by a passionate belief in what they are doing. They seem fearless – willing to go, say, and do what others are too timid to try.
When developing an organization’s brand, we often talk in terms of brand personality. I guarantee that not one successful brand is aiming for mousy, ambivalent, or feeble.
A lack of confidence is one of the biggest shortcomings in marketing and communications for mission-driven organizations. Most work is cautious – competent not compelling – because few are willing to passionately say or demonstrate how amazing their organization really is.
The fear of making a mistake – the fear of standing out – is a real problem in an undifferentiated marketplace. Throw in myriad personal quirks and office politics and it’s evident there are obstacles to confidently crafting stories that connect with the hearts and minds of your audience.
Leading the engagement
Confidence can’t be faked. False bravado or arrogance make timidity look like a desirable character trait in comparison. But it can be earned through practice that reveals your passions and expertise.
Here are a few of the ingredients necessary to taking charge of an assignment, or better yet, being asked to lead the way.
Know your shit.
Confidence comes from experience – a depth of knowledge gained through studying and applying what you believe to be important and true. This choice is better than that one. It comes from taking calculated risks and recognizing that the world didn’t come to an end.
Be a generous guide.
When you seek services – a restaurant, a hotel, an auto mechanic, an accountant – you want to feel like you’re in good hands. Understanding the context of an assignment – using situational and emotional intelligence – enables leaders to develop empathy for others. This, in turn, builds trust.
Survey your options.
What is the worst-case scenario? The most confident people are able to reduce the risks of the unknown by believing – even if it’s not readily apparent – that they will find an acceptable fallback position if the first plan fails.
Narrow your target.
Confident leaders excel at sifting through ten pages of information and distilling it into one, taking five bullet points and cutting it to three. That ability to focus applies to your target audience as well. Defining and prioritizing your audiences and project goals is key to making better and more decisive choices.
Ask for what you want!
Whether you’re communicating with colleagues or your target audience, it’s surprising how often the “call to action” is overlooked or buried under the weight of competing priorities (see above). Nobody succeeds alone. If you believe in the value of the offer, you’re doing the audience a favor by clearly letting them know what to do next.
Confidence is essential for changing the conversations around what we see, hear, feel and know to be true. Good designers and writers see a project’s potential, and tell powerful stories that inspire action. Mediocre marketing and design has none of that.
The most valuable thing a designer provides is not the creative product – a website, a logo, a publication. The most valuable thing a designer provides clients and colleagues is the confidence to move forward.
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