Is Confidence a Skill You Can Learn?

This activity can help you know yourself and become more confident at work, too.

Posted Jun 17, 2019

Image by John Hain, pixabay, CC0.
Source: Image by John Hain, pixabay, CC0.

Among my most popular blogs are those that help readers "know themselves" and become more confident. More than a million people have read my blogs on just these two topics alone. Once I realized how many people were seeking self-knowledge and self-assurance, I kept my eyes open for whatever might help.

Recently I read a study with an idea that could boost both self-knowledge and self-confidence in the area of work life. I am convinced that people of any age who seek that elusive elixir called "confidence" could benefit from the method used. If you are willing to invest a small amount of time—15-30 minutes or less—you can quickly test out the suggestion below to see if they help you.  

This quick technique is often seen as a way to “sell yourself” to others, but it's not always thought of as a tool for self-awareness and self-assurance. Readers seeking self-knowledge and more confidence: This idea is for you.

Explaining Who You Are in Three Minutes or Less: The Elevator Pitch

The brief technique for increasing self-knowledge and self-confidence is the “elevator pitch,” sometimes called an “elevator message.”   

An “elevator pitch” usually refers to presenting a quick professional summary of yourself. The idea is to express who you are and what you want from a work situation in the time it takes for an elevator to ascend from the bottom to the top of a tall building. 

Can creating and giving elevator pitches help people increase their self-confidence? Recent research suggests that the answer is yes.

In a 2019 study, 105 full-time second-year business and law students at the University of Portsmouth (U.K.) were trained to give a three-minute elevator pitch as part of a career development curriculum called “Brand Me.” Students were "encouraged to construct their personal brand ... identify their aspirations, strengths, and values, and develop their ability to articulate these in a confident way, all of which have been linked to improved employability." The goal of the study was to find out if students could indeed increase their “employability-related self-confidence” (ERSC) by practicing their pitches.

The students gave presentations at the beginning, middle, and end of the career module. A team of mock employers, who had some experience with recruitment practices, scored the presentations. Among other things, they rated students according to whether they presented relevant information, talked positively about themselves, and used confident language, tone of voice, and body language.

Results

The findings showed that measurements of “employability-related self-confidence” did increase over time. In addition, study authors found that:

  • Students improved in both performance and confidence.
  • Students could transfer their learning to different contexts.
  • Learning specific skills increased self-confidence. 
  • Students increased their knowledge of what employers were looking for.
  • Three-quarters of the students completed the unit even though it was optional, showing a high level of engagement with the material.  

Creating an elevator pitch was not an easy task for students, but it was one from which they benefited. As Charlotte Harrison, one of the study authors said, "While the data suggests that students found the activity challenging and, at times, uncomfortable, it also indicates that they had learnt the skills of proactive self-promotion and developed their ERSC (Employability-Related Self-Confidence).”

Your Elevator Pitch For Others

To make creating an elevator pitch a less daunting task, remind yourself that you are just writing a first draft that you can revise at any time. Allow yourself no more than 10-20 minutes for your draft. The time limit will help you just do it without procrastinating or “perfectionating” (my personal term for trying to make it perfect). 

If you need a format, follow the steps below.

  1. Start with: “Hi, I’m ____ (your name) and I’m currently a ___ (your position) with ____ (your employer/school).” 
  2. Continue with an emphasis on your positive traits, achievements, qualifications, strengths, values, or goals:  “My particular interest is _____.”  “That’s why I’ve created a ____.”  “My eventual goal is _____.”
  3. If seeking employment, describe your job search goal or goals. “Your firm seems like a good fit for me because….”.  If seeking connection, describe what you have in common with the “pitchee.”
  4. Conclude with an ask: “Could I call you next week to set up an informational interview/job interview/meeting/?” 

After you are reasonably happy with your elevator pitch, share it with a trusted friend or colleague.  Ask them for feedback and listen with an open mind. Sometimes others can see your strengths better than you can see them yourself. Then revise your pitch as needed until you can deliver it with confidence and authenticity. Keep a copy of all your pitches for future reference, and you will soon have an informal history of your "career self."

You can also use these helpful suggestions from the job search site Indeed, which include a variety of examples of different kinds of pitches. 

Personal Example

Since I never ask my readers to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, I created a simple elevator pitch and used it at a recent writers’ workshop when we introduced ourselves.

Because I had my elevator pitch handy, I didn’t freeze up with fear, as I am prone to do, at having to take center stage for a few minutes. I simply said: “Hi, I’m a retired counselor, now a freelance writer who writes about counseling topics. Among other things, I’m a blogger for psychologytoday.com. My special interests are health, happiness, and habits.” This message revealed just enough for the situation at hand. And even though my message was not "pitch perfect," I did feel more confident both during and after this presentation.

When I was younger, I would have resented summarizing myself (What? Summarize the nuanced, complex me?!) in just a few words. But now that I am older, I see the value of having a fast way to explain who I am. It’s surprising how often an elevator pitch comes in handy—at parties, meeting new people, work situations, medical offices, or any time that you need to rapidly explain who you are. 

An elevator message is your chance to define yourself and broadcast that information to others. Your self-created pitch gives you a better chance of being seen in the way you want to be seen. Your message could be serious or humorous, down-to-earth or creative, and could be delivered forcefully or lightly, depending on the occasion and your goals.

Your Elevator Pitch for Yourself

Research indicates that as much as 50 percent of confidence is genetic. But studies like the one above illustrate that certain aspects of confidence can be taught and practiced. (Non-traditional ways to feel confident are also important, as I write here.) Just learning one specific skill, the elevator pitch, did increase self-confidence in college students in job-hunting situations. It’s reassuring to know that deliberate practice works to increase self-confidence, just as it does to perfect any skill.

As a self-awareness activity, you can write an elevator pitch without ever sharing it with anyone else. Your pitch can highlight what you view as most important about you at this moment in time.  Like the job-oriented pitch, your pitch is a snapshot of who you are right now.  Of course, in a few days, months, or years, your elevator pitch could be out of date. But that’s fine. Developing a new pitch will help you focus on how you are changing.

Even if you never give your elevator pitch to anyone but yourself, you will learn a little more about who you are. This knowledge is not of trivial importance. In fact, according to leadership expert Tasha Eurich, “Self-awareness is the foundational leadership skill of the twenty-first century. Leaders who know who they are, and how they’re seen by others, are more effective, confident, respected, and promotable.” (In a fascinating article here, Eurich describes four types of self-awareness and how they do or don’t contribute to effective leadership.)

Extend It

The traditional elevator pitch focuses on the “work you.” But you could use this idea for other aspects of your life. For example, if you are looking for a romantic partner, you could write an elevator message that describes who you are, what you want out of life, and what you need from a partner. Or, you could write an elevator message about your most important values or how you like to spend your leisure time. The critical goals are to know yourself better and to be able to express who you are to others.

So if you want to cultivate more self-confidence, create an elevator pitch. You may find that you can even impress yourself!

© Meg Selig, 2019. For permissions, click here.

References

1. Tymon, A., Harrison, C., Batistic, S. "Sustainable graduate employability: an evaluation of ‘brand me’ presentations as a method for developing self-confidence." Summary in ScienceDaily.

2. “Elevator pitch.” Indeed.com.

3. Eurich, T. “Why Self-Awareness Isn’t Doing More to Help Women’s Careers,”   Harvard Business Review.

4. Eurich, T. “What Self-Awareness Really Is and How to Cultivate It.”  Harvard Business Review.

5. 50% of confidence is genetic.  Selig, M. "No Confidence? No Problem?" Psychologytoday. com.

6. Selig, M. "Know Yourself? 6 Specific Ways to Know Who You Are," Psychologytoday.com.

7. Tymon, A. et al. "Sustainable graduate employability: an evaluation of ‘brand me’ presentations as a method for developing self-confidence." Studies in Higher Education, 4.5.2019.

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