Stay confident: How to impress in the boardroom

By Shannon Alter, below, from

Imagine this: you’ve been preparing hard for an important board meeting and you’re feeling ready to roll. But then you walk into the room and realize that the three people you were expecting to be there are actually eight people in real life. People you’ve never even met before. You’re taken by surprise and your confidence starts to waiver.

You try and hold it together, but as you’re about to put your papers down on the conference table, you notice your hand is shaking. Everyone is looking at you and your confidence plummets.

Does this sound familiar? Of course. It happens to all of us!

Confidence (or lack of it) is powerful, but it can be sneaky. Let’s explore a few confidence shakers and how you can knock them flat!

Having confidence – and owning it – are crucial attributes, no matter what business you’re in. You can have a lot of confidence but little knowledge – in that case, it’s just bluster.

Or, you can be uber-knowledgeable and still feel hesitant. Maybe, you even have too much information to share effectively.

Having too much, or too little confidence is a common theme that I encounter with clients and colleagues. Whatever their leadership challenge is, it relates back to confidence over 100% of the time.

In fact, I included chapters on confidence and imposter syndrome in my book “Be Influential: Surefire Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills” because in my experience, building confidence and learning how to own any room you’re in is what so many leaders crave. Sometimes, however, you can have a hard time mastering it.

So, how do you get back to feeling confident when you’re really feeling as if you just fell off a cliff?

Everyone makes an impression when they walk into a room, even when they’re secretly just a little nervous. Here’s how to make your impression count:

Learn how to command attention:

Think about how you enter a room. You don’t have to strike a pose, but self-awareness and genuineness are  key. When I work with clients, we start by prepping in a mirror. I get them to consider:


Are you standing up straight? Your body language speaks for you. Having a strong posture will help you feel and look more confident and people will naturally sense that when you walk into a room and stand up to speak. You’ll garner attention without having to say a word.

Eye contact

Sometimes when you’re feeling uncomfortable or less than confident, your eyes wander. You don’t know where to look, so you look everywhere. The result is that you appear scattered and unfocused.

It’s all about the connections you make. Find a few friendly faces in the audience and make eye contact. Even better, introduce yourself in advance to a few people who will be in your “audience”, then make eye contact with them again when you’re presenting. This will naturally put you at ease. Your ability to make and reinforce that positive connection helps you to relax even more.

Body language

Think about how you appear to others. Is your demeanor open and friendly? Perhaps you pace across the room, or you find you’re constantly moving your hands.

It’s perfectly fine to stand up when you’re at a conference table, or in a smaller meeting room, but definitely don’t pace or constantly shift from side to side as it’s distracting and pulls the attention away from what you’re saying. You’ll lose impact and focus. The same is true if you’re not sure what to do with your hands. One trick I use is to hold a “prop”, like a small notepad or a water bottle- it anchors your hand and will be one less distraction.

Try to keep your palms and hands open, vs folded across your chest or clasped tightly. This will make you seem more approachable.

Now let’s explore a few of those common confidence shakers and what you can do about them.

  1. You feel everyone is looking at you. This is probably true!

After all, when you’re leading a meeting, presenting a business case to your boss or working on a tough negotiation, it’s likely that everyone is in fact looking right at you. It may seem counterintuitive, but having your audience listen to you and pay attention to what you’re saying is exactly what you want to achieve.

Not long ago, I worked with a leader who was very personable one-on-one, but when she had to speak in front of her executive leadership team, she almost literally fell apart. She seemed to shrink into herself and her voice became softer- so soft that she actually couldn’t be heard. Her sense of presence evaporated.

When I asked her why she thought this was happening, she said “Well, they’re all looking at me (true.) And I’m afraid they are all judging me.” (could be true.)

My advice? Sometimes, you just have to get over a constant that is not likely to change. People will be looking at you and considering what you say. Sometimes, you have to be like Nike and just do it.

  1. You’re afraid you’ll forget what to say

What can you do when the words you planned to say fly right out of your head? This happens to everyone. In my experience, this happens most often to leaders who want to memorize what they plan to say word for word, forgetting that what they really want to have is a conversation.

Unless you’re presenting or discussing financial information, in which case we want you to be 100% correct, remember that the other leaders in your audience most likely won’t know what you plan to say next. You’re the only one who knows that, and you get to choose.

The key is to be able to pivot.

Remember the leader I mentioned who melted in front of her leadership team? She felt she had to be 100% perfect, every time. When she prepared, she wrote down all of her notes on long legal pads which she brought with her, just in case.

She wanted to demonstrate that she knew everything about her content, but she couldn’t pivot when someone asked a question or there was a distraction.

How could she learn to do this? I like to say it takes effort to be effortless. It isn’t always easy.

The first step is to practise. Out loud. Whenever you’re planning an important conversation, meeting or presentation, it pays to rehearse standing up, out loud and in front of someone else if possible. At the very least, practice in front of a mirror. These tried and true methods allow you to see how you’ll sound and appear before you actually have to do it live and perhaps in person. Priceless.

  1. Your tech falls apart. 

You’re up in front of a group for your first important presentation and your laptop fails, or the projector goes out or worse yet- lights go out. What will you do? I’ve had all of these things happen and more, from power outages to fire alarms and two things save me every time.

First, I always have a Plan A, a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C. And second, I know how to pivot.

Take your Plan A: This is knowing your content inside out, upside down and sideways- it always pays.

Here comes your Plan B: Because you already know your topic so well, you can have a conversation. And if that conversation takes a turn, eg. a participant goes on too long or there are more questions, you can pull it back on track. If you’ve forgotten something or missed a point, you can bring that back in too.

Plan C can roll right on in when you’re thinking about high-tech vs. low-tech. Say you’re planning to use a cool app in your presentation or meeting and it flops. Maybe the app sticks or doesn’t work. This is where Plan C comes in: you can put questions up on a whiteboard, take a hand-raiser poll or have extra handouts available. There’s always a different solution to a high-tech snafu.

The truth is, everyone faces challenges every day, the confidence piece comes in when you realise that you’re capable of overcoming anything in any moment, it simply takes the courage to continue and do the best you can. Most of the time, the other people in the room won’t even notice.

Practice makes perfect, so before you attend a big meeting, or you’re about to present in front of a room full of strangers, practise, practise, practise! It will help you to feel at ease and show up as your best self, which in turn will help create impact and you’ll become memorable for all the right reasons.

Shannon Alter is a Communication Expert & Leadership Coach at Leaders Exceed (, with over 30 years of experience in hospitality and commercial real estate management. She works with organisations that want to communicate with clarity  and help their leaders learn exactly what to say and how to say it.