Writer, comedian, TV and radio presenter, Viv Groskop hosts the chart-topping podcast How to Own The Room and is the bestselling author of five books including How to Own the Room and Lift as You Climb. She’s also a former judge of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and part of the panel who selected Maggie O’ Farrell’s Hamnet as their 2020 winner.

Ahead of Viv’s appearance at the Women’s Prize LIVE festival on 13th June 2023, she shares with us five things you need to know about confidence (and speaking in public). Join us at the festival to learn the rest.

After interviewing over a hundred and fifty women for the How to Own the Room podcast (now in its 19th series and with 2 million downloads) about their own experiences of coping in the spotlight in situations big and small, I’ve learned that any challenge can be faced. Hillary Clinton relived what it was like to sense Donald Trump circling her at the presidential debates, knowing that almost any response to his behaviour would be poorly judged. Ann Taylor, a softly-spoken retired teacher who became a climate protester and Extinction Rebellion activist in her seventies, explained how she learned to speak up for herself passionately in court after multiple arrests. Cirque du Soleil performer Petra Massey described how important it is to her to feel liberated in her body in front of others. Tech entrepreneur and Countdown presenter Anne-Marie Imafidon talked about the joy she gets from displaying her expertise.

Here are five tips to boost your confidence and make you feel more in control:

1. It’s not about you.

The more you can remember to focus on the other people in the situation — whether it’s dozens or hundreds of people in a crowd or one-to-one in an interview — the more relaxed you will feel. Think about what they’re going through, not what you’re going through. Get your focus off yourself and onto others.

2. Ground yourself physically.

We can get “trapped” in our heads and in our thinking when we feel on the spot. Think about your breathing. Be conscious of feeling your feet on the ground, whether you are sitting or standing.

3. Know the first words and the last words.

For any situation — from a job interview to a presentation — you can have a clear idea of the first thing you’ll say (even if it’s “Hello, I’m ——“ or “Pleased to meet you”) and of your closing words (even if it’s as simple as “Thanks for your time”). Open strong and close strong. These are the biggest points of impact.

4. Sit on your “ums” and “ahs”.

Do you say “um” or “ah…” a lot? The occasional hesitation is fine. But if they’re frequent, it’s a habit that can detract from your meaning. Learn to “hear” the “um” in your head but keep it in there: don’t voice it out loud. Get used to being comfortable with silence and pauses instead. They give the other person time to process what you’re saying.

5. Smile.

This is not about being people-pleasing or (cringe) feminine. It’s about looking relaxed. If a smile feels too fake, then think about bringing lightness to your face or your words or think about having a smile in your eyes. It’s also a good reminder to take yourself less seriously, which reduces nerves. And, weirdly, that usually makes others take you more seriously.