What I Learned About Confidence In A Boiler Room

When I was about ten years into my legal career I applied for a job at a stock brokerage firm. I was looking for something in the compliance department. Later on I realized that compliance was the last thing they were interested in—they were eventually shut down by the SEC and the firm’s principals were slapped with seven-figure fines and jail terms. But at the time I thought they were legit. They told me to start slamming the phone—making cold calls to prospective investors. I was desperately looking for a way out of law and fascinated by the stock market, so I decided to try it out.

It works like this. You’re given a stack of lead cards with contact information of registered business owners. You then call each person and try to get them to open an account with the firm. Once you open forty accounts and pass the licensing exam you’re in business.

It didn’t make much sense to me. Why would a total stranger send me money to invest? He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know anything about stock investing. If they wanted to invest, why wouldn’t they just call a big firm like Merrill Lynch? Because I didn’t believe in my ability to do the job or the firm’s business model there was no way I could have been successful. I didn’t open a single account, and I left after two or three weeks.

But I did learn a few things while I was there. Some guys (they were almost all guys, maybe two percent were women) were very successful at opening accounts. I noticed that they didn’t know any more about the stock market than I did, but they all had one thing in common: they sounded extremely confident. They had loud, authoritative voices. They didn’t just sit at their desks and robotically make calls—they stood up, paced around waving their arms, and refused to take no for an answer. They had an answer for every objection. And they were able to persuade dozens of people to invest with them during a single phone call. It sounded crazy to me! Until I thought about it from the perspective of the other guy on the line.

Imagine you’re a successful business owner. You have some cash lying around, but you haven’t had much time to think about what to do with it. You’re thinking I shouldn’t let my money just sit in the bank, I should invest it, but how? What if I lose it? I don’t know what to do. Then you get a call from a guy at a brokerage house telling you about a great opportunity. You think He sounds so sure of himself! I have no idea what to do, but he does! I don’t want to miss this opportunity. I’ll just send him my money—problem solved! 

In the boiler room, the confident sharks eat the less confident fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Confidence is extremely persuasive. The confident person gets the sale, the job, the promotion, and the girl. If you doubt me, ask ten women to name the three qualities they desire most in a man. You’ll be surprised at how many times you hear the word “confidence.” Or maybe it won’t surprise you at all, because you already know it’s true. 

If you are brimming with confidence, great! If not, you need to develop it. How? There are a few ways.

Fake it ’til you make it. Do the things confident people do. Walk, talk, dress, move, and act confident. Make strong eye contact and talk in a deep voice. It gets easier with practice. But bear in mind that there are a lot of moving parts to this approach. If you betray a lack of confidence in your voice or a gesture the whole facade can crumble.

Another approach comes from Hollywood: “method” acting. Instead of starting from the outside and trying to adopt a host of mannerisms calculated to make you appear confident, you start from the inside. Ask yourself “What would a confident person do?” and try to internalize that character. You might have a person you actually know as a role model, or you might model a real person you do not know (such as George Clooney) or a fictional character (for example, Don Draper). If you do it well, you will walk, talk, and act confident. This is not easy either, or we would all be movie stars!

Note that with time and dedication you may achieve some degree of success with these techniques, but there is a better way. You can rewrite your inner story. If your inner story says you are not confident, you will have a hard time faking it. But if you can rewrite your inner story to support the confident person you wish you could be, then real confidence and all its rewards can be yours.