If you have a ‘hang-up’ about speaking in public I can empathise.
Up until recently, I blamed my dry mouth and other symptoms on my shyness. Certainly, all my school reports reinforced this assessment: ‘She should speak up in class’, ‘She would benefit from taking a more active part in group discussions’.
However, I now know that what I thought was ‘shyness’ for all those years was actually a predisposition to ‘introversion’.
Contrary to popular belief, shyness and introversion are not synonymous. Introversion refers to a particular way we energise ourselves. Whereas extroverts are energised by being around people, introverts can also enjoy the company of others, but this uses up their energy, so at some point they will need to take themselves away to recharge.
Introverted public speaking
A very experienced and accomplished public speaker taught me that authenticity is a key skill for all successful orators. So, rather than thinking of my introversion as an impediment, I started to actively look for ways to turn this trait into an asset.
Encouragingly, when I started practising public speaking in a safe and supportive environment, I discovered there were lots of ways to help channel my introverted behaviour and bolster my confidence. I have been developing my own ‘introverted public speaking’ toolkit ever since.
Here are six toolkit tips that I hope will be helpful to other introverts out there!
1. Preparation is Key
Take your time to prepare a structured and well-crafted speech, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Research your intended audience and make sure you structure the speech for their benefit rather than yours. This preparatory process is excellent for calming the nerves of an introvert, as it provides the infrastructure for a speech that acts like a virtual ‘comfort blanket’ for when you are both rehearsing and delivering your talk.
My first talk took eight weeks to construct, it now takes about four. Even though subject material can vary widely, I have identified certain themes and structures that work well for me, such as starting with an open question for the audience or including a call to action at the end of a speech.
2. Speak from the Heart
The world is full of great introverted public speakers, but their introversion is rarely noticed. Barack Obama is just one of many high-profile introverted orators who overcame public speaking anxiety by focusing on a central theme, cause or mission that had greater importance than his own nerves.
When you talk passionately about a subject, not only is the content easier to remember, but it helps you feel more confident too.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
Become familiar with the content, the pace and style of your speech, by practicing frequently. Include practice in front of a mirror, onto a mobile device and in front of a couple of carefully chosen friendly faces. This enables an introvert to convert their speech into a performance, allowing them to develop a suitable persona that gives them the necessary inner-confidence to step into the limelight.
I like to think of my public speaking persona as my more confident (and slightly extrovert) virtual twin – still recognisably me, but with a few less introverted characteristics. It wasn’t until I started recording my rehearsal speeches that I noticed crutch and filler words such as ‘err’ and ‘so’ and a rather subtle but annoying gentle smacking of the lips as I pondered my next points. I’m now working on reducing these.
4. Play ‘Let’s Pretend’
You can control the negative and catastrophising elements of your brain, by literally visualising helpful cues and positive images to create a more conducive environment in which to carry out your performance. This helps combat the natural tendency of introverts to want to escape from a position of vulnerability and exposure.
For one of my early talks, a more experienced public speaker shared a popular visualisation technique, to turn the heads of an audience into cabbages, but I found this too distracting. However, for me, I found turning them into friendly emojis made all the difference!
5. Keep Learning
Treat your public speaking engagements as ongoing learning opportunities. For me, public speaking is rather like trying to master a traditional craft that requires continual practicing, nurturing and refinement. This longer-term approach suits introverts well, as they have a tendency to be over-critical of themselves and can easily undermine their confidence at an early stage.
I have found it really useful to occasionally have a friend in the audience, tucked away from my direct line of sight, who can help me review my speech afterwards in a constructive way over a cup of coffee.
6. Remember to Re-energise
Both extroverts and introverts will experience a surge of adrenalin and be rewarded with dopamine when completing a successful speech. However, it is really important that, as an introvert, you recognise the drain this will have on your energy levels, so you must also build in quality time that allows you to re-energise afterwards, preferably away from others, so that you can recharge.
I re-energise with a good book curled up in a favourite armchair, but one of my introverted friends chooses to go on a long solitary walk, preferably in the countryside. A quiet hotel corridor works well too.
And, finally …
Recognise that introverts can give excellent speeches and presentations. By honing technique and taking every opportunity to practice introverts can do as well as their extrovert colleagues!
About the author
Introvert Kay Heald is from Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org