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Successful Public Speaking For Introverts

I’m sure everyone in the audience noticed my leg shaking like a vibrator switched to high speed. Right from my hip to my toes.

This was the first of many presentations I delivered when I returned to university when I was in my late forties. 

It was humbling to have my body react to the stress of public speaking and seemingly have a life of its own. The sensation was of an observer with my body belonging to someone (or something) else. The fear I felt was intense.

I thought it was because of my shyness. I had a lot to learn.   

There’s nothing particularly dangerous about presenting at a meeting or giving a toast at a wedding, but for many people, public speaking is as anxiety-inducing as hugging a boa constrictor or hiking an active volcano. 

In fact, an informal survey lists public speaking (glossophobia) among the top five sources of dread. (The others? Snakes, heights, spiders, and natural disasters!).

Thankfully, relatively few people suffer from a true phobia of public speaking (known as glossophobia). It’s much more common for people to experience a milder sense of dread, although just how many of us experience this isn’t clear. 

What we do know is that anxiety around public speaking can be debilitating, even for those who have a mild case. Being unable to confidently share your ideas, speak about your work, or pitch solutions to problems, can impede professional growth and opportunities.

This is particularly true for executives who require excellent public speaking skills to be effective leaders — not just in the written word, but in face-to-face encounters with groups of people, whether IRL or online  via videoconferencing. However, if you’re an introvert, knowing how to approach events and interactions as well as  taking care of your energy, is key to effective leadership. 

The Difference Between Introversion And Shyness

Introversion is often confused for social anxiety or shyness, but the terms are not interchangeable.

It’s easy to assume that public speaking is always easy for extroverts, who tend to be comfortable in the spotlight. However, both introverts (those who recharge with alone time) and extroverts (who recharge by socializing) can experience a fear of public speaking. 

Introversion is an in-born personality trait, whereas shyness or social anxiety (of which public speaking is a form) stems from negative life experiences. To put it another way: introverts are born, while the socially anxious are made. 

Of course, there is plenty of overlap between the two. In a recent study examining personality traits of those with social anxiety disorder, the majority of participants — 62 per cent — were introverted. But it’s important to note that introverts may dread public speaking simply because of the exhaustion they feel before, during, and after an engagement. 

The good news is that regardless of why an introvert is uncomfortable with public speaking,  there are plenty of strategies to help them make the most of their speaking opportunities, while taking care of themselves.

Introverts And Public Speaking

Malcolm Gladwell, the famous New York Times journalist and author, once said in an interview that “Speaking is not an act of extroversion.” He added that while public speaking may be a performance, many wonderful performers are introverts. As a self-described introvert and lauded public speaker, he would know.

I agree with Gladwell that speaking is not an act of extroversion, however I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a performance. (1. countable noun A performance involves entertaining an audience by doing something such as singing, dancing, or acting). 

I see performance as stepping outside of yourself and entertaining others. Often you have a romantic vision of a musician or dancer and if/when we get the opportunity to meet them we find they are regular people just like us. What you see on stage is an amplified persona. Public speakers who really connect with their audience simply by being themselves appear comfortable and confident. 

Introverts can be wonderful public speakers. Business magnate Bill Gates (who nailed public speaking with some help from Warren Buffet), first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (who was known for her inspiring addresses to the nation), and author Susan Cain (whose seminal TED talk on introversion has received almost 30 million views) receive high praise on their ability to deliver inspiring speeches. 

Gates, Roosevelt, Cain and many others resonate with their audience not in spite of their introversion, but because of it. 

According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says that introverts are phenomenal listeners, making them attuned to the needs of their audience

World champion public speaker Dananjaya Hettiarchchi believes introverts tend to be more empathetic than extroverts, allowing them to both identify with their audience and come across authentically.  

In fact, these qualities — namely, empathy and awareness of others — give introverts unique perspectives that the world needs to hear. We live in a time of enormous global change (such as COVID-19, a declining world power, economic tumult, and climate change). We need ideas and solutions from thoughtful, insightful people who might normally avoid the limelight.  

We need introverts to speak their minds. 

How To Feel The Fear Of Public Speaking As An Introvert And Do It Anyway

Introverts can be confident, engaging, and successful public speakers.

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I didn’t think it would be possible for me to enjoy getting out in front of an audience. After eagerly accepting an invitation as the day drew closer my anxiety would escalate. I’d bite the bullet and present but after the event I’d need to take time off to regroup. 

Now I love it. I’ve watched the same transformation happen for many of my clients. 

What I realized and now know is it’s key to specifically hone presentation skills for introverts and realize their perspective and cadance is different than an extrovert.

You’ll find the following public speaking tips for introverts helpful. They will help you prepare for your next public speaking engagement and also take care of yourself before, during, and after an event.

  1. Challenge Your Thinking

After Cain wrote her book on introversion, she found herself doing far more public speaking than she ever expected. As an introvert herself, she began studying the craft of public speaking and was relieved to find that plenty of soft-spoken, introverted personalities like herself excelled.

She urges introverts to remember that public speaking isn’t the sole domain of extroverts and that they can succeed, too by using their own natural gifts. 

The key to stepping out of your comfort zone and into the spotlight is being secure in who you are. 

“The real power comes from a position of pride and entitlement in who you are,” she said in an interview with CNBC. “When you have that you become more effective in job interviews, showing up at meetings and speaking up.”

  1. Manage Your Energy

With a limited amount of energy for social interaction, introverts must budget their energy, much as they mind their finances and time. 

Energy conservation is particularly true in advance of intensive obligations like public speaking. Cain, who is an expert on introversion says, “solitude time” to regroup after public speaking or other leadership activities is essential.

Before a speaking engagement, consider limiting other social commitments, suggests this introverted author. Space out your more energy-intensive obligations to allow opportunities to recharge your batteries.

A pre-speech ritual the day of the event can also help you preserve energy or even recharge. Find a quiet place to take a walk, meditate, or do anything you need to filter out distractions and gather your thoughts.

I encourage you to block time out before and after a presentation. I learned the hard way how necessary this is especially after I deliver a presentation when my tank is completely depleted. I know it may seem counterintuitive and you think you’ll feel a weight lifted, however introverts usually feel exhausted post event. 

  1. Practice…A Lot

Although there’s some debate about whether the best speeches are scripted, improvised, or some combination of the two, there’s no doubt that preparation is key for introverts. Even Gladwell, whose talks can earn him fees in the six digits, takes the guesswork out of speeches by planning every last word.

I don’t agree with Gladwell. Over practicing a memorized script comes across as stilted and unnatural. You’re better served by learning your key points and then free flowing from there. But don’t mistake this for flying off the cuff … practice is required

Cain recommends spending as much time as you need to craft a speech that flows well and is peppered with stories and examples for colour. It helps to videotape yourself  to learn how you come across to the audience. You’ll feel more confident as a result, says Cain. 

  1. Desensitize Yourself

Introverts are ‘wired’ to be more sensitive to the behaviour of others and prefer low- to high-stimulation. For this reason, they are more comfortable with one-on-one conversations than speaking to rooms of people. 

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While you can’t change your genetic makeup, you can teach your nervous system to be less reactive with regular exposure to things that overwhelm you — including public speaking. Cain suggests that introverts gradually desensitize themselves with regular exposure to public speaking.

You might consider joining Toastmasters, speaking up at meetings, or doing anything else that challenges you to push past those feelings of discomfort that pop up when you speak in front of other people. 

When I returned to university every opportunity that I had to speak up or deliver a presentation I took advantage of. If you take the leap of faith and take the perspective that each try is a learning experience you’ll calm down your reaction to overwhelm.
 

Both introverts and extroverts can find public speaking daunting. Whether you fall into the former or latter category, find support to challenge your thinking, manage your energy, learn how to make the best of your practice time, and dampen down any overwhelm so you can deliver a presentation that receives terrific feedback and accolades. 

I help professionals master public speaking and communication skills. Reach out to set up a quick call to discuss how coaching can help you succeed as a speaker and position you as a leader.  

 

I help build confident voices so they’re heard.

Janice Tomich is the founder of Calculated Presentations, a company dedicated to bringing out speaker’s stories to influence change. Janice coaches professionals, entrepreneurs, TED and TEDx speakers. She is a champion for equal representation by a diverse pool of presenters for all speaking events. Follow Janice on Twitter @janicetomich, on Facebook, on LinkedIn and subscribe for newsletter updates.

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