The dreaded act of public speaking sends shivers down a shy person’s spine, clammed up and sweaty palmed they tend to try to avoid such an act at all costs. Hopefully, using the tips I present in this article, this can change for you.
I was that person for many years at school, coupled with the fact that due to being dentally challenged I had to wear a retainer on the roof of my mouth and spoke with a lisp. Yikes.
The first step to facing this fear was 15 year old me taking Drama as a GCSE subject at school (I’m in the UK so for anyone international reading this, it means studying it intensely for two years. Most UK students take 9 to 11 subjects to this level). My future husband at the time also did this, despite being a bigger introvert than me, and the occasional stammer/stutter and aced it too. He got an A, and I got an A*.
So how on earth have we managed this? Introverted AND speech impaired? What?
The impossible is possible with practice. Our introversion and our speaking styles are different but equally effective, so use bits of advice from us both to help you find your style.
Total Myth: “Good public speakers enjoy it completely to be very good at it.”
Kick that thought of “I should enjoy this more” out of your head and focus on the task at hand. You can excel in it if you practice and put the hard work in. We all have bad days but tricks and tips can mask this. Which takes me to my next quote:
“Speaking is not an act of extroversion. People think it is. It has nothing to do with extroversion. It’s a performance, and many performers are hugely introverted” ~ Malcom Gladwell
So, my mighty introverted performers, here are our top three tips:
- Keep yourself in the “golden zone”. You need to come up with personal techniques to keep yourself enthusiastic and energetic enough to speak, but not so on edge you want the ground to open up beneath you and you crawl into your cave of complete fear and resentment. Music, breathing exercises, meditating, even going for a gentle jog/walk to get rid of excess adrenaline can all help if you suffer with this. I personally lock myself away (usually in a bathroom!) for 5 to 10 minutes, breathe, and get into a confident stance (shoulders back, chin up, feet a little over hips width apart) standing like this physically triggers good hormones in the brain for appearing confident and shrink that giant monster butterfly in your stomach to a delicate flutter that can inject enough energy and passion into your performance. My husband always prepares exactly what his first few sentences are, just in case he is extra nervous, because when he finds his flow the nerves disappear and having the first line completely memorised helps him get there. Unlike me, he is naturally incredibly calm, but even he finds that anxiety creep in particularly if feeling a bit less prepared.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you’re anything like my husband, his astounding working memory means learning lines and set phrases comes incredibly naturally. His challenge lies in injecting those words with feeling, inflection and drama that draws people in. His natural voice is quiet, sometimes a bit monotonous (I get him to talk to me when I cant sleep, true story) so his preparation is different to mine.
For me, I use colour, highlighting my lines in the script or writing bullet points down on cue cards, with colours corresponding to each theme/section I want to cover. I say the words over and over again, sensing how they fall out my mouth and how they feel. I’ve written a big speech word for word before, typed it all out and took it with me to place on the lectern in front of me. I knew it though, I did not need to look down. That is when you know you have prepared enough. Do what feels right for you, so you know it inside and out and can recall it on cue.
- Be yourself, people are drawn to human quirks. My introversion is coupled with high sensitivity, so my emotions run deep and that touch of vulnerability can make you more likeable and the audience will love it. Trust me.That speech I mentioned in the previous point told a personal story, I find my best words when I come from a place of feeling what it is I say completely, I find it lights a fire in me and it becomes easier to engage with others in this way. I also get more nervous when its small groups and struggle to make eye contact, but knowing the content helps me consciously make the effort to do so. Big audiences feel like a blur to me, I can block out the masses and lift my focus up to a highly hung clock, or a light, or a speck on the wall that lifts my head high enough to deliver.
In contrast, my now husband is a more logical introvert, he approaches tasks with precision, and puts his emotions to one side completely as they risk being overwhelming or distracting. He is the sort of performer who can memorise what he needs to say very quickly. He crafts his presentations using key words and phrases to link topics together, creating a chronological order in his head to tell a story. This is usually coupled with powerpoint slides to illustrate and remind him of where he is in the order he created. His nerves end up giving him a burst of energy, making him animated and speak with his entire body, pointing at key images and words, looking directly at his students to draw them in to his conversation. For him, talking to one person at a time is far less daunting than addressing the entire room the whole time.
To finish, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and we are unique in how we deal with the challenge. For us, we started our public speaking practice at 15 years old and now, 9 years on, we continue to gain job roles that require this skill. It takes time, you will wobble initially, but the first step is to tell yourself “Yes, I am an introvert, but that does not stop me from putting on the best show anyone has ever seen”
Let me know your thoughts and your own top tips in the comments 🙂