By Kay Heald, Toastmasters International
Ever since I was young, I’ve had a ‘hang-up’ about public speaking: sweaty palms, dry mouth and that prehistoric instinct to run away.
Up until recently, I blamed it on being shy. Certainly all my school reports suggested this was the case: ‘She would benefit from taking a more active part in group discussions’. I now know that my ‘shyness’ was actually a predisposition to ‘introversion’.
Contrary to popular belief, shyness and introversion are not the same. Introversion refers to a particular way we energise ourselves. 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 need to head off to recharge.
Following good advice from an excellent speaker, I started to actively look for ways to turn my introvert trait into an asset.
Here are 5 tips that I hope will be useful for you too.
Take time to prepare
Take your time to prepare a structured and well-crafted speech, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Research your intended audience and structure the speech for their benefit rather than yours. This preparatory process is excellent for calming the nerves of an introvert. It provides a structure for your speech that acts like a virtual ‘comfort blanket’ for when you are rehearsing and delivering your talk.
It took eight weeks to put my first talk together. It’s now much quicker. Even though subject varies, 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.
Focus on what’s important
People rarely notice that great speakers are introverts. President Obama is one of many high-profile introverted orators who overcame public speaking anxiety.
Focusing on a central theme, cause or mission that had greater importance than his own nerves was key. Similarly if you talk about something you are passionate about you’re likely to feel more confident.
Practise your performance
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 and to develop a suitable persona. I 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.
Use a visualisation trick
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!
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.
Use these 5 tips and you’ll find you introvert self can blossom as a public speaker and presenter.
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. To find your nearest, visit www.toastmasters.org