Weekend Reading: An Introvert’s Guide to Public Speaking

Public speaking is a nerve-racking experience for most of us. For introverts, it can be even worse. How can someone who is shy ever become comfortable on stage?

These three self-proclaimed introverts — blogger Matt Haughey, author Susan Cain and Facebook strategist Jonathon Colman — offer their advice for overcoming speech anxiety. Share your own tips in the comments below.

Knowledge is Everything

Matt Haughey, founder of MetaFilter, offers his presentation tips on everything from timing to visuals. But he says his No. 1 piece of advice for calming his nerves is having knowledge.  That means:

– Understanding the biology behind speech anxiety (it’s really just an old natural instinct)

– Knowing your audience isn’t rooting for you to fail — they’re there to learn from you

– Realizing that you are the expert in the room

“You’re a pretty monkey, and you know where all the bananas are,” Haughey says to himself before stepping on stage.

His full article, An Introvert’s Guide to Better Presentations, can be found on Medium.

Shake It Out and Smile

Yawn, shake out every limb in your body and talk with your tongue out to loosen yourself up before a speech. Then step on stage and smile — it will help you feel more relaxed and confident, says Susan Cain, author of “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

On a more mental level, she says, “Remember that public speaking is not about you. It’s about the audience. Your job is to take care of the audience, not to be judged by it or even to entertain it. Remind yourself that you are not seeking approval or love. You are a teacher, a giver, an enlightener.”

Read Susan’s article, Public Speaking for Introverts: 6 Essential Tips.

Hack Yourself

We’ve heard Facebook strategist and SlideShare power-user Jonathon Coleman speak in person and you would never guess he’s an introvert — he’s lively, funny and animated on stage. How does he pull it off? He “hacked himself,” he says, to leverage his introverted personality as an asset. This included:

-Focus on the Facts: If you don’t make anything up, you can’t fear being publicly outed. “Being open and accountable is like a warm blanket that can comfort you when you’re stressed out,” Colman says. Cite your sources and influences.

-Build Shared Experiences: Being able to connect with someone, or multiple people, will provide more connection and melt away the anxiety. “Working directly with people makes them familiars instead of strangers. And then you can interact with them much more easily in the future.”

-Conserve Energy: Introverts gather energy from themselves, not others, so conferences and public speaking can be very taxing. Make sure to save energy for your speech. It that means going AWOL ahead of time, so be it, he says.

Read Coleman’s article, A Guide to Public Speaking for Introverted and Shy People.

READ MORE: Public Speaking: Fear vs. Anxiety

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Shy cat… by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

14 Responses to “Weekend Reading: An Introvert’s Guide to Public Speaking”

  1. Peter Lawton

    I remember having to give a class to MBAs at a top business school. I walked into the class and died. I couldn’t get my breath, I was sweaty, itchy, terrified. I had a 50 minute slot. I somehow regained some composure and read my speech. At the end I looked up at the clock and 20 minutes had passed. I dismissed the class.
    Ironically, one of my topics was ‘attribution theory’. This says that we first experience a physical reaction to the situation we are in, we then attribute this reaction to something. In my case I was terrified of speaking to the class. What I was doing was attributing the physical reactions to my state of terror. In other words the terror caused the physical reaction. When I listened to myself I realized that I had it backwards. My breakthrough was to realize that what I needed to do was attribute the physical reactions, sweats, prickles, shortness of breath to something other than terror. They came first.
    The next time I taught the class, I told myself before I went in that I wasn’t terrified, I was very excited. How many people had an opportunity to talk to an MBA class at a prestigious business school, some of the brightest people in the country. This was incredibly exciting; a fantastic opportunity that few people had, that may never come again. I bounced into the class and all went really well. The same physical reaction, different attribution. A great theory that worked for me. I became a business school prof. and a successful management consultant giving many speeches and presentations. It gets easier as you get used to it, but I never forgot the power of attribution theory!

  2. Wiseman28

    While teaching leadership communications at Vanderbilt’s MBA program I developed an amazingly simple way to cure anyone of stage fright. It works in about five minutes, and immediately helps each speaker turn the resulting energy into remarkable advocacy. To my amazement, it worked best on introverts. In fact, introverts who had been so afraid they were almost phobic became the very best of the best speakers. Possibly because introverts are so very attentive, and care so very much. I’ve shared the process successfully with more than 3,000 MBA students from 84 nations, and thousands of professionals. I now live in Naples, FL, and share it with anyone I meet who suffers from speech anxiety–even in stores, on the beach, wherever. It’s positive, fun, encouraging–and it really works. Happy to help anyone who needs it. Just want everyone to celebrate the real joy of speaking and by doing so helping others.

  3. Shirley

    I am an officer in a Toastmasters International club and I would love to know how you help the introverts. Our club was started specifically by someone in our IT department, as most of us know – we IT people aren’t typically the most exhuberant about getting up in front of people. :)
    I would love to bring your techniques to our club!

  4. Wiseman28

    I have not posted it online because it is experiential–I either team up with a person or partner people in larger training groups to participate in the initial activity. I first explain the best approaches to storytelling, then we plug those approaches in to the activity. Participants immediately see and feel–and that’s important–the amazing freedom of clear, connected, courageous speaking. Then we drive it home by discussing what just happened and why it is so effective–and lasting. Happy to share it with you. Just shoot me an e-mail at fredtalbott@comcast.net and use the subject line “speech anxiety.”

  5. Wiseman28

    Happy to help! I have not posted the technique on line because it is experiential. We first discuss and most powerful ways to share a story–so powerful it cannot be forgotten. Then we participants pair up and participate in the activity. Most are amazed by the experience and the results–free, joyous, courageous speaking! With zero anxiety! Then we chat for a minute or two about why it happened, citing the amazing interaction process. When time permits I also share terrific breathing, strengthening, and voice warmup and projection tips that everyone learns immediately. Shoot me an e-mail at fredtalbott@comcast.net and write “speech anxiety” in the subject line and I will share all of this with you. It’s better in person, but I can write it out. You and your colleagues will greatly enjoy it, and be amazed by the immediate and lasting “cure” it shares.

  6. Ron McCulloch

    The tips are useful for anyone who does have such anxiety, but it is misleading and a great oversimplification to attribute said anxiety to introversion. Plenty of introverts are quite at ease addressing large groups. Similarly, many extroverts stumble all over themselves when speaking in public.

    I do find that knowledge is indeed the key, especially deep knowledge of the subject at hand. Understanding the audience certainly helps as well – particularly in gauging their response or lack thereof.

  7. Nathan Prewitt

    As Matt Haughey said, I think a detailed knowledge of the subject matter is key. One other thing that seemed to help for me was to think of the presentation as a performance. I’m acting and I’m not portraying someone that is afraid of public speaking, but I’m portraying someone that enjoys public speaking. And, of course, getting a laugh early helps shake off the initial nerves.

  8. Ernest

    I admit that I am introverted.

    I did go through fear of public speaking when I took a class related to that. However, it was easier when I spoke in front of the teacher and 1 or 2 other classmates.

    I think that it is impossible for someone to do well in public speaking if he or she is scared of socializing or talking to strangers.

  9. STEVE

    I am very much interested in the method that u r speaking about , please share.
    thanks SO much!!

  10. Wiseman28

    All the messages following my posting on SlideShare prompted me to launch a book focusing on curing stage fright.
    Shoot me your e-mail and I’ll be happy to send you the draft chapter focusing on stage fright and the way I helped thousands overcome it and become super speakers.
    My e-mail is fredtalbott@comcast.net

  11. wezzie kawala

    I remember that time standing in front of proffessors for the first time! oo gosh my body was not stable.
    I like this chapter