I have coached all kind of people on public speaking, and there’s one common complaint I hear more than any other: “I’m not good at public speaking because I’m an introvert.”
Here and now, allow me to put that myth to rest: Being “an introvert” has nothing to do with being a good public speaker.
Making that connection is as erroneous as it is self-destructive. Let’s take a moment to do some myth busting about introverts and public speaking, and then share a few strategies that anyone – introverted or not – can use to speak with confidence in front of any audience.
First, the myth-busting. The concept of “being an introvert” is grossly misunderstood. Introversion (vs. extraversion) is a “preference,” (not a choice) meaning what kinds of situations give you energy, and which cost you energy. For example, if you feel more energized after a networking event you’re probably more extraverted; if you feel drained even though you genuinely enjoyed yourself, and need some “alone time” to recharge your batteries, you’re probably more introverted.
Of course there are many other characteristics of introverts as well, one clarification needs to be made: “Introversion” is not a more intellectual-sounding synonym for “shy.” They are not the same. Shy people inherently feel distress in certain public contexts. However, introverts and extraverts alike can feel the same kind of anxiety when giving a formal presentation or even when thinking about public speaking.
On the other hand, introverts can feel completely at home on stage, and extraverts can hate it! Just because your Myers-Briggs classification or DISC assessment labeled you as “an introvert,” don’t convince yourself that you are genetically programmed to hate or be bad at public speaking. That excuse no longer works!
Regardless of how you self-identify on the introvert-extravert continuum, here are some tips in order speak with confidence and authority.
First, you need a mindset shift. Stop sabotaging yourself with a bunch of worst-case-scenario questions: What if I mess up? What if I draw a blank? What if… Here’s the short version of my advice: STOP. Stop as soon as you catch yourself starting down the rabbit hole. All it will accomplish is to undermine your confidence.
Instead, shift your focus away from yourself and on to meeting the needs of your audience. As I mentioned in The Four-Word Secret to Confident Public Speaking, look at the experience from a generosity-driven perspective (e.g. “How can I give my audience the most valuable experience possible?”) rather than from an ego-driven perspective (e.g. “How do I look good?”)
Ask yourself: if you were in the audience, what information would you want to hear, and what kind of speaker would you want to deliver the information? Then be that speaker.
Second, rehearse the first two minutes. And not just once. The first two minutes are your on-ramp to the rest of the journey of your talk. If that on-ramp is smooth, the rest will flow much more easily and confidently.
Finally, remember that being relatable is more important than being perfect. Regardless of your official rank, talk to the audience as peers. Share stories or tell a well-timed (and appropriate) joke if you can nail the punch line. Smile when you say something positive and invite questions and comments from the audience. If you can’t answer one at the moment for whatever reason, tell them that as soon as the meeting is over you’ll find the answer and share it accordingly.
Each of these strategies will help you own the stage, whether it’s on a conference call or at a conference podium. And if you truly are an introvert, take all the alone-time you need to think through your introduction and presentation before you deliver it, and again after it’s done in order to reflect and recharge.
But whatever you do, remember that introverts can inherently be awesome public speakers too!
Are you an introvert, shy, or otherwise have questions or comments about confident public speaking? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me, personally.