An Introvert’s Guide to Public Speaking
I’m an introvert.
I know, everybody says that. And every time I read it, I roll my eyes.
“You’re not really introverted, you with the public speaking, the podcasting, the 30 tweets per day. I’m introverted. I got scared to say yes in the school register and have deleted more tweets than I’ve posted purely out of shyness.”
That’s what rings in my head every time somebody mentions how introverted they are, and I expect something similar to be ringing through yours right now.
“You got scared to say yes in the school register? I didn’t even go to school I’m that introverted.”
I hear ya. Really, I do. It’s frustrating because it seems the more people say they’re introverted, the more it dilutes the challenges introverts face.
I actually think that all human beings are introverted in some way. It exists on a spectrum, with different factors triggering different worries.
There is one factor that everyone seems to face at one point in their lives. And that’s Public Speaking (yes, capitals. It sounds more scary with capitals).
I wasn’t expecting the talk would get chosen.
And I certainly wasn’t expecting I’d actually go through with it.
But I did. And as with most experiences, I learned a few things on the way.
So here are five lessons I learned as an introvert speaking in front of an audience for the first time. You can apply these lessons for anything from a job interview to an investor’s pitch. Anywhere you’re trying to convince, inspire, teach or entertain.
Having an idea is just the first step. It’s getting it to spread that’s the hard part.
Lesson 1: Do Your Research First
When I started planning my talk, I knew the subject I wanted to speak about: pattern libraries. At the time, I had only just started working with them and I thought they were the best thing since the iPod. So naturally, I wanted to share this with the design community.
So I started writing.
I wrote a lot about how great they are and why we should be using them. It was only when I’d finished I started watching some talks other people have done on the subject.
The most recent one started like this:
“I think by now we’re all familiar with pattern libraries, so I won’t make you sit through another explanation of how great they are.”
She’d just described my whole talk.
It was only at that moment I realised everyone else has been working this way for a long time. It was only then, after 2 weeks of wasted work, I realised that I needed a different angle.
So research other talks on your subject first to make sure you’re not just repeating old information.
Research other pitches or your competitors and find out what they’re doing. Then do something different. Find a new angle and your audience will not only thank you, but they’ll remember you.
Be different. Be the purple cow in a field of brown cows.
Lesson 2: Write Out Your Talk
In the public speaking world you’re not meant to write your talk out word for word.
The way to do it is to write down bullet points and just let the rest flow. The idea is that you’ll sound natural, conversational and in the moment.
All great points of course and if you have the confidence more power to you.
I did not have the confidence. So I went against every piece of advice I’d both heard and read and I wrote my talk from scratch.
And boy, was I glad I did.
You see, I was already out of my comfort zone. Just the thought of what I’d agreed to do put me off my dinner (which is mighty hard to do!). I needed some form of safety net. Being over-the-top prepared was my safety net.
If you think writing out your presentation will help, just do it. If you’re going for a job interview, write out some answers to questions you may get asked.
It doesn’t mean you can’t go with the flow on the day. If you’re nervous about freezing up half way through, it’s a really good way to give you the confidence that, should the worst happen, you have something to fall back on.
Keep it a secret if you want. I won’t tell.
Lesson 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
After that last point you’re probably thinking, “But it’ll sound staged, it’ll be boring, rehearsed and inauthentic. Bleugh!”
And you’re quite right… sort of.
But before you dismiss this bit of advice, go and watch a TED talk. Do you think they just rocked up on the day with a few bullet points hoping for the best?
No. They’ve been rehearsing and tweaking their talks for weeks, if not months. And that doesn’t make them any less authentic, it just means they can tell their story in the most powerful way possible.
“Once I had the basic draft down to about 14 or 15 minutes … I rehearsed. I just paced around my basement, timing myself on my phone, and recited the talk over and over and over again until I drove myself crazy.”
So if it’s important, practice, tweak, practice, tweak. And eventually it will click and you won’t be focusing on what you’re saying, because you know it.
You can focus on how you’re delivering and connecting with your audience.
And it’s the delivery that makes a talk sound natural and engaging.
Lesson 4: Don’t Go It Alone
Having people to offer feedback on either your topic or presentational style is invaluable.
When you’re close to a subject you can easily run the risk of attributing key information as common knowledge and not including it in your presentation.
Equally, you can go too basic, explaining things that your audience already knows well and boring them to tears.
By reciting your talk for other people, or even giving them an outline to read through, you can get some truly fascinating insights. A sentence that you were going to cut could spark an idea in them that changes your entire talk.
So get feedback as often as you can, and most importantly, listen to it.
If you don’t have a friend or colleague who can help, there are still plenty of other ways you can get real feedback:
- Meetup.com has so many public speaking groups in most cities. If you can attend some of these it’ll really help prepare you for speaking around groups of strangers.
- You can even hire a public speaking coach. They’re kind of expensive and do tend to harp on about breathing. But you’ll be speaking out loud, with someone encouraging in the room which is invaluable.
- If you’re in any Slack or Facebook groups, try posting there to see if anybody would be willing to get a sneak preview of your talk. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get hounded with people willing to have a listen. You could even do a Google hangout and speak in front of a group.
Lesson 5: Prepare For the Worst
Public speaking in front of any number of people is scary and although that fear doesn’t ever seem to go away, there are things you can do to dampen it.
The key is in finding out exactly what you’re scared of and putting something in place should that fear come true.
I did this and it helped massively. Here are some things I was scared of and the remedy’s I could use should that situation arrive:
Fear: Blanking out and forgetting what I’m meant to be talking about
Remedy: Write out my talk and make sure it’s ingrained in my head. Also have notes to refresh my memory if needed.
Fear: Laptop breaking or running out of battery on the day
Remedy: Keep a copy of my presentation on a pen drive
Fear: My presentation breaking half way through and not having the slides as visual clues for my next point and another mind blank.
Remedy: Have a paper copy of my talk to hand. Just in case.
Fear: Getting asked a question I don’t know the answer to
Remedy: Have friends and colleagues pick apart your presentation and ask you tough questions. Or practice a good response for if you don’t know the answer. (Remember, it’s ok if you don’t know something. Open it up to the audience!)
Think about the things you’re scared of. Even the really irrational ones. Making sure you have failsafes in place, even if the likelihood of any of these happening is very small, will give you some much needed confidence on the day.
So there you have it. These are five lessons I learned when I did my first ever talk. I genuinely hope that some of these have been helpful for you, whether you’ve committed to a talk or you're facing an important presentation.
But please don’t let your shyness hold you back from public speaking. It’s a skill that will serve you well time and time again.
Here are some resources that I found really useful when preparing for my talk. Feel free to add any in the comments and I’ll add to the list.
A talk about the power of body language and how you can use ‘power posing’ to increase your confidence on the day.
Groups dedicated to public speaking, whether it’s giving a toast or a full blown presentation.
8 talks from some of the best speakers… about how to speak in public.
A crazy comprehensive list of articles about public speaking. From preparing your talk to overcoming fears.
If you’ve got plenty of time, this book gives a pretty good grounding in public speaking techniques. A little long winded but its principles are extremely solid. (If you’re short on time, just read the reviews—you’ll get the gist!)