How to master public speaking- by an introvert
Growing up, I used to keenly observe the world around me. I would marvel at LinkedIn success stories where people appeared to have mastered networking and how my peers in school would volunteer to be on stage for any event. It was clear, extroverts ruled the world, and the world was designed for them.
As I documented all of this “evidence”, I grew up believing that I could never speak in front of a very large crowd and that I was clearly not built for that. I did not foresee how many of my own myths would be busted and beliefs would soon be challenged.
Part of my role at Higson involves a lot of public speaking, and working here over the past few months has really changed my perspective on the matter.
As a staunch introvert (I am 84% introverted on the MBTI), I thought that stage artists, stand-up comics, basically anyone who can be in front of an audience, are obviously extroverts. I fell into the trap of thinking that public speaking is something that comes “naturally” to extroverts.
Learning about the growth mindset and self-talk made me realise that public speaking is not about how introverted or extroverted you are.
Introversion or extroversion is actually about where you get your energy from. Introverts feel energised by having the time to recharge on their own, while extroverts get their energy from being around people.
Introversion is misunderstood- just because we value our time alone and that is where we get our energy from, it does not mean that we cannot be good public speakers. Did you know that Obama is an introvert? His presence and oratory skills are testament that being introverted has no reflection on his public speaking ability.
It does not matter if someone is an extrovert or an introvert because public speaking is about confidence and skill, which can be developed with time and effort.
Building confidence to become better at public speaking is easier said than done. We are often made to believe that positive affirmations, telling ourselves that “I can do it” are the best way to build confidence. Actually, this rarely helps us feel confident. Instead, people perform better when they ask themselves questions rather than positively affirming themselves that they could do something.
But, can we fix it? Yes, we can! Sound familiar? It’s Bob the Builder! By borrowing some infectious optimism from Bob, we can build confidence by asking ourselves questions and using this tool:
When public speaking seems really daunting, replace:
“I can deliver tomorrow’s presentation well!” with “Can I deliver tomorrow’s presentation well?”.
Then give yourself 3 reasons why you can. Think of it as reasoning with your inner critic by giving yourself positive evidence about why you can do something.
I have used the tool previously before workshops and it definitely helped me gain much-needed confidence:
Can I deliver tomorrow’s presentation well?
"Yes, I can, because..."
I have prepared a lot for it by practicing what to say and thinking about my pace, tone variation and body language
I have received good feedback on previous presentations
I know the content well and can answer any questions the audience may have
Our brains are programmed to solve problems, so by asking ourselves these questions and consciously looking for evidence, the brain starts looking for solutions. This also helps us stop getting caught in a negative spiral and makes us less anxious before the event.
Other strategies to help build confidence
Sometimes the biggest source of nervousness can be losing our train of thought while we speak in front of an audience. Knowing the content and practising it beforehand can actually help calm the nerves, especially when you are worried about not knowing the answers to questions that can be asked during a presentation.
When practicing, focus on these areas:
Ask yourself: Do I know what the presentation is really about, and what I have to say? Do I understand the overarching narrative of my presentation? Do I have a rough script in mind?
Ask yourself: Do I know where in the presentation I will keep the pace up and when to slow down? Aim to vary the pace to keep your presentation engaging
Ask yourself: How can I vary my tone throughout my presentation? What words or expressions do I want to stress to convey my key messages?
Ask yourself: Do I take enough pauses in between points and in between concepts? Am I giving the audience enough time to absorb the information I am sharing?
2. Reframe your nerves as excitement
Have you ever felt a rush of adrenaline before doing something you are scared of? You are not alone! In fact, 77% of us experience nerves before a presentation.
We feel a similar rush of adrenaline when we are excited. Telling ourselves, “I am excited about this!” can help reframe the nervousness as excitement and trick our brains into getting rid of the nerves.
3. Breathe and remember to smile
Before a presentation, remember to take a few deep breaths. This helps clear the mind and helps us connect better with the audience.
Before you present, follow the rule of 666 - breathe in for 6, out for 6, for 6 breaths.
Taking 6 deep breaths moves our brain out of fight or flight, which means we can function with a clearer mind.
During the presentation, remember to smile! Smiling releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone which automatically calms nerves.
In comparison to words, In comparison to words, body language accounts for 55% of our message’s impact. Smiling helps us come across as warm and credible, and makes the audience more receptive to what we have to say.
4 . Use your strengths
We might really look up to someone when it comes to public speaking- it can be a famous personality, friend or a colleague. We can then feel pressured to act and speak in a similar manner.
Forcing ourselves to do so can lead to awkward situations and also feel really unnatural. Being authentic and using strengths when speaking can help build a speaking style unique to us and bring in natural confidence.
Ask yourself, what part of presentations energises and excites you? What particular strengths could you bring out when presenting?
For example, I can engage my audience really well through humour; while a coworker of mine has a real knack for storytelling. Some people are great with slide design and visuals and can bring out the key message in an engaging manner through great visuals.
Part of being authentic and avoiding burnout is also remembering to give yourself the downtime to replenish batteries after a presentation, especially if you are introverted.
I have definitely grown a lot and worked on my public speaking skills since I joined Higson, and I truly believe that public speaking is all about confidence and practice, and is not related to introversion or extraversion. We must convince our inner critic- that we got this.
If you would like help in building confidence, getting better at public speaking and improving presentation skills, please get in touch .