Have you ever stood in front of a group of people, and in the middle of speaking, you just freeze? Your mind goes blank. You start sweating. Your fear and self-doubt paralyze you.
I’ve been there. Many times.
On the last day of my internship during college, I called in sick just so I wouldn’t have to deliver a short, 15-minute presentation to less than 10 people. I was crippled by fear. I’m not alone with this kind of thing.
In fact, according to a Gallup Poll, 40-45% of people are afraid of public speaking. It is often listed as the most common fear, after snakes and even death itself. Researchers have also found that introverts make up 26-50% of the population.
It stands to reason that the same people afraid of speaking are also introverted. That was me—about five years ago. But if you met me today, you would have no idea. That’s because I’m an introvert at heart but no one knows it.
What is introversion, anyway?
According to this Scientific American article, the extrovert-introvert spectrum comes down to two aspects: enthusiasm and assertiveness.
Extroverts have more, whereas introverts have less. Ambiverts—or, if you prefer, extroverted introverts—are somewhere in the middle.
Enthusiasm is about sociability, excitement, and friendliness.
Assertiveness is about leadership, persuasiveness, and dominance.
How outgoing are you and what’s your social status? Do you make friends easily, laugh a lot, take charge, captivate people, and have the ability to talk others into doing things? If not, you’re an introvert.
Can an introvert become an extrovert?
There’s a reason I started this article off by talking about public speaking. That’s because, until I finally learned how to become an accomplished speaker, nothing I did gave me the confidence to engage with other people, take on leadership roles, or influence others.
Learning the skill—and art—of speaking transformed me so profoundly that I can honestly say you would think I’m an extrovert if you met me. Even though, really and truly, I am not.
I’m the guy who never spoke up at meetings and avoided making presentations at all costs. Today, I regularly compete in speech contests, hold webinars, deliver training, and speak in front of cameras and crowds.
How can you conquer your fear of public speaking to become an outgoing introvert?
Two of the most powerful ways are:
- Join the non-profit organization Toastmasters
- Take an improv class
Toastmasters will encourage you to learn and practice in front of others in a safe, non-work environment. An improv class will take you out of your comfort zone and help you explore the positive, humorous side of speaking.
Why public speaking?
Here are 7 reasons why becoming a proficient public speaker can make even the most timid introvert come across as an outgoing extrovert.
1. People will get to know you
Introverts often have trouble making friends. It’s tough to open up to strangers.
If you work on the skill of public speaking, whether it’s through a training course, at work, an organization like Toastmasters, or an improv class, you will have to talk about something. And, your most knowledgeable subject is, well, you. By talking about your story, your experiences, your struggles and successes, others will get to know you, and you will get to know yourself. This will gradually bring out your confidence and inner extroversion.
2. You will become more enthusiastic and excited
When you’re on a deadline to come up with a speech topic, you learn to constantly look for ideas. Then, when you find an idea you like, you will start to dive in, read about it, research it, and put together your talk. This process, which many of us haven’t done since grade school, is a perfect way to ramp up your enthusiasm.
I recently gave a speech on grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef. Sounds boring, I know. But the process of learning about the food industry, agriculture, and nutrition motivated me to learn more and focus on my health.
This enthusiasm and excitement builds on itself, and you build a repertoire of knowledge that makes dinner parties much more enjoyable. Without even trying, your introverted self becomes the life of the party!
3. You will have fun
Don’t get me wrong, introverts can have just as much fun as extroverts. But there’s a new sense of enjoyment that comes from gaining confidence speaking in front of others, and it brings out a side of you usually reserved for yourself. The same fun you get from reading a book or walking alone to think is suddenly expanded to encompass your audience, mentors, and peers.
I recently gave a humorous speech at a contest. Let’s just say comedy is not a strength of mine. But knowing that my speech had to be funny pushed me to learn about writing jokes, using punch lines, creating drama, and using my face and body for humor. It definitely brought out the comedian in me, and it was lots of fun getting there.
4. You will learn how to persuade others
This is a big one. Influence is a subtle art, and we as introverts believe it is out of our grasp.
Don’t despair. Becoming a more confident speaker also means you learn the skill of delivering your message, in a way that appeals to the audience. By practicing the use of your voice, appearance, and body, along with the structure, story, and words of your speech, you will have a recipe for persuading others that few learn or practice.
This ability will extend into your personal circle, enabling you to make friends more easily and open up opportunities in your career or business.
5. You will start to captivate people
Part of influence is the ability to gain others’ attention. To captivate your audience. You will learn to ask questions, appeal to “what’s in it for them,” use multiple methods of communication (stories, data, hands-on), and create calls to action.
All of these serve to draw in your audience—whether it’s a room of people or a small group at a party. You will learn to captivate them.
6. You will gain tons of confidence
This entire process of developing your speech, learning the skills to deliver it, speaking in front of others, and, most importantly, getting feedback so you can improve, will make you more confident than you ever thought possible.
After six very awkward speeches, the feedback I had received started to come into place in each successive speech, and I became more and more confident. As with any skill, the more you practice, iterate, and learn, the more sure you are that the next iteration will have a certain outcome. This, in turn, breeds greater self-confidence.
7. Your newfound confidence will make you a leader
When you have greater self-confidence, you speak up more during meetings, seek interactions with others (no matter how intimidating they used to seem), and volunteer for more roles where extroversion is required. This creates amazing new opportunities.
After about six months of developing the skill of speaking, I had the confidence to try a new leadership position at work. I had new responsibilities that required me to mentor and speak to others, but I wasn’t afraid of this any more. In fact, I relished it. As a result, I found advancement where I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Create your own luck and become an outgoing introvert by learning the skill (and art) of public speaking.
Start by reading some good books, and then joining Toastmasters or taking an improv class.
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