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Why Introverts Make The Best Public Speakers

Why Introverts Make The Best Public Speakers

‘The majority of my students had never heard a politician speak like Barack Obama; with clarity, dignity, focus, passion, humanity and authenticity. A man desiring that his words awaken and inspire.’ – Patsy Rodenburg, Voice Coach

Barack Obama knows how to speak in public. Dozens of examples spring to mind. At the DNC in 2004, winning the Nobel peace prize in 2009, and his eulogy for a victim of the Charleston shootings in 2015. Whatever you think of his politics, the guy can whip up a crowd.

To many of us, his talents seem unattainable. This is especially true for introverts, who can get tired easily by big crowds. Surely, all great speakers must be natural extroverts. They all lack fear around crowds. They all have a natural affinity for self-presentation. Look how comfortable they all are. Extroverts, surely.

But Barack Obama, one of the great public speakers of our time, is an introvert.[1] Nelson Mandela: introvert.[2] Gandhi: introvert.[3] How can this possibly be?

Trust Your Technique

Most people think that public speaking requires bravery. That you feel the fear and do it anyway. In this mindset, extroverts have a unique advantage: they feel less social anxiety. Extroverts are less sensitive to adrenaline, one of the chemicals released when you go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. They feel less fear, so are more likely to do it anyway.

But introverts, especially sensitive introverts, can be highly susceptible to social anxiety. In a bravery contest, they’re hampered by their overactive nervous systems. They feel more fear, so are far more likely to fly than fight.

The best speakers are not the bravest. They are the ones with the best technique. They employ pauses and range, handle beautiful rhetoric, and keep themselves calm under pressure. They can control their breathing, command their body language, and project their voice. They are musicians with total control over their instrument.

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Public speaking is not a bravery contest – it’s a motor skill. It’s a physical process which you improve by practice. Like driving a car, or tying your laces, or learning to paint. And when you see it like that, the introvert’s advantage comes to the fore.

Sense and Sensitivity

Introverts are good at thinking. They can think deeply and determinedly, and their thinking can bear interesting fruit, like Isaac Newton’s apple. In social situations, they’re more sensitive to the people around them. They notice subtle social cues, and can quickly pick up on small changes.

They’re often very concerned about how they’re coming across to other people. ‘Does that person like me?’, ‘Did I just say the wrong thing?’. They often have a heightened awareness of their own body in space. ‘Am I standing weird?’, ‘Why won’t that person let me in to the circle?’.

This internal monologue can be exhausting. But this heightened sensitivity is the introvert’s advantage. They are highly likely to notice areas of improvement in the way that they speak.

Extroverts tend to improve at public speaking by habituation. In other words, they get up on stage so often that they get used to it. Over time, they get less affected by the adrenaline rush, like a zookeeper shedding their fear of spiders. But throughout this process, they are unlikely to refine their speaking technique. They may feel more comfortable speaking, but they might not become a better speaker.

But the highly sensitive introvert can become a highly adept speaker. They assess their speaking in real-time, adjusting to how the audience responds. They tune in to how their audience feels, and can manipulate their technique accordingly. And if they notice something wrong, they can practice until they get it right.

But there’s one thing missing: how do you know if you’re getting it right?

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Getting Good

To stop you seeing public speaking as a bravery contest, you need a growth mentality. In other words, don’t despair about your weaknesses. Identify them, and research how to improve. But to identify your weaknesses, you need to know what you’re looking for.

Did it feel good?

It’s odd to say, but speaking in public should feel good. That means you need to manage your adrenaline reaction so that it doesn’t overpower you. You can do that by practising various techniques.

The first is diaphragm breathing, a technique proven to lower stress, calm muscle tension and oxygenate the brain. It also happens to give the voice an extra kick of resonance, which is useful. You can practice diaphragm breathing before you get on-stage. Or, as actors do, you can integrate it with your speaking so that the act of speaking keeps you calm.

Try this exercise. Place a hand on your belly. Breathe out, deflating your stomach towards your spine. Wait a moment, then relax back to normal. You should feel your belly inflate, and breath passively flow into your mouth. Try this a few times, and notice yourself relax.

Was it fluid?

In my video on the UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, you can see the tension in her muscles when she speaks. The tension in her body creates tension in her audience. And audiences don’t like to be made tense.

Good public speakers move with fluidity. They tend not to use jerky motions in their head and neck when they speak. Their relaxation transmits itself to their audience, and the audience feels relaxed.

You may have noticed from your speeches that you tend to shift your weight around uncomfortably. Perhaps you’re not sure where to put your hands. Maybe someone’s given you feedback that you seem nervous on-stage when you thought you had it under wraps. Sounds like you need to work on your fluidity.

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Try practising something that requires fluid motion, such as Tai Chi, Yoga, or some Pilates. Try being aware of your motions as you reach out for your pen, adjust yourself on your seat, or scroll downwards on your device. Notice if you make any jerky movements which might transmit tension.

How was I standing?

Modern life is famous for its postural carnage. Heads craned towards devices, we ravage our spinal column with unnecessary burdens. Bad posture can lead to tension. And tension, as we’ve seen above, makes an audience uneasy.

Posture can also play a role in body language. An upright, open-chested presenter has a stronger impact than a closed-off, shoulders-rounded speaker. Staying upright, with your head back and chest open is generally good advice.

An odd, but very effective piece of advice, is to focus on the knees. Often, we lock our knees when we stand up to speak. This locking creates tension in the hips, which transmits to the belly muscles, restricting one’s breathing. Try to soften the knees, as though you were able to move freely at any time. No need to squat like a sumo wrestler, but keep them a touch softer than usual. Notice the freedom of movement it gives you.

Was it monotone?

Is there an extrovert in your office? Are they bubbly, excitable, and charismatic? It’s likely that they use a wide pitch range: a lot of variety in the tones of their voice. In study after study, a wide pitch range is correlated with impressions of charisma. If you’re using a narrow, monotonous pitch range, you’re likely to be seen as dull.

Try speaking with energy. Use your face to express what you’re saying – it’s rather hard to keep a monotonous pitch when your eyebrows are going haywire. Try this exercise:

Imagine your child has come home and says ‘I had a really great day at school today!’. You say ‘really.’ Say it as monotonously as you can. Notice your facial muscles relax. Notice the flat pitch. Picture how sad the poor kid would be.

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Rewind. ‘I had a really great day at school today!’. ‘Really?!’ Say it with energy, enthusiasm and interest. Notice your eyebrows raise up. Notice your pitch go higher. Picture how excited they’d be to tell you their story.

Practice alternating between the monotone ‘really’ and the interested ‘really?!’. ‘Really.’ ‘Really?!’. Try adding a little more of the latter into the way you speak.

Did I make a connection?

Emotional sensitivity is a fantastic advantage. With the stage lights on you, you’ll be able to feel, moment-to-moment, what the audience is experiencing. You’ll have the chance to tell them something that they didn’t know before, and hold their hand every step of the way.

All people, and especially introverts, are capable of extraordinary empathy. Great speakers can feel as though they’re talking directly to you. And that’s because they are. They can see inside your head, and know what you’re thinking, and know how to answer your question even before you do.

Introversion Is an Opportunity

So remember, it’s not a bravery contest. Try some techniques to calm the breathing. Get good at controlling your nerves. But when you’re up there, don’t miss your chance. Your introversion gives you the chance to be the best speaker you can be. Don’t throw it away.

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: Is Obama an Introvert?
[2] Introvert, Dear: 5 QUOTES FROM NELSON MANDELA ABOUT BEING AN INTROVERT AND A LEADER
[3] Forbes: Gandhi

More by this author

Matt Pocock

The 4,000-lesson public speaking coach with a MA in Voice. He runs one-to-one sessions worldwide over Skype.

Why Introverts Make The Best Public Speakers

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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