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Why Introverts Make The Best Public Speakers

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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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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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