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Last Updated on February 2, 2018

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

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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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