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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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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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