Public Speaking for Introverts

Some of you may know that I have done a fair bit of public speaking as a member of a public speaking club. You may also know that what I am currently doing for a living involves a lot of talking. Being an introvert, it may surprise some of you that I joined that public speaking club willingly, and that I’ve been with them for seven years. I’m not still with them because I am bad at public speaking still; it’s because I’m addicted. No matter how good I get, I still need practice and feedback. I also don’t mind giving advice to new members about their speeches. All of this practise has made me comfortable with public speaking, because I’m not shy. I am an introvert. I don’t do a lot of talking, so when I do I make it worthwhile. I sometimes use big words, and I’m always going for a laugh. That doesn’t mean I’m going to dress up as a clown to get that laugh, I have my limits.

Public speaking is one of those funny things people do, and in some cases are forced to do against their better instincts and sometimes their better judgement. In this week’s article I will be exploring the topic of public speaking from the perspective of an introvert since I am one of those.

Getting the speech started

If you’re an introvert who would rather sit at home and talk to yourself, or better yet, think to yourself then you’ll understand that just thinking about making a speech (whether you have to or not) fills you with a desire to procrastinate like nobody has ever seen before. Practising and rehearsing are things that make you instead think very creatively about how you can get out of giving the speech. This point is where introverts and non-introvert-shy people begin to look the same. It can be really difficult to get going. The good news is that anyone giving a speech feels this way at some point or another. There are still others who are natural procrastinators, and they are a different story all together.

Introverts will like this part: the key to a great speech, to me, is the writing of it. I know when I’ve written a really good speech, and when I know that I’m more likely to want to rehearse it. Think of all the editing you get to do too! The actual writing of the speech means you get the ideas that are swirling around in your head out of your head, and into a document so that they can be organized, tweaked, researched, edited, and then ultimately, performed. In my experience, the way I write is similar to the way I speak, so the writing translates into the spoken-word rather well. This technique is also likely one that I have refined over the years. And guess what – writing a speech this way makes it easier to remember when you go to perform it. And when you do perform it, the ideas are clear to you so you don’t have to worry about repeating it word-for-word. Just make sure the ideas will make sense to other people. That’s another key to writing and performing speeches: make them make sense. Otherwise, your special “introvert’s senses” will see audience members’ faces scrunching up in a way that says “what is she talking about?!?”

Pauses

Have you ever listened to a speaker and noticed that they speech wasn’t just a continuous stream of words or “verbal vomit”? There are many reasons for this, and one is that this is your chance to inhale and exhale. Very important is this breathing thing. We introverts are so used to our inner dialogue and communicating via “introverts’ radio”, that speaking out loud is new, and thus possibly nerve-wracking for us. Does the audience contain some strangers? Nerves. Is this a new venue? More nerves. New people in a new place with a new speech create the perfect storm of nerves. I’m getting nervous just writing about it right now. This means that breathing is super important. We introverts are not shy, and some of us do enjoy some public speaking, so these things called…pauses…work really well for us. Not only is it a great chance for us to breath, but it is also a chance to use our introverts’ skills to read the minds of the people in the audience. We’re not really reading minds. I mean, that idea is scary. With some people I can tell just by glancing at them that I “don’t wanna know”. So what we’re really doing is reading body language:

Eyes closed = sleeping = need to stand next to them and shout my speech to wake them up

Looking at their phone = addicted to phone = plan intervention

Talking to their neighbour = rude = need to make fun of them

Smiling at speaker = having fun with the speech/ thinking about something else funny = roll with it, they probably like you

Taking pauses while speaking in public not only gives us the chance to breathe, but it also gives us the chance to read our audience and see how much they are enjoying or engaged with our speech. And it gives the chance to evaluate them. It’s a form of payback.

Awkward Silences

Here’s the idea about awkward silences. To us introverts, they’re just silences. When we’re listening to others speak, it’s a break from listening: “Ugh…finally, some time for my own thoughts”.

We do so much listening (to people who love talking) that it’s nice to have a break and a chance to assimilate what we’ve heard, or listen to something more interesting playing inside our own heads.

Vocal Variety (going above a whisper)

We have a term that we use a lot in my public speaking club and that is “vocal variety”. When giving feecback, various audience members will say they’d like to hear more “vocal variety”. What they are specifically referring to depends on the speaker they are evaluating, and for soft-spoken (not shy) introverts such as myself, it usually refers to volume. So, how to we get our voices heard? How do we get them to go above a whisper? Both are good questions. Sometimes, you’ll have to speak so loudly that to you it sounds like you’re yelling. Other times you’ll have access to a microphone. Please somebody get me a microphone!

Still others will complain that they can’t hear you, despite you yelling into a microphone. These people likely have hearing loss that isn’t your fault. This person may have selectively lost hearing for your voice, which is likely because they wanted to be the one talking (or you sound like someone they know, who was tuned-out a long time ago); or they have lost the ability to hear the frequency that your voice is in. That second one is not your fault.

Gesturing

The odd piece about introverts and public speaking really shows when it comes to gestures. We’re standing up in front of a crowd of people and speaking because we have something to say, and we want to be heard, yet we still have that introverts’ thing about not wanting to be noticed. It’s a bit of a dichotomy (and yes, I would say that word out loud, and yes, I have used it in conversation). Still, we have to do something (appropriate) with our hands. Every speaker has to figure out what to do with their hands. We also need to be in control of our faces. My face doesn’t always make me aware of what it’s doing. Now that I know this, I know that I have to check in with my face to make sure what it’s doing is matching what I’m saying. You’ll likely never see an introvert flail his or her arms as a form of gesturing. You may never even see an introvert use a “power pose” on stage. Our hands hardly ever make it over our shoulders when other people can see us. We’re subtle. We’re mysterious. Audience members need to put away their phones and focus so they can see and appreciate the subtle and well-placed gestures. There aren’t many gestures, there are no BIG gestures, we’re not going to do anything particularly outrageous, and we’re definitely not going to do anything weird. So, pay close attention, and notice the speaker who is not trying to be noticed. It’s a powerful thing when this all comes together. What didn’t make sense before is now making complete sense.

Going back to your seat/ Exiting the stage

Go at a pace that feels low to you, and then you’ll be sure you are moving at a normal pace as opposed to a “I can’t wait to get out of here” pace. And definitely don’t hide under a table or in a closet, as much as you might want to or feel compelled to at this point. Simply sit down slowly and calmly in the chair you just got out of, or calmly exit the room through the doors you entered the stage through. Is it a big stage? Are there stairs? Look for the stairs, and hold onto the handrail as you go up or down. Please, no jumping off the stage in your efforts to escape.

Speaking of which, it is now time for me to figure out how to gracefully exit this article. Basically, when it comes to public speaking, there are many introverts who enjoy it. We bring a different flavour to the public speaking activity, and subtle nuances that can be very, very effective in getting a point across. We have skills and techniques to put our “introvert” stamp on a seemingly “extraverted” type of activity. When it works, it works well.

Do you do any public speaking? How do you feel about it? Let me know in the comments.

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E-mail kathryn@kathrynreichheld.ca Hours Contact me anytime and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
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