The introvert’s guide to great public speaking

You may think that the best speakers are extroverts because introverts are uncomfortable in public. Some of the most celebrated speakers are introverts - think Barack Obama and Elon Musk. If they went from timid to bold, you can too.
May 2, 2022

If you think that introverts are shy and fearful of public speaking and extroverts are chatty and confident, you may be mistaken.

At the core of many personality assessments, such as the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator and DISC profile, is the measure of where you fall in the spectrum of introversion versus extroversion. The question is complex, and the corresponding traits are not as simple as quiet or talkative. In fact, some of the most talented public speakers of our time are introverts, for example, former president Barack Obama, business titan Elon Musk, evangelist Guy Kawasaki, and best-selling author Susan Cain. Check out Susan Cain’s 2012 TED talk: The power of introverts, which has 13.5 million views.

I discovered early in my career that I’m an introvert. I excelled in my career in public relations and communications but struggled with small talk and watercooler conversations. The tips in this blog combine my own experiences with those of many colleagues and clients.

Introversion and extroversion refer to where and how people get energized.

Introverts recharge by spending time alone or with a small group of friends and family. Extroverts are energized by socializing in larger groups of people and having many friends instead of just a few intimate ones.

When it comes to public speaking, introverts may feel nervous and uneasy in front of an audience and obsess over the details of preparing a presentation. They may enjoy time alone to research, craft, and perfect their talks instead of winging it.

Introverted individuals link extroversion with being in the spotlight and taking a leadership role. So, presenting to the board of directors, leading a team meeting, being a conference panelist, or handling a media interview may mean stepping out of the introvert’s comfort zone.

Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert, advises that introverted people not try to act like extroverts to demonstrate leadership. Instead, she encourages self-awareness about the leadership qualities they already possess in their own introverted way.

The real power comes from a position of pride and entitlement in who you are, she says. When you have that you become more effective in job interviews, showing up at meetings and speaking up.

As an introvert, you may opt to let someone else do the talking. Many people who fear public speaking simply avoid it, and that is a shame because the ability to communicate your ideas and explain things is fundamental to leadership. When you make your case for a promotion, raise money for a start-up, or propose marriage to your significant other you are exercising one of the most powerful soft skills any individual can have.

Here are seven ways that introverts can become more comfortable with public speaking.

1. Speak often and anywhere

When I started my public speaking coaching practice, a friend from the National Speakers Association advised that I speak at every opportunity possible, paid, or unpaid. This meant volunteer online training for non-profits, career day at my grandson’s school, a testimonial at my church, or a meeting of the city council where I live, to name a few. And I continue to do volunteer speaking to sharpen the skills I need for paid gigs and client coaching.

Public speaking clubs like Toastmasters are excellent ways to practice speaking in front of peers and receive immediate constructive feedback. Look for open mic nights, like The Moth, where you can put your name in a hat to deliver a five-minute impromptu speech. This will prepare you to tell your story to a group before you’re in a situation where your poor performance would impact your future.

2. Display your personality and passions

People come alive when they talk about something or someone they love. Let your passions and expertise lead you to better speaking. Talk about what you know and love and use those stories to liven up even a technical presentation. Approach public speaking as a service to your audience, regardless of who they are, that will leave them better for having listened to you. Your confidence will blossom and expand for future presentations.

3. Don’t compare yourself to others

If you’re like me and love to research and look to great speeches and speakers for inspiration and reference, you may fall into the comparison trap. We can observe public figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs, and TED co-founder Sir Ken Robinson and set a very high bar for ourselves. This is unrealistic. The real bar for your speech is how well you satisfy the needs of your audience. Your introverted superpower lies in how much you prepare, connect, and interact with the people who want to hear and learn from you.

4. Prepare and practice deeply

Introverts enjoy quiet time to research and prepare. This can translate to putting in the time to master the material, work on the delivery and perfect the timing. Presentation expert and TED speaker Nancy Duarte estimates that an effective speaker should plan to rehearse at least an hour per minute of their talk. That means you should spend at least 20 hours practicing a 20-minute presentation. Shorter talks may require even more practice to keep them concise and nail the rhythm and timing. Create a mental picture of your main talking points and stick to them. Don’t memorize or you will sound too rehearsed and mechanical.

5. Master your content

Author your own presentations and speeches, if possible. Or at least have a role in creating the material you will be presenting. Own your content and your talk will come across as more natural, convincing, and authentic. When you’re the expert, it’s much easier to convey your knowledge to a group of any size. Approach the speaking opportunity as a conversation and less of a presentation. Remember you’re there to engage and educate the audience and leave them better off for having spent that time with you.

6. Create rituals to relax

There are many techniques to cope with the butterflies in the stomach and I have covered many of these in my videos and blog posts. Introverts and extroverts alike may seek privacy backstage or outdoors before it’s their turn to speak. The same goes for making time to clear your mind and get grounded before a video conference. Deep breathing, meditation, affirmations, listening to a special song, visualizing a moment of great joy, looking at an inspirational image or artwork, reading a poem or prayer—all could help center your focus.

You may still experience nervous energy before you start your presentation. Even some superstar speakers feel the jitters but have learned to turn them into fuel to propel them to peak performance. For example, Tony Robbins jumps on a trampoline backstage as a pre-speaking ritual. Introverts can do the same by letting the nervousness move through you and energize your talk.

7. Wear your speaking uniform

Your speaking uniform means the mindset and attitude you adopt when you speak in front of people. Consider it your speaker persona. You‘ll feel liberated of any doubt or hesitation once you understand that you have distinctive knowledge to impart and that when you speak, you’re opening the pathways of understanding. Think of yourself as a poised speaker who loves being on the physical or virtual stage. Smile and make the spotlight your friend. The more you practice speaking the more comfortable you’ll become just being yourself. Remember that it’s not about you but about the benefits you bring to your audience.

Introverts of the world, take notice that your greatest talents as a public speaker may be waiting to be unleashed. Break from timid into bold and learn to love public speaking. It will be one of the best investments you can make in your career.

Rosemary Ravinal

I teach business leaders how to shine on video calls and have more productive virtual engagement. As Founder/Chief Trainer at RMR Communications Consulting, I also help executives master the art of public speaking, inspiring presentations, and authoritative media interviews online and in person. My company’s services are available in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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Rosemary Ravinal

Let me help you speak, engage, and persuade like a pro in person and online in English and Spanish.

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