Sunday, March 14, 2010

Public Speaking for Introverts

Being quiet and reserved by nature, it's easy for us introverts to become invisible within organizations. This only further contributes to our being misunderstood, being undervalued, and even passed over.

For myself, being an introvert and somewhat of a perfectionist (mostly out of having fear of failing), public speaking didn't come naturally and getting started on this speaking path certainly wasn't a cake walk. Whenever I would be asked to speak, my first inclination used to be to say thanks, but no thanks. I would look for any excuse to get out of it.

Just the thought of speaking would make me nervous, my heart would race, and when the actual time came for me to speak, I would want to hide. Yet if I was going to be successful in the business world, this is something I had to learn. While I am not a professional speaker, I sure have come a long way and it has served me well. Was it easy? No. Doable? By all means, yes.

Today, when my colleagues find out I am an introvert, they don't believe me. While speaking still isn't natural for me, it's something I have become comfortable with and actually even look forward to it. Now I even actively seek out speaking engagements both because I enjoy speaking and it helps me in my work. In fact, I attribute much of my success to having developed public speaking ability.

Over the years, through trials and tribulation, successes and mistakes, I have learned some lessons that have helped me become more comfortable with public speaking. I like to share them with you, my introverted colleagues. My hope is they will help you and you too will reap the rewards that come from public speaking.

Here they are:

1. First, know you're not alone. Fear of public speaking is not limited to us introverts. For the longest time, I used to feel intimidated. This was only compounded by my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings especially used to surface when I was around extroverts for they seemed to have it so together. I used to think that in no way am I in the same league as those extroverts. They are so much more accomplished, more smarter, more charming, more of a leader, more interesting...on and on the negative talk went. Only when I realized, and truly accepted, that even many of them fear public speaking did it become somewhat easier for me.

2. You must push yourself out of your comfort zone. Remember, you can't learn to swim on land. You have to dive into the water. As the Nike says, just do it. There simply is no short cut. Believe me, I have looked. Having said that, start with baby steps. Actively seek out speaking opportunities in venues where you would feel more comfortable and risk is low. Start off with say brown bag talks and other similar casual settings. They will help you to start feeling comfortable standing and speaking in front of people.

3. Prepare. For many of us introverts, it's hard to speak off the cuff. Once you push yourself out of your comfort zone and commit to speaking engagements, you must then prepare. The better prepared you are, the more comfortable you will feel and with greater confidence you will show up. Speaking of preparation, practice speaking out loud. When I first started speaking, I used to run through my talks in my head. Thinking I have the talk down pat, then when I would go in front of the group, the words just wouldn't come out and I would stumble. I realized there is a huge difference between running through a talk in my mind and actually saying the words out loud. Practice speaking out loud.

4. On the day of your talk, arrive early. I still do this and it helps me immensely. I walk around the room, I stand in front of the room visualizing myself speaking, I sit in the audience seats, and I take lots of deep breaths. In essence I make the room familiar, as if it's my place and I begin to feel at ease in that setting. In addition, whenever possible, I get to know some of the people before the actual talk begins. Even have someone you know well sit in the front with whom you would feel comfortable making eye contact and giving the talk to. Furthermore, if it helps, have something with you that gives you comfort. For example, I tend to hold a pen laser light or a marker in my right hand as I present for it gives me comfort and sense of control. While logically it makes no sense, it works for me.

5. Realize you don't have to be perfect. You just have to show up. Remember that no one dies, including you, if a mistake gets made. And since only you know your talk, even if you slip, it's very possible no one will know but you. Now say you do slip and it get's noticed. For example, if you say blank out, then just admit it. Say something like "Ooops, I just blanked out. Has that ever happened to any of you? Anyways, can someone please tell me what I was saying"? Or if you don't have an answer to a question, it's OK to say you don't know. Then promise to follow-up. What a wonderful opportunity that actually becomes then for you to follow-up and further strengthen those connections. All this also makes you human, more authentic and that will help you connect with your audience.

6. Even when you begin to get more comfortable, continue to actively seek out speaking engagements. Practice makes perfect. Moreover, not only will this serve you well in your career, you may actually being to even enjoy speaking and I am confident that these speaking engagements will lead to many opportunities for you.

7. Most of all, just be yourself. For example, I am serious by nature so I don't tell jokes and I don't do rha rha cheerleading types of talks for I know I don't do those well. Believe me, I have tried and have totally fallen flat. My style tends to be more conversational, more professor like and therefore I stick to that. So far it has served me well.

Now it's time for you to jump into action. Take your first step. Commit to a speaking engagement, get it on your calendar and then begin your preparation. You can do it.


Kevin Whorton and Scott Oser said...

Hey Vinay
This is great sharing. I think many audiences can be unforgiving as well when they don't understand that you're an introvert; it always helps a bit to explain up-front if you're nervous, or a first time speaker, or any other open-kimono that helps people sympathize and empathize as you begin. One of my co-presenters at Great Ideas was incredibly nervous and came with index cards to script herself; telling the crowd she was nervous seemed to help calm her down, but she really got into it when she answered the first audience questions; she could talk about her work instead of conceptual, big principles, which was clearly her comfort zone. I think it's the first few minutes and the first couple of talks that takes all the courage in the world to do. Once you're over the hump, it really can become easy, even for a guy who grew up with severe speech impediments like I did. -kevin

Vinay Kumar said...

Great points Kevin. While I can't be certain, it appears your co-presentor may have been an introvert like me. I too find the first few minutes the most challenging and then once I am into the talk and since I know my stuff, it then flows from there.

AS for your "speech impediment", you sure fooled me Kevin. I have heard you speak on many occassions and you sure do come across like a pro.

Vinod said...

Hi Vinay,

Thanks for sharing this wonderful article on public speaking.

Vinod Verma