Yes, Introverts Can Be Great Public Speakers
You can't choose how much talent you have for an activity, but you can choose how you view the relationship between talent and excellence--and according to recent research, that choice makes a big difference.
Telling your kids they're smart, for instance, sounds like a good idea, but psychological studies have found that believing performance is down to inborn ability actually creates anxiety, reduces motivation, and leads children to underperform. Believe that achievement is mostly down to hard work and practice, on the other hand, and you're more likely to grow to your full potential--and perhaps outshine even those blessed with natural ability.
And what's true for fifth grade math students or young violinists is also true for public speakers.
Sure, you may be a born introvert, utterly lacking in the desire to listen to the sound of your own voice, but according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, that doesn't mean you can't become an excellent public speaker.
The first step is realizing that you're not doomed--effort and skill matter more than personality. The second is to learn some basic techniques to better approach the challenge of addressing a crowd. Cain, who is developing a course on public speaking for introverts, recently shared some of these tips for quiet types on the blog of presentation guru and designer Nancy Duarte, including:
Be yourself; good speakers are not necessarily "naturals." Have you ever watched a fiery orator or a speaker who has the audience in stitches, and thought, "I can’t do that"? You might be right--and that’s okay. The best speakers are not necessarily dynamic or hilarious – they are simply interesting. They communicate valuable information. "People think that being a good speaker means being funny or glib," says David Lavin of the Lavin Agency (who happens to be my lecture agent). "But that’s wrong. The best speakers are compelling. People underestimate the power of content and of storytelling."
What do Malcolm Gladwell and Lady Gaga have in common? At the same time, public speaking is a performance, and that’s a good thing, even if you’re not a natural actor. Have you ever wondered why people enjoy costume parties? It’s because they feel liberated when interacting from behind a mask. Dressing up as Cinderella or Don Draper removes inhibitions as effectively as a glass of wine. Think of your onstage persona the same way. Surprisingly, both Gladwell and Lady Gaga have this in common.
Serve the audience. Introverts are phenomenal listeners, which attunes them to the needs of others. And that’s why speaking (instead of listening) can feel uncomfortable--unnatural, even. But remember that public speaking is not about you. It’s about the audience. Your job is to take care of the audience, not to be judged by it or even to entertain it. Remind yourself that you are not seeking approval or love. You are a teacher, a giver, an enlightener.
Check out the complete post for the rest of the tips. Or, if you're struggling to make your reserved personality work for you in other areas of your professional life, these resources on promoting yourself despite your shyness and how to survive a party or networking event with your nerves intact may be useful.
If you're an introvert who has mastered public speaking, how did you conquer your natural reserve?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.