If that title in itself is giving you anxiety, don’t worry. You aren’t the only one. Public speaking, as a principle, can be extremely scary, for even the most outgoing people out there. It’s you. In front of a group of people.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? People. Those very people who will laugh at you if you get anything wrong. Those very people who will taunt you for mispronouncing something. Those very people who act so well-put-together that you are scared to mess up in front of them.
So how do you, as an introvert, manage to ever speak in front of so many people? It seems like a math equation that just doesn’t add up. Doesn’t it?
I’m here to tell you that it’s possible. You can not only find the courage to face so many people and make your point in front of them but also have fun in the process. If you’re still skeptical about what I am saying, allow me the chance to take you down memory lane.
Who am I? And why should you care?
Well if you were expecting some great answer like I am an aspiring influencer or an entrepreneur, that’s just not me. And that’s exactly why I think you should care.
Because I am like you. Like everyone else out there. I am normal. 5 years ago, I had made the bold decision of switching to arts after having studied science my entire life.
Up until that phase in my life, you could have used the word ‘nerd’ to describe me, with all the stereotypes that came along with it. I was obsessed with getting good marks. I was happy being with my books. I was at peace when I wasn’t interacting with other humans.
I was bespectacled, overweight, and acne-skinned (not too sure if this is associated with nerds, but that’s just how I was). And as this person, I got admission into a prestigious college in South Bombay. Now, I live in North Bombay. Andheri, to be specific.
My entire life had been within a 4km radius of my house. Suddenly, I was travelling to the other end of town every single day. I was interacting with people from South Bombay every single day. And that is when I got to know about the divide.
The divide between North and South Bombay. Such a great divide that North and South Bombay could be considered to be parts of different cities.
To the naïve, 18 year old me, the people from this part of town dressed too well. They spoke extremely articulately. They just always looked so well-put-together. That too for 7 am lectures.
So buying into all the stereotypes myself, I was both fascinated and intimidated by them. The way they looked, dressed, and spoke made me feel like they were superior to me in every possible way.
So when our first class presentation came up, I was petrified. Not only had I been completely launched out of my normal world, but I also had these seemingly perfect people to impress.
One wrong word, one word said in a ‘North Bombay’ accent and they were going to make fun of me for the next three years. In retrospect, I realize how dramatic that sounds. But back then it was exactly what I was feeling.
So how did I, the introvert from North Bombay, manage to stand up and speak in front of all these people? And how can you, subsequently, do the same as well.
1. Research the hell out of the topic
Now, you might be thinking ‘Duh, that’s a given!’ You have to research for your presentation any way. But you need to ask yourself, are you researching enough to just go out there and speak something? Or are you researching to such an extent that you know the subject inside out?
You might yet not see the link between the two. And that’s okay. It took me two years to see it as well. But when you are super prepared with the subject you need to speak about, there is an internal confidence that arises.
You know what you have to speak about. Everything about it. That automatically makes you surer of yourself. And ready to face the crowd.
2. Practice in front of people you know
As an introvert, I had two to three people I could confide in. And yes, two of them were my parents. So I ran these people through the presentations I had to present in front of 70 of my (maybe judgemental) peers.
Since these were people I was comfortable with, hearing their feedback made me better prepared. It told me where I needed to work on my presentation and where it was working just fine.
The reason why this is an effective way to make you a better speaker is because it takes all the insecurities from within your head, and makes them face the real world. It is a real-life interaction with a fresh pair of eyes that do not know the presentation inside out.
Even if you are only speaking to people who love you, it is still another person. A living, breathing person. Practicing with them, well, I won’t say it will make you perfect, but it will definitely make you prepared.
3. Find a point to look at on the wall or just rely on a super supportive friend
You might have heard this as a tip about combating the fear of public speaking- Imagine everyone is in their underwear. I personally never saw the appeal in that and chose two alternative ways that have ended up working very well for me.
The first is to just find a blank spot on the wall that will be right in front of you. I am assuming that you would have visited the class you will be presenting in.
A few days before your presentation, find a spot on the wall you can rely on. Make sure the spot is in the middle of the class. Just look at it throughout your presentation, whenever you are feeling nervous.
Another alternative is to rely on your friend. If you have made a close friend in college, tell them that public speaking scares you. Ask them if they would be on board with you looking at them throughout the presentation.
If they agree, there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing more encouraging than a nod from a friend, in the middle of an intense presentation.
4. Have a piece of paper in hand
Remember the research we spoke about before? Jot it down. While mental notes are great, having something written down in front of you will make you so much more confident. This is because the research you have written down will act as your safety net.
Whenever you are feeling lost or confused during the presentation, you know you have the option to look down and glance at your notes.
But you also need to be smart about it. You cannot stand in front of your class with a thick bunch of papers in your hand. Find an attractive colourful paper (if you have to do something you dislike, why not make it fun?), and neatly write down your pointers on it.
Neatly being the key word. You don’t want your own handwriting to confuse you, do you?
5. Dress your best
For me, personally, my appearance was a big factor affecting my confidence during public speaking. So I used to make sure that I wore a great shirt, tried some makeup on and actually put some effort into my hair, before every presentation.
You might not be the same. You might be someone who looks amazing all the time. But up your game even then. When you know that you are looking the best you have ever looked, you are bound to feel more confident about yourself.
Trust me, this is something that will translate into your presentation.
Now, I am not going to lie and tell you that you will be ready to present at the biggest awards show in the world after this. Because you won’t. Nor is this going to happen overnight.
It takes time. A lot of it. It takes effort. A lot of it. And more than anything, it takes an attitude of never wanting to give up.
You might suck at your first presentation. Your second. Your twentieth. But until you go through that journey and go through all the downs, you aren’t going to see the day where the thought of public speaking doesn’t terrify you.
I personally might be on presentation number thirty of my life. And I’m nowhere near giving my first TED talk. But, the thought of having to speak in front of people, no matter how judgemental I think they might be, doesn’t scare me anymore. I might even go as far as to say- it excites me.
And I know, one day, you’ll be there as well.
Till then, I’ll be preparing for my TED talk.