With about 30-50% of the world’s population being introverted, this is a problem I come across often when I speak to aspiring speakers. And I can genuinely empathize with them since I too consider myself as mostly introverted.
I say ‘mostly’ because according to Carl Jung who popularized the terms ‘extrovert’ & ‘introvert’ said that there is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. Being so would be lunacy.
As a born introvert, I’ve always felt some level of under-confidence in social settings. However, it is only now after years of slowly discovering myself have I come to the realization that the thing that I thought made me less confident was my biggest strength of all.
And that’s what I want to talk about here. The power of introverts in the context of public speaking.
Why Introverts Hate Public Speaking?
They just like being by themselves
Many times I have been called a “snob” to not mingle with the groups when I preferred to just sit in my room and play video games, read a book or just be by myself.
The people on the other side thought that I was being “anti-social” or even “rude” when I preferred to be alone instead of in the presence of others.
I wish I could go back to those times and just tell all those well-intentioned people that it’s not that I am intending to be rude and it’s not that I have something against those people.
I just…like being by myself sometimes…
And that’s the thing about us introverts. It’s not that we hate public speaking because of some external factor. It’s just that we prefer not being around so many people.
We don’t see much value in it. Which brings me to my next point…
Introverts don’t see the need for credit
While public speaking does not stand for credit, taking on the spotlight can sometimes make it seem that way. And introverts really don’t see the need for credit. To them…
The work matters more than the acclamation
Which is why there seems to be no external desire for credit or for gaining the spotlight. It’s easier for an introvert to just put their head down and work, work and work some more.
It’s why you see some of those people in your office, perhaps, who seem to work all the time with great results but might not be really well-known outside of their team or department.
Truly (but wrongly) believe that they don’t have much value to share
As an introvert, I would believe that when I am in the spotlight, someone better should be here instead of me. People don’t really want to listen to my ideas, I thought.
But it was only over time I realized that the line of introversion had been blurred so much over the years that it had turned into something worse – under confidence.
And that’s not what introversion is about.
We fear taking up too much of someone’s time.
Introverts also prefer having the weight of the conversation on someone else. To know that the conversational burden is on us can get hard sometimes.
Tips For Introverts to Be More Comfortable With the Stage
I read this great article on Medium which spoke about the risk of extroversion – which is, being proven wrong. But what we get for that risk is a form of expression and validation. We improve when we are extroverted and when we put ourselves out there.
Hence, extroversion is needed for the expansion of ourselves – and extroversion, in this case, does not mean “talking”.
It means doing what you need to do despite the risk of others proving you wrong or downing your logic and ideas.
Here are some ways you, as an introvert, can work towards that expansion and become better at public speaking:
Being an introvert doesn’t mean we just accept we will not be good at speaking. As you’ll see later in this write-up, introverts have certain qualities which makes them really powerful speakers and leaders.
Whether we are naturally good at speaking or not, we must respect our audience’s time by preparing our speech so that we may deliver a speech of the highest value to them.
Regardless of your ability to speak publicly, practice is something that is in your hands entirely. So take full advantage of that.
Susan Cane (Author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) stated that she spent a whole year practicing public speaking at whatever opportunity she would get – which is why her TED talk is one of the most widely viewed and influential one of them all.
Put in the time and, regardless of your natural ability to speak, you will do a fine job.
Do mirrors help when practicing public speaking?
Many people debate on this topic and I’ve heard countless people state that mirrors do not help when it comes to practicing public speaking.
I’m of a different opinion. I believe mirrors do help when you practice.
Here’s the thing, as an introverted human, looking at myself did not come easy to me. Forget maintaining eye contact with others, I couldn’t even maintain eye contact with myself!
This trickles down to having just a general sense of lower confidence which I mistook for introverted-ness. And I believe a lot of people tend to make that confusion.
So, when you start off by practicing in front of a mirror, watching yourself in a demeanor which isn’t natural to you – speaking out loud, more than normal hand gestures, eye contact with yourself – all can be hard to do in the beginning.
But as I did start practicing in front of a mirror, I was forced to look at myself in that way. And the more I did that, the more comfortable I got with looking at myself!
It might sound weird, I know. But it did help me…and (if you’re anything like me) I think it will help you too.
So start off with practicing in front of a mirror. But eventually, move on to other forms of practice as well such as…
Video recording yourself
As an introvert, there’s a good chance that you have not spoken much publicly. Hence, you are probably unaware of your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the stage.
A powerful way to know what you’re doing right or wrong would be to video record yourself.
When you are practicing your speech, put up your phone’s camera and practice your speech to it. Then, watch the video with the sole purpose to observe how your body is moving, how your voice is sounding, is your content flowing, are you being too stiff, etc. etc.
It’s a small, easy trick that helps immensely!
A speech is as powerful as its audience perceives it to be. You can craft and deliver an amazing speech on financial investment when one receives their first salary, but if your audience consists of senior citizens, the same speech falls flat.
An extreme example, I know. But you would be surprised by how many people are apathetic to who their audience is.
Take the time out to research a little beforehand as to who your audience is and craft your speech accordingly.
Related article: The Importance of Knowing Your Audience When Delivering a Speech
Reach early so you can walk around on the stage
I used to do this a lot.
Reaching the venue early and walking around on the stage in front of an empty auditorium is a surreal feeling. It helps me get a feel of the stage.
I also get an idea of how much I can move around, how big or small the stage is, etc.
It’s also just a much calmer feeling to reach a little early to the venue instead of reaching in a hurried manner and frantically running on to the stage to speak!
Toastmasters is an international non-profit organization that provides people a DYI platform to learn public speaking.
Instead of directly jumping into your first speech, you can start off with taking up such roles which are smaller and easier to begin with to get a feel of the stage.
This really helped me as I was terrified of going directly on stage to deliver a speech. The smaller roles put the spotlight on me only for a short amount of time.
With time, I got used to the stage and could finally deliver my first full speech.
Sometimes, having real people look at you speak can in itself be overwhelming. Start off with a simulated reality instead!
There are companies that allow you to practice skills like public speaking in an empty room by simulating an audience for you to practice on.
This will allow you to speak in front of an audience without really having an audience in front of you.
Stepping out of your comfort zone in small ways that don’t necessarily relate to public speaking
For us introverts, public speaking is something that is WAY out of our comfort zone. If we are finding it very difficult, we can start off with doing things outside of public speaking that slowly starts putting us outside of our comfort zone.
I’ve written about this in length here (The Secret to Practicing Public Speaking in Your Everyday Life | An Unconventional Guide) where you can see how you can do small things that may seem a little strange at first as they don’t have a direct relation to public speaking but that help you be a little more confident.
Finding & accepting your style
This is the most important point.
The reason Susan Cain’s TED talk is so popular is not only because her content is so powerful but the authenticity with which she delivered her talk is incredibly moving.
She didn’t try to be flamboyant or like any other traditional speaker.
She’s an introvert. She has accepted it. Heck, she owns it! And you know what that does? It makes others accept you as you are as well.
So when you go up on stage to speak, don’t try and be someone who you’re not. As an introvert, you might be soft-spoken, you might not be very out there with your body language, but that’s okay!
The point of communicating effectively is to find your style of speaking.
The more you speak publicly, the sooner you will find your style.
Why Introverts Make Great Speakers and Leaders
Being an introvert can prove to be a great asset to you as a speaker (as it did to me). Here’s why:
Introverts take out time to prepare
The first time I gave a speech, I naturally assumed that I’m just not a good public speaker because of my introverted personality.
So I practiced. I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. And the speech turned out to be quite nice.
With us introverts, since we assume public speaking is an extrovert’s game, we tend to put our hearts into preparation because we feel we’re just not naturally good at it.
While the assumption is not necessarily correct, the fact that introverts put in more time into rehearsal is what makes their speech better, their delivery more engaging and their message more impactful.
Focus on the audience
Since introverts don’t feel the need to get on a stage to teach anything, when such opportunities do arise, we tend to shift our attention to the audience.
We want to make sure that we are adding maximum value to the people we are speaking to and to do that, we need to understand them well.
Knowing your audience is one of the most important aspects of delivering a high impact speech and introverts tend to check this box quite naturally.
It also has a lot to do with…
“When you look at introverts, they tend to be a bit more empathetic. When you look at extroverts, they tend to project. But some extroverts project too much, and they block out the audience. It becomes all about them. Introverts are able to structure content in a way that draws energy off the audience.”
And that’s the thing about introverts – they have a natural tendency to be more empathetic. Their speech is crafted keeping their audience in mind first.
Vulnerable to the audience
This happens when you don’t try and be extroverted. The advantage of being an introverted speaker is that you feel vulnerable and can very honestly show your vulnerability to the audience.
They will much rather appreciate that as opposed to an introverted speaker trying to be over-the-top flamboyant.
Famous Speakers Who Started Off As Introverts
If you don’t believe me when I say introverts can be great speakers and leaders, take a look at these legends who are introverts:
The owner of Berkshire Hathaway, the billionaire investor, The Oracle of Omaha was TERRIFIED of the stage.
This is a pretty well-known fact and Buffet is quite open about it. This is mainly because he wants people to realize that you can truly increase your value by 50% if you learn the skill of public speaking.
Communications is everything and Buffett realized that.
Early on, he enrolled for a Dale Carnegie course to learn public speaking but dropped out in his first attempt. Eventually, he completed the course.
It served him so well that despite his impressive academic achievements, the Dale Carnegie certificate is the only academic diploma on his office wall.
Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street), a master of communication, said that if Buffett did not know how to communicate, he would be the richest investor in the world who no one would have heard about.
But by adding the layer of communication skills, Buffett is a world-famous investor which automatically increases his value by…you guessed it – 50%.
What we can learn from Buffett as an introvert: Take out time and money to invest in yourself by enrolling in public speaking courses or trainings. It’s the best money you spend and the ROI is AMAZING!
“A good speech should be like a women’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
I absolutely love this quote by Churchill. But, of course, he did not start out this way.
At the age of 29, Churchill stood up to give a speech in the House of Commons as a newly elected representative and froze for three whole minutes!
It’s easy to think of Churchill as a naturally gifted speaker. But if you go looking, you’ll find that he was just as introverted and terrified of the stage as the next person.
But after years of immense practice, he was eventually regarded as one of the greatest orators the world had ever seen.
What we can learn from Churchill as an introvert: Practice. It’s the only thing in your full control.
The man who is considered the Father of the Nation by Indians wrote in his autobiography:
“This shyness I retained throughout my stay in England. Even when I paid a social call the presence of half a dozen or more people would strike me dumb.”
But by having a mission larger than himself ahead of him, he began practicing and perfecting the art of speaking.
His introversion also made him more empathetic. And that’s a big reason for his speeches being so impactful. By listening to and understanding what the country needed, he could foresee the bigger picture and not be too considered with his own fear of public speaking.
By the end of it, Gandhi began gaining pleasure from speaking on stage, a feat he once ran away from.
What we can learn from Gandhi as an introvert: Have a larger mission in mind as to why you want to become an impactful speaker. Maybe you want to be a more influential leader, maybe you want to communicate your ideas more effectively; having a larger vision in mind will dimish your fear of public speaking.
One of the greatest speakers of our time, Obama has been known to have a lot of qualities that tilt him towards an introvert.
As President of a superpower, it’s hard for this introvert to be away from the spotlight. Knowing that about himself, Obama was known to eat dinner with his family and spend the rest of the hours until midnight working by himself.
That’s when he was the most productive.
Tilting towards introversion, he still expanded himself to some of the greatest speeches of the 21st century because he knew he needed the skill of oration to lead people.
What we can learn from Obama as an introvert: No matter how busy you are, always take out time for yourself. That’s when you are the most creative. That’s when you thrive.
With a memoir titled ‘Quiet Strength’, Rosa Parks is an ideal example of how one can communicate with impact without being loud.
Parks, in fact, didn’t even say anything when she started one of the most important revolutions of history by not giving up her seat to a white passenger.
Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ states:
“When she died in 2005 at the age of 92, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was ‘timid and shy’ but had ‘the courage of a lion.’”
Just goes to show how introversion can help you be not just a great communicator but a revolutionary leader as well.
What we can learn from Rosa Parks as an introvert: You don’t be loud or extroverted to have a true impact. Your mission and willingness to act is enough.
What to do When You’re Forced to Speak In Public When You Don’t Want to?
As an introvert, you might come across some times when you just don’t want to speak to crowds. Whatever the reason may be, you want your space.
And I get it! It’s tiring and emotionally draining to express a personality that isn’t yours!
You might be asked to give a toast or a celebratory speech or called in front of your classroom to speak on a particular topic.
These are moments that are tough to plan for and can spring up at any moment.
What do you do in situations like these?
I dread the same thing! So I started preparing.
I slowly started to build up the skills that are needed in public speaking. I joined Toastmasters, enrolled for online courses, took small stage opportunities such as college presentations a little more seriously.
It took time, but eventually, I can now speak in front of a crowd with a certain level of confidence and don’t dread unexpected public speaking situations.
That’s for the long term.
In case you’re in such a situation right now, the best thing to do is just keep it short and safe.
By that I mean, don’t try to keep it clever or add a lot of humour in there. Stick to the message at hand. Simplicity is the key. As long as you say something (even if it is obvious), the audience will accept it and move on.
Worst case, you bomb and the speech goes badly.
If there is one thing you can take away from this LONG post is that it’s okay to bomb as a speaker…but don’t say no to an opportunity to speak.
A bad speech experience will only make you a little more experienced on stage and you can come back as a slightly stronger speaker.
So try and prepare from now itself for the long run by starting to learn public speaking. It’s one of the best decisions you’ll make! And if you’re in a tough situation right now, as our good friends at Nike say, just do it!
Don’t say no to the opportunity.
Why You Should Learn Public Speaking Even if You’re an Introvert?
Lastly, don’t let the fact that you’re an introvert stop you from learning public speaking. While society has hailed extroverts as the gods of communication, if you truly go looking, you’ll find that revolutions have also been sparked by the quiet ones, ones who appear to be in their own world.
The idea is to make introversion your friend. The more you practice public speaking and take up speaking opportunites, the more you will realize how what you believed was holding you back is actually your strongest asset.
It helps you be vulnerable, it helps you be more thorough, it helps you be more impactful.
And finally, as Susan Cain says, I wish you…the courage to speak softly!