I’m standing in front of a few hundred people. My knees are shaking and my body is bathed in a spotlight. How did I get here?
I’m an introvert. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me. It makes me nervous and even sick. Yet, I’ve volunteered, once again, to speak in front of a crowd of people.
Why do I do this to myself?
I have a complicated relationship with public speaking. The mere thought of speaking to a room full of strangers gives me the jitters. I’ve always been a quiet and shy person. In high school, I was voted the “quietest student.” Paradoxically, I was also voted the “most likely to become a motivational speaker.”
You see, although I detest public speaking, I’m actually quite good at it. This comes as a surprise to many people since they can tell how introverted I am. In high school, my teachers were so surprised by my oratory abilities that they’d often call my parents and say, “Did you know your daughter is a really good public speaker?”
“But she’s so quiet…”
“Yeah…she just likes to listen and chooses when she speaks.”
This scenario happened so often that my parents began to find it really funny. People are still taken aback by my verbal skills. Nowadays, whenever I do presentations, I revel in the initial shock of my audience. People don’t expect introverts to have great public speaking skills. This is strange, since some of history’s greatest orators, were in fact, introverts: for example, Martin Luther King Jr., Churchill, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa.
Nervousness Can Enhance Your Authenticity
People make assumptions about my abilities, simply because my introversion is intense and obvious. However, being able to reimagine yourself beyond what other people externally see is a tough and rewarding task — and is something I do every time I take the stage.
Here’s the thing — no one finds public speaking easy.
And extroverts don’t.
I get so nervous when I speak. Unfortunately, my nerves haven’t disappeared with experience. In fact, I’ve become more and more nervous over time.
But, you know what? That doesn’t even matter.
I’m not regarded as a good public speaker because I’m confident, coherent, and charismatic. I’m a good public speaker for the complete opposite reasons. I’m awkward, vulnerable, humane, raw, authentic, and passionate. People often say to me, “You were so nervous…but your speech was so real and raw.”
Nerves enhance my authenticity, and I’ve come to realize that’s okay.
My 3 Best Tips for Introverts
My public speaking abilities are the result of hard work, cold sweats, nausea, and embarrassment. The idea of being in the limelight used to make me sick.
Nowadays, I’ve come to realize that public speaking isn’t about me. It’s not a “look at me, look at me” endeavor. Public speaking is a service to your audience. This simple mindset can decrease nerves and anxiety. Whenever I speak, I believe so passionately in my message that I end up sounding confident because my story is far more important than my nerves.
Here are my three best tips for introverts about public speaking:
1. Practice, practice, practice.
As an introvert, I need to prepare in advance before taking the stage. My public speaking preparation is pretty intense. I memorize all my speeches, right down to each breath I take, to moments I say “um” and “uh,” to when I allow my voice to break or get stronger.
I practice so much that it appears spontaneous, even though it’s anything but.
2. Acknowledge your fear.
When you’re about to speak publicly, it’s easy to think, “What if I make a fool of myself? What if everyone hates me?”
Don’t go down the path of self-doubt.
I often verbalize my fear. I’ve started many speeches with acknowledging how nervous I am, and that’s okay. It shows that you’re human, and in essence, that’s what public speaking is all about — humans sharing moments with other humans.
People have cried and smiled after my speeches. And there’s nothing more authentic than making a whole audience of strangers feel with both their hearts and minds. Although public speaking doesn’t appeal to my introverted nature, it appeals to my highly sensitive nature. I draw on my audience’s energy and can influence them and let them influence me.
3. Think of your audience.
When public speaking, people often advise you to imagine that your audience is naked or have cabbages as heads. Don’t think of your audience like this. Instead, just remember that the audience is on your side, and they want you to succeed. The audience did not come to boo you off the stage.
A few years ago, I had to do four speeches in one day. One of the speeches was in German, and I don’t even speak German. At the time, I had limited vision because of a recent eye surgery, and couldn’t rely on notes to read from.
I spent ages memorizing all four speeches. I got through the first two speeches fine. I got through the speech in German fine. Then, on my very last speech, my mind went completely blank. I had forgotten my words. I had even forgotten the topic I was supposed to be talking about. Hundreds of eyes stared at me as I stood on stage like a fish out of water.
Then a random man got up from the audience, joined me on stage, took the microphone from my hand, and started a Q&A session with me, on the topic I was supposed to talk about.
This man didn’t come to watch me fail, just like the rest of the audience didn’t come to watch me fail.
Remember, your audience wants you to succeed.
Yes, I’m an introvert, but I’m also a hell of a good public speaker. I can’t cover my fear or my nerves when I get on stage. Instead, I use them to communicate with emotion and passion.
In a few weeks, I will speak again, in front of a room full of strangers.
I know my knees will shake.
My hands will shake.
My voice will shake, but I will speak.
Because beneath my quiet veneer, I have something to say.
You might like:
- Introverts Don’t Hate People, They Hate Shallow Socializing
- Fear, Not Introversion, Holds Us Back From What We Want in Life
- How to Survive a Job Interview When You’re an Introvert With Crippling Social Anxiety
- 17 Way-Too-Personal Confessions of an Introvert
- Why Are Words So Hard for Introverts? Here’s the Science
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