Public speaking for introverts: 6 essential tips

Written by

Susan Cain

Public speaking for introverts can be an uncomfortable topic. The six tips below are designed just for you, by Susan Cain, author of the New York Times bestselling book QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which is being translated into 30 languages. Her record-smashing TED talk has been viewed more than 3 million times and was named by Bill Gates as one of his all-time favorite TED talks and by the New Yorker magazine as one of five key talks. Susan developed an online course on Public Speaking for Introverts. Here are six of her favorite tips.

6 public speaking tips for introverts

1. 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 OK. 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.”

2. 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. Gladwell, a world-class speaker, says he isn’t chatty at dinner parties, but he becomes a storyteller on stage. As for Gaga? “When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year old girl. Then I say, ‘Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.’”

3. 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.

4. Accept your nerves

Not all introverts are afraid of public speaking – a subset of them loves it – but introverts are disproportionately likely to fear the spotlight. That’s OK. As the public speaking trainer Charles di Cagno says, “There are only a few people in the world who have completely overcome their fears, and they all live in Tibet.” If you have stage fright, accept it and learn how to work with it.

5. Calm your body

According to Gina Barnett, who coaches many TED speakers, if you have trouble calming your mind before a speech, try calming your body first. When you relax your body, your head will follow suit. Here are a few tips:

  • Shake out every limb in your body. This gets your blood flowing and makes you tingle all over.
  • Stand up straight. Shift back and forth, putting your weight first on your heels, then on the balls of your feet. Find the place that’s evenly distributed between both, then gently press your toes on the floor. This will give you the sensation of forward momentum.
  • Yawn.
  • Talk with your tongue out. You’ll sound ridiculous, but it will loosen you up vocally.

6. Smile

After all of your preparation, relaxation exercises and affirmations, there’s one thing left to do, and it’s the simplest thing – smile. Smile at your audience as they enter the room, and smile at them when you begin speaking. This will make you feel relaxed, confident, and connected.

Good luck. You have something valuable to say, and the world needs to hear it!

(Some of these tips have appeared in modified form on my blog.)


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