Being an introvert in a leadership position is… difficult. Not because introverts aren’t suited for this job, but because as a leader or as a person in a training or guidance position, you need to speak, and you need to speak a lot. Whether it’s a public event or a team training, if you’re a team lead, you not only need to speak but also lead by example. And that’s not always easy for someone who contracts stage fright as soon as they see a new face in the crowd (read: me).
While I learned the hard way, you don’t have to. So I’m going to discuss how I learned (or am still learning) to speak publicly as a semi-active trainer and Head of Strategy at a marketing agency.
Pick a project that puts you in the limelight
Whether it’s a university presentation or an office training, try to pick a project that puts you in the limelight. But don’t be too cocky and pick the hardest one there is. You know your comfort zone and you know you won’t succeed if you shoot too far out of it. Take baby steps and familiarize yourself with new things one by one. But pick what you haven’t done. As long as you’re in your comfort zone, you won’t grow. So try expanding your comfort zone with a clear goal in mind: the ability to speak publicly without your throat seizing up.
For me, the very first project that brought me to the actual limelight was Digital Ninja. While the project itself was completely out of my comfort zone and even practicing, the introductions used to make my hands clammy. But you can’t step away from an opportunity just because it seems daunting.
Be proactive with it
Proactivity is the key to expanding your learning. And to ensure that you’re proactive, you need to be passionate about your goal. Research, shortlist ideas and try to consume content that motivates you.
Once you know what you want to achieve, start working on the how. I have always been a good planner, and planning our Digital Ninja training sessions (read: making checklists and completing them) kept me going. You can do that too. Pick what interests you, and then work towards it. I know I said you should step out of your comfort zone, but you don’t have to shoot for the stars right away. Pepper your planning process by adding things that come easy to you, like researching and learning came to me. That way, you’ll keep yourself motivated.
I think I’ve said it twice now: Shoot your shot, but not too high up. That’s for the extroverts, and their personality can easily afford it. For introverts like you and me, it’s easier to not make any sudden changes to our lifestyle. So start small.
I did that by taking up initial introductions in our training programs. I remember my teammate asking me to present a case study I had helped achieve, but even thinking about it made my head spin, so I didn’t. However, I did pretty good intros in the same event. It isn’t that you won’t be able to do your best on a larger scale, because this is my example. Yours may be different. But it’s always a good idea to test the waters before you jump right in, and public speaking is an ocean you do not want to drown in. So keep your focus short term, while working to grow in the long term.
Pick a topic you understand well
The key to giving a confident presentation is knowing the content that’s being discussed in it. And this stands for all kinds of public speeches. Whether you’re presenting, introducing someone, debating, or reading out loud, you need to know what you’re talking about, otherwise, you’ll either sound like you’ve rote learned your speech or are reading something someone else wrote for you, which can work once or twice, but not every time.
With Digital Ninja, we were all about exploring the different domains and practices in digital marketing. Because my learning and experiences lie within this very field, it was easy for me to pick a topic I knew well. But even if you know the topic, you can’t expect to give an outstanding performance without practice. So remember to…
- Write your presentation down to know what you’re going to say.
- Keep speaker notes or flashcards to remember the key points of your speech or presentation.
- Present in front of a mirror. Why? Because one of the chief anxieties for introverts is not knowing how they look while presenting, and that can really make you lose track of what you say. So familiarizing yourself with your own face as you present and knowing when to react, smile, pause, or even frown is a good way of knowing how your audience will see you.
- Then, present in front of an audience. Be it your siblings, parents, team members, or pets. Talk to them and maintain eye contact. That way you’ll know which part of the presentation is the trickiest and can come up with ways you can overcome those obstacles.
Don’t undermine yourself but don’t be overconfident either
TLDR; this heading will emphasize practicing again because I know how one can feel overconfident after a good practice session and you don’t want to let that giddy feeling take over your head. Because while you may feel overconfident the night before, one misstep, and you’ll lose all your confidence and forget to speak altogether.
I knew a classmate who spent 40 minutes fumbling and unable to speak. Yes, 40 minutes. It was his first presentation, and even though he was friends with everyone in the class, he couldn’t continue because of his anxiety. I also knew a friend who broke down and started crying in the middle of the presentation she was giving, and trust me, you don’t want that happening to you. So remember that practicing is essential, and more so is giving yourself a pep talk before you take the stage. Because I know introverts can be very harsh judges of themselves. So don’t undermine your ability, but stay prepared at all times.
As I mentioned earlier, how you think you look can affect your confidence to a very large extent. Introverts function on introspection, and what you think about yourself at the moment can make a lot of difference in how you carry yourself and how you speak. For example, if I think I don’t look professional enough or feel uncomfortable in my attire, I’ll lose my confidence because I’ll spend all my time thinking of how to make myself feel comfortable in the situation, and if I’m unable to do that, I’ll start feeling anxious.
Remember, it’s all about expanding your comfort zone, and if you don’t feel comfortable in the moment, you’ll feel vulnerable, which can take you back to square one. So dress professionally, but in an outfit you can carry with ease.
Pick a friendly face from the crowd or speak to the walls
Now that you’re done preparing and practicing your presentation, we’re going to talk about the presentation itself. I have always been a good presenter, but I tend to lose my train of thought if I see even the slightest negative expression on the audience’s face. First things first, they may not be thinking about you. They’re probably thinking if they locked the door while leaving their house or if their tie matches their suit or something that doesn’t relate to you at all. But as I said, introverts introspect, and when they do, it can become ugly.
To avoid that, focus on one friendly face, or maybe look right above your audience’s heads toward the wall. I don’t mean look ahead at one single point on the wall. Ideally, you should be making eye contact with everyone. But if eye contacts scare you as they do me, you can focus on a point just above people’s heads, not in their eyes. It’ll seem like you’re looking at the person sitting in the row behind, but you’ll just be talking to a point in space, which can help you focus better.
Keep your presentation engaging
I am a problem solver and like it if people ask me questions about a topic I know about. It makes me feel confident in my abilities as a digital marketer. For introverts, that can matter a lot. It boosts your confidence and keeps your head over the water.
So when you’re talking to people about a topic you like or know about, try to take in as many questions as you can. For one, it takes up time to answer them and you can feel comfortable in your skin while doing so. And second, answering their questions takes you back to your comfort zone, a zone you know about and can navigate through easily. So keep your audience engaged, and if you feel it isn’t happening, ask them questions about their experiences. It may seem like a chore, but doing this can make you a better presenter.
Don’t forget to breathe
I speak very fast. And when I do, I forget to breathe. And that mistake of mine leads to me becoming breathless in the middle of a sentence, and me losing my train of thought as I pause to breathe. Don’t do that. Ever.
Speak normally as you would, but also breathe normally. You don’t want to feel lightheaded in the middle of your presentation, right?
Keep a prop in hand
Do you, like me, don’t know what to do with your hands? Do you also start thinking about how to position your hands and forget what you were talking about?
The best way to avoid this is to have something in your hands. You can go for hand gestures as you present, but as I learned while watching The Crown, too many hand gestures can make you look aggressive. So instead, keep a little something in your hands that can keep them occupied and not seem like they have a mind of their own. Maybe a marker, flashcards, or something that’s part of the setup. This not only helps you keep your hands busy but also keeps you grounded because you’ll be channeling all your anxiety into that object.
Don’t feel intimidated
My last advice to you is not to let the intimidation take over your skills. It’s natural to feel that fear when you’re doing something new, especially for introverts who hardly step out of their shells. But if you want to venture into public speaking and think it’s essential for your growth, don’t let fear stop you. You may fail, but you’ll learn from your mistakes and at least you tried, right?
So if it’s what you want to do, don’t hold yourself back. Remember, it’s all about expanding your comfort zone and enhancing your confidence enough to feel at home on the stage. And while it won’t happen all at once, if you practice, prepare, and learn from your mistakes along the way, you’ll improve gradually, and even find yourself enjoying or looking forward to public speaking in the longer run.