I recently asked business communication coach, Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead,to provide some presentation tips for introverts (great advice for my PowerPoint 2010 readers!). Here’s the great advice Nancy has to offer:
1. What’s the best way to manage your fear of public speaking?
Fear is a funny thing. It’s a gift that can save your life and a curse that can imprison you without cause. It’s a gift when it alerts you to life-threatening dangers—so you can run, fight, or hide. It imprisons you unfairly when the clearest and most present danger is an audience awaiting your speech. Here are tips to help you manage your fear of public speaking, which is universal among introverts and extroverts alike.
- Prepare thoroughly. If you’re an introvert—or someone who is energized more by solo activities than social activities—you’re better equipped to think before you speak rather than think out loud. So play to that strength by doing the lion’s share of thinking before show time. Thoroughly research your topic and audience and write out speaker’s notes (bullets are fine) to help guide you. Of course, don’t read your notes word for word or they’ll become a crutch rather than a useful guide.
- Don’t skimp on rehearsing. Most presenters spend a disproportionate amount of
time on their content and way too little time rehearsing their delivery. If you’re an introvert, you’re inclined to dive deeply into your topic and put less emphasis on how you will package it to the outside world. Rehearsing out loud—as opposed to silently, to yourself—will enable you to bring the performance aspect of your presentation into your bones. Doing so can help reduce your nerves.
- Get the support and build the skills you need. Take a class and/or participate in Toastmasters International meetings. If you’re an introvert, you probably prefer one-one-one interactions, so it might be best for you to work with a presentation skills coach, a mentor, or even a friend who can guide you.
- Gain experience speaking in front of an audience. Some audiences are scarier than others. Speak about topics you’re passionate about to audiences you find less intimidating. Consider giving presentations as part of your volunteer work. It’s a great way to work on reducing your fear while making a difference in the lives of others.
- Focus on helping your audience. Remember why you’re giving your presentation. Is it to inform, education, persuade, or inspire your audience? Making it all about them takes the spotlight off you. Also remember that they’re probably on your side.
For more tips, see my stories, “Public Speaking for Private People,” “Presentation Skills for Introverts: Tiger and the Full Tilt Boogie,” and “Public Speaking for Introverts: Jonesing for the Zone.” There’s nothing to run, fight, or hide from onstage!
2. How can introverts learn to command a room and project a confident image while presenting, even if they don’t feel so confident inside?
- Videotape a rehearsal. Nothing beats seeing yourself in action. While you may feel self-conscious seeing yourself on video, the benefits far outweigh the discomfort. You’ll see what you do with your hands, how steadily you move, and you’ll hear how your voice sounds. If you’re an introvert, you are more likely to be detail oriented. Observe how you come across and determine what works and what you need to fine-tune. Many of my clients have been surprised to see that they are not actually shaking head to toe. Often the jitters are internal.
- Make sustained eye contact. Most of us aren’t afraid to speak to one person at a time. The terror kicks in when you imagine making a fool of yourself in front of a group. So look at one person at a time for the length of a phrase, or a few seconds. If for cultural reasons, you’re not comfortable with direct eye contact, try looking at foreheads or eyebrows. Imagine that you’re in your living room and you’re speaking to the guests you’ve invited, one at a time.
- Breath consciously. When you’re nervous, your breathing can become shallow. Write “BREATHE” in big letters someplace conspicuous on your speaker’s notes.
- Speak in your natural voice. Even a baritone can sound like a soprano when he’s nervous. Practice speaking in your natural pitch, not higher or lower. Also, don’t rush. It may be helpful to write a reminder to yourself, like “PACE YOURSELF” on your notes.
- Use vocal variety. If you’re nervous, you risk droning on in a monotone. Remember to vary the tone and volume of your delivery. “Punch” certain words to give them emphasis.
3. Do introverts share certain characteristics that actually make them good presenters?
Of course. In addition to being detail oriented, introverts are often good at research and writing, and only speak when they have something to say. So if you’re an introvert, create a well crafted argument. And take the time to learn about your audience so your argument will be particularly relevant to them.
To make your presentation enjoyable rather than something you just want to get past, treat it as a series of individual interactions—with each person in the audience. And then stop talking.
Also, think of your presentation as an efficient use of your introvert’s social energy. You get up there once and can influence more people than you normally would in a day. Then you can go home and read a book!
Note from Patrice: I’ve read Nancy’s book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, and found it to be a great resource for professionals who consider themselves to be introverts (including me!).
This book has received favorable reviews and accolades from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, and ABC News.