Can An Introvert Be A Strong Public Speaker?

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Many students who take my class mistakenly believe that quiet, introverted people will never be strong public speakers and that outgoing, extroverts are all naturally charismatic presenters.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  When I used to teach Public Speaking to Film, Recording Arts, and Show Production degree programs, I had classes of well over 50 students.  The class clowns did enjoy the attention that came from presenting in front of such a large crowd, but many failed to prepare strong content because they relied solely on their delivery to get them through a speech.  They may have enjoyed the limelight where their more introverted counterparts did not, but enjoying public speaking does not automatically make a person a great public speaker.  As we know from Jim Endicott, presentations are like a three-legged stool comprised of message (the content), delivery (the way a speech is presented using verbal and nonverbal elements), and visual design (the slideshow).

So, can an introvert be a strong public speaker?  “A Quiet Person’s Guide to Effective Public Speaking” by Victor Lipman answers that very question.  Lipman explains that effective public speaking is learned – not innate – and anyone can be a strong presenter regardless of their communication style.  Lipman gives the best public speaking advice ever.  He says, “Know who you are, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.   Being soft-spoken and understated by nature, I was never going to be a charismatic speaker who would enthrall thousands with ‘fire and brimstone’ emotion.  But that was no excuse to be boring.   Two things I could do reasonably effectively was use dry humor and tell stories.   Those were natural aspects of my personality that could be integrated.   That’s a great thing about speaking and presenting –  there’s no inherently right way to do it.  You can be charismatic, motivational, educational, entertaining, informative, low-key, professorial – you name it – whatever works best  for your personality.  Find the suit that most comfortably fits your skin” (Source).  Garr Reynolds preaches the importance of natural, authentic delivery in his book The Naked Presenter (read a review here).  And if you’re a quiet, introverted person in your everyday life, you can definitely use that to your advantage when presenting.

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I always tell my current business students about my time teaching Public Speaking to those Film, R.A., and Show Pro kids.  I reminisce about a specific student, a Film guy, who never, ever spoke a single word during class.  As one of those naturally happy morning people (I know… I annoy myself), I would greet this particular young man every morning with a, “Good morning, Sunshine!  How are you?”  He would just grunt, put his head down, and go to his seat.  He never participated in class discussion and kept to himself.  I’m sure his classmates wondered, as I did, how in the world he was ever going to present in front of an audience of 75 people.

But that’s exactly what this young man had going for him: his quiet, introverted personality.  When he walked up to deliver his first presentation, the crowd hushed.  His classmates leaned forward, eager to hear him speak.  His speeches had a natural sense of mystery because he kept to himself.  And since he was a very intelligent young man, he spent a great deal of time working on his content and his visual presentation, so two legs of his presentation stool were incredibly sturdy.

This shy student did need a bit of help with his delivery.  He had audience’s curiosity on his side, but he did need to learn how to wean himself from his crutch – reading directly from his notes.  By the end of the month, he worked to become a more authentic, natural presenter by using an outline as opposed to a script, and his delivery leg became just as sturdy as the other two.  Because of this, he was one of the best speakers in the class and a presenter I will remember forever.  I’ve had a sea of class clowns… They blur together after awhile.  The students who stand out because they embrace their natural, quirky, unique selves are the presenters I remember.  Those are the people who resonate with me.

Victor Lipman’s article gives four tips to guide “quiet people” through the treacherous, scary waters of public speaking.  However, these tips should be universally applied.  He suggests the following: 1) to watch yourself present on video; 2) to find your own style; 3) to have a conversation with the audience as opposed to a “performance” for the audience; and 4) to practice, practice, practice (Source).  Quiet, shy people may need to work harder to overcome a bit of speech anxiety, but they certainly possess every single quality they need in order to be strong presenters.

Need more proof?  Introvert Susan Cain recently delivered “The Power of Introverts” on the TED stage, and she nailed it.  Watch an introvert knock your socks off while presenting here.

Are you an introvert?  What advice would you give fellow introverts on overcoming public speaking anxiety and presenting effectively?

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