Introverts, by definition, are quiet, reserved people that don’t like to be the center of attention. They don’t talk a lot; quite the opposite, in fact. They don’t like crowds, and prefer being alone, or with a small number of close friends. It’s not they are shy. They just tend to be drained by too much social interaction.
Extraverted people, on the other hand, tend to be more comfortable with tons of people. They love small talk, about themselves, about the weather, about politics, about anything. Even with people they barely know! Extraverts love being the center of attention. They actually feel energized, while we, introverts, feel drained very fast in these situations.
For this reason, most people think public speaking is definitely not something easy for introverts. They check none of the boxes:
having a big crowd in front of you,
everybody in the crowd looking at you,
having to speak, for several minutes, sometimes even longer.
Yeah, for an introvert, that’s the last situation you would want to be in, right? Sound like hell!
Well, despite what most people think, I actually believe introverts can make very good public speakers. Even better than extraverts.
I can hear you: “What? Are you crazy Fabien? We get uncomfortable very fast when we have to talk to people for a long time! We crave solitude!” Well, keep reading, because here are the main reasons why I believe introverts can actually deliver great speeches and presentations.
While extraverted people can start talking as soon as a topic of interest is mentioned, whatever the topic, introverts need to think and process their ideas before they speak. That’s the reason why they are often considered the quiet and reserved person that doesn’t speak much: they are not given the opportunity! Extraverts take all the place in the conversation.
We all know the situation. You are with a bunch of friends, or a few colleagues. It might be at a meeting, in a bar, at the water cooler, or during a family lunch. Someone starts talking about something. Anything. It might be job related, it might be about politics, about the sport season, a movie, no matter what. And you don’t agree with what was just being said. Or, you have a slightly different point of view, or you just want to bring another perspective, or something. Then you start thinking about how to formulate your idea. How the other one is not completely wrong, but not totally right.
But, before you are done thinking, somebody else is speaking, maybe about something completely different. And, even if you start talking, somebody else will interrupt you, before you even finished exposing your point of view. So you just keep quiet and think “I don’t like to talk anyway, that’s not my thing”.
Yeah, we all hate when that happens.
However, during a business presentation, a lecture, or a speech, everything is different. Talking about a clearly defined topic is not the same as chit chatting. It’s usually not like exposing your own opinion. It’s not a confrontation about a random subject, either. No, a speech must be prepared, and that’s actually the most important thing to do if you want to succeed. The more you prepare, the better.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t mean extraverts don’t preprare. Of course they do (well, most of the time at least). But, more often than not, they tend to be satisfied with their first drafts, and will be confident their presentation will be okay no matter what, since they are so comfortable speaking in public. And they usually don’t structure their speeches very well. They tend not to organize their thoughts and ideas as much as we do.
Structuring a speech, a presentation, a lecture, or any other sort of public speaking, is the key to a great delivery.
And introverted people are at an advantage here:
Introverts need to think and process their ideas before they speak. They need to full understand what they are talking about before they say a word. That means they need to prepare and structure much more than other people.
Introverts usually like to write and take time alone. That makes preparing and structuring easier.
Introverts are often scared by the idea of being the center of attention. They won’t feel comfortable until they are totally ready and master they speech perfectly. They are the kind of people you can hear mumbling in their corner before a presentation: they are still rehearsing, until the last minute, because hey, what if something went wrong? And although rehearsing at the last minute is not very useful, it has advantages: it lets you concentrate and focus before you have to deliver.
That’s a big advantage. Not only do introverts tend to prepare more, they also tend to structure more while they prepare.
Introverts know the importance of delivering a message
So you don’t like to be the center of attention, and as a consequence speaking in front of a crowd scares you?
Well, I have great news for you.
You see, public speaking is not about you. At all. It’s all about your topic, your message. People are not here to listen to you, they only want to hear about your topic. That’s a lot less pressure! Sure, you still have to be there, you still have to be good, to be ready, and that is enough to be frightening, but except in rare ciscumstances, people are not judging you. They are actually much less focused on you than you think they are.
And think about it: this is your time! People won’t interrupt you there, you could take the time to structure your ideas, and finally, you have the opportunity to deliver them to several people! And, believe me, they will be satisfied. Because you focus on what interests them: your message.
On the other hand, very often, extraverts feel so much energized when they are talking that they tend to forget to focus on their message. We have all seen endless presentations where the speaker was to happy to have all the eyes focused on him that he couldn’t stop talking, and didn’t even notice he was boring his audience to death. It won’t happen to you, because introverts focus on their message, but also because…
Introverts care about the audience
Introverted people are scared because they can “read” their audience better that extraverts. “Oh no”, they might be thinking, “that person in the front row is looking at her phone! I must be boring! And these guys, in the third row, they are talking to each other! Did I say something wrong? They seem confused!”
Relax. Sure, this is easier said than done. But that’s actually a very good thing: introverts can read subtle social cues and react to them.
That’s what I learned when I became a storyteller. That’s something an actor cannot do: when you are on stage for a theatre play, you can’t see the audience, and anyway you have a precise text to deliver. If people are bored, or if they don’t understand something, you’re screwed! You can’t change the words you say, you can’t explain differently, and you can’t even finish the story faster. But, when you tell a story, and that’s the same when you give a speech or a presentation, you get tons of clues from the audience, and introverts are very good at interpreting them. And, once you get the clues, it’s easy! People seem to get confused? You can give a more detailed explanation of a specific point. Most people look bored? Maybe it’s time to move on to the next point.
Introverts can learn how to disappear
A public speech, like any kind of communication, is a dynamic relationship between 3 elements:
This relationship is sometimes called the rethorical triangle.
But, actually, the speaker is the least important of these components. The speaker is just a vector, he is just there to help the audience understand the message. He could even disappear, so to speak.
I learned this trick from one of the best French storytellers, Michel Hindenoch. When he’s in front of the audience, Michel starts speaking, and he knows how to choose his words and read his audience so well that, in just a few seconds, you stop noticing him. He brought you in his world, in his story, with his characters, and he seems to have disappeared, even if he is just in front of you. Because he does not want to be an obstacle between the audience and the story.
That’s what you want to do, ideally. Yes, it took him decades before he mastered this trick, so it’s not an easy thing, but take it as a goal. And think about it: that would take a lot of pressure out of your shoulders, wouldn’t it?
We’re done for today. I hope this post changed your perspective about introverts and public speaking.
“Hey, Fabien, wait a minute”, I can hear you. “You keep telling me I’m naturally better than I think at public speaking, but I’m not so sure. I’m still so scared! I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of having a crowd in front of me, even if you say they don’t care that much about me. Even if you say I’m supposed to disappear. How do I get rid of stage fright? And, anyway, you said I had to prepare. You put a lot of emphasis on that. But how the hell do I prepare?”
Don’t worry! I’ll address these other problems in later posts. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me!