Many people think that only extroverts can be great public speakers. They think, “if you’re good at talking in general, you’ll be good at speaking to a crowd, right?” That’s not always the case. Some of the best speakers of our time are self-identified introverts: Emma Watson, Warren Buffet, President Barack Obama—the list goes on.
How does an introvert—someone who typically likes to keep to themselves, who spends a lot of time in their head, and who “recharges” by being alone – address an audience in an engaging and memorable way?
Trainer Breelyn Bowe here. As an introvert myself, I’ve had clients and friends alike ask me how I survive in my line of work being a self-proclaimed introvert. My answer is simple: it’s just a conversation, and I can do that.
Focus on Your Strengths
It’s true: being an introvert can make socializing in any capacity somewhat exhausting or daunting, but it can also help you to build genuine relationships with the people you speak with. This is a great trait of an amazing public speaker.
Think of the last time you sat in the audience of a speaker or performer who made you feel like you were having a personal conversation. That person was probably able to speak to the people in that crowd like they were a friend – in an introverted way. Sometimes addressing a crowd can be scary. But talking with friends? Easy.
Another typical strength of the average introvert is the ability to consider things carefully and think things through. While this does not mean that extroverts are bad at that, it does mean that even “shy” or inwardly-oriented minds can greatly impact the people around them with their attention to detail. This can affect real-time decision-making; a 2020 study found that more introverted people scored higher in rational decision-making (BMC Psychology). The best public speakers can quickly observe and analyze their audience and act accordingly.
This can make a person less prone to impulsive behavior (Walden University). While being able to make an impulse decision during a think-on-your-feet moment is important, introverts tend to know how to do this while also taking a moment to consider their audience. There is a sort of superpower in pausing for a split second to evaluate the results of your next move.
From Introverted to In the Spotlight
I wasn’t always seemingly unafraid of a crowd. I used to shake in my boots at the thought of saying one word into a microphone for all to hear. When it was my turn to sing the solo in my elementary church choir, I almost cried. I can tell you now that only one thing has changed: I’ve gotten used to it. I’m still seemingly unafraid, the key word being “seemingly.”
I love the phrase, “Nerves: don’t lose them; use them!” because it reminds me that nervous energy can be easily converted. The exact way to do that, however, lies in the speaker’s mindset. A fear will remain a fear if it goes unfaced. That’s not to say that your fear will disappear once you face it. My goal as someone who could have a normal conversation but was afraid of being up on a stage was to figure out how to tell my brain that this, too, is just a conversation.
How did I do that? I learned about my strengths as a communicator. Knowing that I tend to take time with my decisions, that I am a good listener, that I am specific in my word choice, and that I imagine the outcome, I used that to grow.
The idea that an introvert gains their energy from being alone (versus an extrovert who gains it from being social) seems to be the consensus according to the internet. This pertains to me personally, so I’ll subscribe to it. While I can communicate with a room of full of people by just “having a conversation” in a louder voice, I can still recognize that that is going to drain a lot of my energy as an introvert. That’s the main difference I see in my extroverted counterparts: recovery time. Take care of yourself!
Communication and public speaking are just as much about how you are feeling on the inside as it is about how your audience is feeling about what you’re portraying on the outside. The goal is to line them up. That will always make the job easier. Not feeling confident? Your audience might be able to tell. Feeling excited to be there? You bet they can feel it.
While public speaking is inherently tough to master, many people think extroverts do it better. The truth is introverts can be just as good. Where they lack in need for social interaction, they make up for in their ability to make their carefully chosen interactions quite meaningful.