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Public speaking for introverts (danshipper.com)
158 points by vanwilder77 on Aug 12, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

Some kids grow up on football. I grew up on public speaking (as behavioral therapy for a speech impediment, actually). If you want to get radically better in a hurry:

1) If you ever find yourself buffering on output, rather than making hesitation noises, just pause. People will read that as considered deliberation and intelligence. It's outrageously more effective than the equivalent amount of emm, aww, like, etc. Practice saying nothing. Nothing is often the best possible thing to say. (A great time to say nothing: during applause or laughter.)

2) People remember voice a heck of a lot more than they remember content. Not vocal voice, but your authorial voice, the sort of thing English teachers teach you to detect in written documents. After you have found a voice which works for you and your typical audiences, you can exploit it to the hilt.

I have basically one way to start speeches: with a self-deprecating joke. It almost always gets a laugh out of the crowd, and I can't be nervous when people are laughing with me, so that helps break the ice and warm us into the main topic.

3) Posture hacks: if you're addressing any group of people larger than a dinner table, pick three people in the left, middle, and right of the crowd. Those three people are your new best friends, who have come to hear you talk but for some strange reason are surrounded by great masses of mammals who are uninvolved in the speech. Funny that. Rotate eye contact over your three best friends as you talk, at whatever a natural pace would be for you. (If you don't know what a natural pace is, two sentences or so works for me to a first approximation.)

Everyone in the audience -- both your friends and the uninvolved mammals -- will perceive that you are looking directly at them for enough of the speech to feel flattered but not quite enough to feel creepy.

4) Podiums were invented by some sadist who hates introverts. Don't give him the satisfaction. Speak from a vantage point where the crowd can see your entire body.

5) Hands: pockets, no, pens, no, fidgeting, no. Gestures, yes. If you don't have enough gross motor control to talk and gesture at the same time (no joke, this was once a problem for me) then having them in a neutral position in front of your body works well.

6) Many people have different thoughts on the level of preparation or memorization which is required. In general, having strong control of the narrative structure of your speech without being wedded to the exact ordering of sentences is a good balance for most people. (The fact that you're coming to the conclusion shouldn't surprise you.)

7) If you remember nothing else on microtactical phrasing when you're up there, remember that most people do not naturally include enough transition words when speaking informally, which tends to make speeches loose narrative cohesion. Throw in a few more than you would ordinarily think to do. ("Another example of this...", "This is why...", "Furthermore...", etc etc.)

> 7) ...most people do not naturally include enough transition words when speaking informally, which tends to make speeches loose narrative cohesion. Throw in a few more than you would ordinarily think to do.

To expand on this... Spoken English should be treated as a separate dialect from Written English. They don't entirely share the same grammar, they have very different pools of idioms, and their concepts of effective use are almost entirely disjoint. Be aware that this difference exists, and practice your speeches out loud. Good essays generally do not make good presentations, and good presentations are almost universally terrible essays.

In particular, while Written English favors being concise, Spoken English favors explicitness, often to the point of redundancy. While a reader can go back and re-read a complex passage, and unpack it at leisure, during a speech there is no option but to parse it in realtime. Simple sentence structure, explicit large-scale structure markers, and outright redundancy are all markers of good Spoken English that your Written English instructors in school probably beat out of you.

> Good essays generally do not make good presentations, and good presentations are almost universally terrible essays.

Perhaps that's true, but I wonder about the great timeless speeches that also hold there own as essays. The Gettysburg Address, Churchill's speeches, JFK's inaugural address, Colbert or Jobs or D.F. Wallace's commencement speeches, etc.

Were they so good that they worked in both forms?

Or maybe they weren't good as speeches. I wasn't there for any of them.

Just heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson speaking about this; the Gettysburg address was written with a quill pen and inkwell. If you want to write an entire sentence at a time, this technology restricts you to sentences of roughly 6-9 words - very congruent with effective spoken English. NDT uses the same technique when writing his own speeches and lectures.

How does a pen and inkwell restrict your number of words per sentence?

You have to push harder on the paper to make a mark. You must frequently dip the pen in the ink.

A speech is literally the exception to this rule.

Keep in mind that GP's advice isn't aimed towards well-practiced speechwriters and eloquent speechmakers. It's to people who are nervous even about joining Toastmasters.

This is a great list. Another one to add: (8) Don't underestimate the power of audience participation. Being attuned to opportunities for questions as they come up makes for a much more interesting experience (both for the speaker and the audience) than laying down some speech.

Introverts can be really good at the "solutions rather than sales" aspect of interacting -- which is why we tend to do better 1:1 with people than in big groups.

Audience participation is highly dependent on culture, I've found.

When I give a talk or class in Israel, I can be sure that people will interrupt me, ask questions, challenge my assertions, and generally push me to explain what I'm saying. These interactions make things more interesting for me, always teach me something new, and (I believe) also make the conversation more relevant for other participants.

By contrast, my experience with American audiences is that they're much quieter and reluctant to challenge me during the talk. They'll wait until the formal question time at the end, and then raise issues.

And during the two classes that I gave in Beijing, participants were even quieter than Americans -- although the second group I taught (this year) were far more vocal than the ones I spoke last year, so it might have as much to do with corporate culture and their English level as anything else.

Bottom line, try to get a sense of the audience, and how they expect to interact with you. Then you can prepare an appropriate balance of prepared notes vs. discussion with the participants.

Over time, you'll get better at making these judgments and estimates; like everything else, public speaking is a skill that takes years to improve. But it's a real rush to give a good talk, and to know that you've taught others something that they didn't previously know. So do your best, and know that next time, you'll hopefully do even better!

> and (I believe) also make the conversation more relevant for other participants.

I believe this is a crapshoot. Many times audience participation is more accurately described as "audience interruption and diversion". If you let them, a single audience member can easily derail a presentation in ways that all of the other audience members are not interested in.

Yes, a good lecturer knows (hopefully) how to realize that you're spending too much time on irrelevant topics, or that you won't get to all of the material you've planned to cover unless you move ahead. But it can sometimes be difficult to handle such people.

Depends which Americans, and where they are. I've been at quite a few research seminars at MIT where speakers got pummeled with questions so hard that the material on the slides more or less fell by the wayside.

we tend to do better 1:1 with people than in big groups

Then grab that 1:1 attitude and run with it. You're talking about your favorite topic to just one person who is intensely interested in what you have to say, and will rarely interrupt you. This is where introverts excel, so be in that mental state. 1:1. Embrace it. And embrace the notion that just because that one intensely interested person is manifested as 2, or 10, or 100, or 10,000 makes absolutely no difference.

Wow, Great advice at #1. I think public "speaking" is not an issue for most people, its the public Silence that scares them. When I have something to say I immediately say it but when I am processing on generating the output, the very silence of few seconds becomes incredibly uncomfortable. There should be a place where we stand up infront of people and speak nothing.

I'm not a great speaker, still a work in process, but definitely improved. I know podiums are "bad" but I admit that I sometimes use them as "revervoirs of stength". I never get behind them, but I lean against them sometimes when listening to a question. And if walking back and forth in front of one, I sometimes lightly place my hand on it, convincing myself that that touch will keep me literally falling on my face. And I talk with my hands naturally, so I'm fine with the hand gestures. But I still hold a paper clip and press on it while listening to questions to help me concentrate. I don't process verbal info as well/quickly as I process written info, so I've convinced myself that playing with that paper clip relaxes me to the point that I can concentrate on what's being said/asked.

Great points! A lot of this advice matches with Scott Berkun's "Confessions of a Public Speaker". Excellent actionable advice on public speaking. http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Public-Speaker-English/dp/...

> 4) Podiums were invented by some sadist who hates introverts.

The same goes for the more modern 'laptop that is being use to display the presentation.' Hiding behind that can be a very easy trap to fall into.

Which is a good reason to use a remote of some kind, no?

I wonder how you'd modify this advice for someone in a wheelchair?

Sidenote: http://www.speakinghacks.com/

I know it's easy to say this is for introverts, but this applies to everybody. Public speaking is hard: it's not natural to get up in front of a group of people who aren't going to talk back, and talk for far longer than you'd ever have to in conversation.

I'm a consummate extrovert, and I recently started doing more public speaking, both in front of groups of 20-60 and webinar-style, over the phone with 1-5 people. Both were terrifying, and it still makes me nervous. I've been doing it for about a year, and I'm just now starting to overcome the "Man, I hope something comes up and we have to cancel" feeling.

Practice is the only way to get comfortable, and practice will make you better.

Not only does it apply to everybody, but I strongly believe it has nothing to do with whether or not you're an introvert.

I find public speaking "easy". As a teenager I spent a couple of weeks in front of rowdy groups of hundreds of school students during school election debates for a fringe party that made me an ideal candidate for mockery. Didn't phase me. I held the commencement speech at my university my first year in front of thousands of students and TV crews, and people couldn't believe how relaxed I was, but I didn't understand why there was anything to be nervous about; I knew the manuscript and was after all just going to stand there and deliver it. I've spoken to quite a few very varied large groups of people. I don't react to that at all.

Smalltalk with strangers, on the other hand, takes a lot out of me. It's not just that it triggers anxieties in some situations, but even when it doesn't, it is exhausting: I have to concentrate much more to actually listen and take part in conversations that happens for "social reasons" as opposed to about specific subjects, as otherwise I miss cues etc. or simply will go silent.

I don't mind getting up in front of a crowd of any size without a manuscript and deliver my message, even if I know it'll be unpopular, but if I'm in a store, for example, I'd rather spend a couple of extra minutes looking around rather than asking someone who works there to help me find something, because one on one interactions with strangers are draining. I even have to consciously avoid taking steps to "bypass" people I only know vaguely but who I expect might want to talk to me as if I just go on "autopilot" I'll pick the route that leads to the least amount of words exchanged.

Perhaps the "aren't going to talk back" part is what makes public speaking feel easier for me, even when they actually do.

To me, those two things are entirely separate. I'm sure there are lots of introverts that also have problems with public speaking, but conversely I know plenty of introverts other than myself who doesn't have a problem with public speaking, and lots of extroverts who do.

I agree with this. Introvert/extrovert is another one of those stupid linear continuums (continuua?) that people get socially diagnosed into that don't particularly explain, just label. As a painfully shy person who didn't have any problem being a frontman for touring bands for years, comfort and discomfort with social situations is a subject more complicated than yes you are or no you aren't.

Introvert/extrovert does have real meaning, but people generally use it as a sophisticated synonym for "shy/outgoing", which is utterly false.

Thanks for pointing that out. I am somewhat shy and quite extroverted.

I'm not into labelling, but I do think the whole introvert/extrovert continuum can be helpful for understanding how to deal with people closer to the extremes of the continuum. . .not as much for the people near the middle. I think it's also helpful for understanding organizational dynamics, if the majority of the folks lean heavily in one direction or the other. I'm shy, sometimes painfully so, but I can "flip a switch/adopt a different personna" and appear to be considerably less shy. Sometimes, it's almost like I'm having an out-of-body experience.

I have a very similar experience as you. Public speaking doesn't phase me, but the one on one exchanges with strangers or people I rarely interact with are exhausting.

I've thought that perhaps it's because the public speaking is more defined. Either in topic or format. When public speaking on a particular subject I'm more concerned with whether or not the audience is getting the material than I am about whether or not they're interested in me as a individual, or their critiques of my performance ability.

With on-one-one conversations the topics can meander anywhere and maintaining interest can be tiring if there are discussions on topics I frankly couldn't care less about.

> It's not just that it triggers anxieties in some situations, but even when it doesn't, it is exhausting

Yes. For me, it's that small talk is so boring. Even not-so-small talk gets dull to me. Like, I recently took a trip to Vietnam for two weeks. Obviously everybody wants to hear about it, which I know at some level is because they like me and are interested in my life, but I am now just sick of talking about it! I've been telling the same stories over and over, and it just wears me out now to talk about it.

So I think extraverts love the opportunity to tell stories, even well-trod ones, whereas we introverts just abhor it.

I'm in much the same position. I'm very much an introvert, and find small-group smalltalk to be exhausting, difficult, and often results in flubs.

In contrast, I love public speaking, be it on something defined or extemporaneous. It's just so much easier: you concentrate mostly on your thoughts and contributions from the crowd some in small, controllable bursts. It's much less dynamic than actually conducting a conversation with someone.

Good point mentioning the word anxiety. The blog post reads just as well for self treatment of any other form of anxiety. Scared of heights? Claustrophobic? Anxious about "making the first move" when dating? Self treatment reads pretty much like a search and replace of the blog post.

Not saying its a bad post or wrong, but its one overly concrete example of a very general family of coping strategies. And knowing when you can generalize a strategy (and when you can't) is a mighty handy skill to have, so think about it, and not thinking about it, is the only disservice the post did.

There is the side strategy of using introversion as a crutch for anxiety. INT/EXT pretty much boils down to what do you like doing in your spare time, not much more. I like reading books and I don't like talking to that jerk in finance, so um, ah, I tell everyone I don't talk to that jerk in finance because I'm INT, because its easier than the social conflict issue of explaining how the guy's a total jerk.

Trust me, all that being a pretty strong INT means WRT public speaking, is I don't want to hang out with the audience after a speech. As an INT I enjoy public speaking, its unidirectional so I don't have to listen to their meaningless BS I honestly don't care about. One on one high pressure sales, now that's something an INT would inherently hate, because I just can't get my heart into pretending to care about some victim's favorite baseball team only so I can sell something to them, me doing high pressure 1 on 1 sales would be somewhere between a comedy and a tragedy, only certainty is I'd be way off the script... Public speaking is actually fun as an INT, and that fun feeling comes out in the talk, makes it a good one. Summary, absolutely no incompatibility with public speaking and INT.

Now there's nothing wrong with anxiety, particularly the very popular public speaking anxiety. Personally, I'm pretty anxious about heights, and the blog comments pretty much describe my "heights coping strategies". Everybody's got their "thing" they can't stand. Its not some fake INT/EXT thing.

Agreed - some people who think they are good at public speaking are in fact just good at reciting their notes or slides verbatum (big pet peeve). It's one thing to say practice helps - its more of a consistency thing. You have to get used to it and get into a routine of speaking in front of DIFFERENT people.

"Practice is the only way to get comfortable, and practice will make you better."

Totally agree with this.

1) Toastmasters.

2) Tim Ferriss's advice is surprisingly useful: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/04/11/public-speak...

Yes to point 1.

I did Toastmasters for about a year and it had a huge impact. They have a systematic way of developing your skills (a set of 10 speeches designed to focus on various aspects, like structure, vocal presentation, gestures, etc...) It seems quite sound, pedagogically.

Now, you do have to have a minimum of tolerance for getting up and doing a first speech in the very beginning, but if you can do that, the rest of the program ramps up gradually. As an introvert, I was never thrilled to be going in to a Toastmasters meeting, but I always felt really good (energized, happy) going out.

Some types of public speaking are easier for introverts than others. Giving a preplanned talk in front of a couple of thousand people? Pretend they aren't there and that you're speaking to the air. Look at the audience as you would look at a TV screen. It may not be the most spectacular or engaging talk they have ever seen, but you will get through it. Very few people are so interesting that you want to hear them talk for very long anyway.

A small interactive discussion group? That lasts all day? Now you are in territory where being an introvert is deadly. And there really are no good answers other than try to get some practice in small groups over short time spans and work your way up.

I think even that depends a lot of topic and format. I don't mind a technical discussion group at all. A social group on the other hand makes me want to just shut down. At parties I'll often just sit down somewhere and sit there all evening (unless I'm at a club - I like dancing and happily use that as an excuse for not talking), and don't mind talking if someone talks to me, but I won't seek out conversations unless it's a group of geeks talking about subjects I care about.

Kind of nitpicky, but is there actually any correlation between introversion and public speaking anxiety? I'm pretty introverted, but don't have much difficulty with public speaking or job interviews or whatever. For me, introversion is all about personal relationships - business conversations are a completely different animal, at least in my brain.

Can't agree more. I actually have a stutter and avoided any public speaking until a pretty ripe age.

At some point I just had to do it. I had nightmares, nightsweats, couldn't sleep or eat. But that is not what mattered. What mattered was that I did it anyway. I was nervous, wanted to run away, but I did it.

It was for small groups first, giving status updates to a few colleagues - even those used to stress me.

Then after some speaking at conferences, I was surprised that these status updates ever caused me any stress.

From there I went to a key note in front of 800 or more people (a few years back I would quite literally preferred to die rather than doing that). Suddenly the conference engagement became less daunting.

The funny thing is: On stage I do not stutter. I guess I'm too busy delivering the message.

And what if I do? It doesn't really matter. Some people might find it funny (I certainly had my share of that when I was younger, but those folks are typically inferior on an intellectual level and are just looking for compensation.)

And, yes, I am still extremely nervous before each public engagement and I still not like it per se, but you know what? That's part of it.

I would also recommend checking these slides from Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz fame. http://www.slideshare.net/randfish/making-presentations-bett...

Great presentation, thanks for sharing!

Love this post. Great tips that are useful for anybody/everybody, introverts and extroverts alike.

Just want to make the point that shyness/anxiety/insecurity != introversion. They're completely separate spectrums. Sure, sometimes they cross one another, but correlation of the two does not mean causation.

Here's a good post by Susan Cain (the author of Quiet) that gets at this idea: http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/2011/07/05/are-you-shy-i...

Interesting article, but can we get away from this idea that introvert = shy?

Being an introvert just means that you find different things interesting, not that you're scared of groups.

This article is based on a dubious premise, namely, that public speaking is harder for introverts than for extroverts. Introverts are taxed by smalltalk and the like, but they often have no trouble getting up in front of hundreds of people and performing. Think Michael Jackson: painfully diffident in private, but a monster on stage.

Toastmasters has been a big help for me. You get to practice speaking in front of a group of people who are all there to practice speaking as well. Knowing everybody is there to learn the same skills takes some of the pressure off. Plus every time you give a speech somebody is assigned to evaluate it in the same meeting. So you get instant feedback and constructive criticism.

Another big advantage of Toastmasters is that there are a lot of opportunities for impromptu speaking. This made me very nervous at first but it’s incredibly valuable to practice speaking for 1-2 minutes without notes.

If you don't know how to speak publicly, what entitles you about writing a post to give recommendations about that what you do badly?

This is something very common on the blogosphere right now, the kind of posts that starts with a "I suck doing this, this are my 10 ways to do it better.."

There is a lot of interesting lectures out there about how to be better speaking publicly, we don't need advices or recommendations from someone who doest know about the topic.

The worst thing is that news.ycombinator keep bubbling this things up.

want to throw out a few links to what you consider to be the best of "a lot of interesting lectures out there about how to be better speaking publicly"?

the beginner/"I suck at this" vantage point might be more relevent to a paticular reader as the expert one

I'm guessing you want a curated list of something better than just google.

Some folks who consider this problem to be their hobby (there are also other similar groups):


A non-obvious phrase to google for is "public speaking anxiety" which is more formally the problem, not some INT/EXT thing or just simply being no good at it which usually is just personality pessimism.

I remember I had to take a public speaking class at university a long time ago and there is obvious some discussion and support; plus you get credit, plus probably tuition reimbursement from employer.

Not having an issue with speaking, but experiencing one with heights, I know that working as a team helps a lot. This seems to be a semi-universal human trait, you put one redneck in the back country and he's fine, put two out there and a bunch of "hold my beer and watch this" later, you need an ambulance, its inevitable, not just rednecks in the back country. So I would imagine a team public speaking presentation would be enormously easier than going it alone. I know this helps a lot with being scared of heights, at least for me.

(edited to add there's also two types of public speaking, the stylistic one where you should use your hands while talking precisely this much in 2013 for network TV but this much for locals, and make sure to blink on cue and use the correct fake accent at the correct time, and the more concrete goal of giving a speech to the public... make sure your teacher or information source is aiming at what you actually want to learn. In a similar way WRT me and heights, there's stylistic stuff like what kind of costume a trapeze artist wears in 2013 (I have no idea) vs how to climb on roofs and antenna towers which I can help a little with)

A quote that made a difference for me, addressing the paralyzing issue of "what if I'm wrong? what if I make a mistake in front of all these people?":

though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does at least make the reassuring claim, that where it is inaccurate it is at least definitively inaccurate. - Douglas Adams

If I'm wrong when speaking to a group, then by gum I'll strive to be definitively wrong.

I am copying this from a recent blog post that I've written. Hopefully it's good advice. Let me know what you think.

3) What did I learn? Now you might want to ask: after 500 talks, presentations, keynotes and the like, what did I learn?

Many things, among which:

3.1) Somebody in the audience is smarter than you: no matter how smart, focused, sharp you are, you’ll always find someone who is smarter, more prepared, more skilled. Which means: be humble, and if you don’t know something, just say so. People don’t pretend that you know everything; they just want you to be honest.

3.2) Slides are only a small part of a presentation: you present to inspire, and possibly to provide knowledge and details. Slides are not the main part… The most important part is telling a story, involving people, showing passion, making things memorable.

3.3) Always be listening. I mean it. Even when you’re on stage, speaking.

Don’t just listen to WORDS. Listen to feelings as well. I’ll tell you a little story to explain this point. Late 2009. I was in France, and I was the last speaker before lunch. I was supposed to speak at 12:30, for about 30 minutes. However, previous speakers took more time than expected, and one of the big sponsors pretended to have their CEO speak before me, unplanned, for more than 20 minutes, reading some text the entire time. READING. No slides, no interpretation. Why didn’t he simply email all of us, instead?

His message was very boring, very corporate, full of vaporware. His last words were about how customer-obsessed his company was.

He was using people’s time as he pleased, without even thinking about their needs. When it was my turn, it was already 13:00, and people really wanted to go to lunch. I was angry. I was in a difficult situation.

I introduced myself, and then told the audience: “My talk was planned to be 30 minutes long. However, we are late, and you are hungry. I’ll cut my talk down to 15 minutes, and then we all go to lunch at 13:15. This is what I call customer obsession.”

Big round of applauses. The crowd was mine. So, the lesson is: if you want to deliver a message, the length of the message doesn’t count. Other things count. Or, if you want to be a Technology Evangelist, don’t FORCE the message to your crowd. Use empathy.

3.4) Get inspired. I have amazing colleagues that inspire me every day. Our CTO, Werner Vogels, is one of the best public speaker I’ve ever seen, perhaps second only to my all-time favorite, Matt Wood (a rare combination of intelligence, humility, knowledge and a collection of PhDs), who recently moved to a new role, Chief Data Scientist. Our most senior Evangelist, Jeff Barr, is a walking encyclopaedia on all things AWS. Jinesh Varia is a talented, super-smart producer of high quality content, and a good presenter too. And there are other colleagues (like Simon Elisha) which, despite not strictly being Technology Evangelists, are amazing speakers nevertheless.

There are also a lot of amazing Technology Evangelists out there, not just within the Amazon Web Services team. I loved reading Kenneth Reitz’s blog post about his experience at Heroku. So the lesson here is: get inspired, as much as possible. Never stop learning and improving.

3.5) I’ve mentioned above that “It doesn’t necessarily make sense to travel like this, though”.

In fact, after 500 talks, I think that I should focus on quality, rather than quantity. Let me be more clear. At the beginning, you should do as many talks as possible, simply because you learn a lot, and you mostly learn by doing. After a while (500 is enough, but also 200 would be enough), you will notice that you’re not improving so much anymore. It’s time for you to start focusing on quality. Quality, in this case, means committing your time and energy to events that matter. It could be a small user group, or a huge conference, but as long as it matters, it’s ok. It will actually be easier for me now, since I am focused on the Bay area, and therefore travelling time is not as much as it used to be… Which means I can afford to do more events, while keeping the “quality” high.

3.6) You’re a public figure representing your company, learn how to deal with it.

This was a tough one to learn, and I admit it wasn’t easy for me, but eventually I’ve learned it the hard way. Different companies might have different policies, but in most cases you are not “just one employee”, whatever you do online or in public matters a lot.

Ah, and by the way: Opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of current or past employers. Just in case.

Source: http://www.brunozzi.com/2013/01/04/500-times-on-stage/

Indeed, slide transitions are an important polish

Practice, practice, practice

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