There’s a book called “What to Say When…You’re Dying on the Platform” by Lily Walters.
It’s full of clever quips and responses for when things aren’t going your way during a presentation or speech.
My partner Tony loves it. I could never use any of it.
He’s an extrovert. I’m an introvert.*
*Here’s my working definition of the essential difference – extroverts are energized by being with groups of people, whereas introverts are drained by that and recharge by being alone. Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re shy, nervous or even reserved. Most of us are on a continuum between extreme extroversion and extreme introversion.
Tony is quick-witted, funny and can come up with any number of quick responses – whether it’s during a presentation or just a conversation around the dinner table. His challenge is choosing from the many different responses that his brain offers up to him.
My challenge is coming up with just one response in the heat of the moment. Tongue-tied is the expression that fits for me.
And this is one of the differences between extroverts and introverts. Extroverts function well in highly stimulating environments – they love being with lots of people and talking a lot.
Introverts function best in less-stimulating environments. When an environment is too stimulating for us it impacts on our short term memory. We’re simply not good at thinking on our feet in these situations. We can’t summons up those clever, humorous responses under pressure.
And that’s just one difference between introverts and extroverts. Those differences make an impact on whether conventional public speaking advice works for us.
But up till now, most public speaking advice has been “one size fits all”.
And because most public speaking coaches, trainers and authors are extroverts (no surprise there, it’s a natural career choice for an extrovert) most public speaking advice naturally works best for extroverts. it’s written for extroverts by extroverts.
I’m in the unusual position of being a public speaking coach by accident.
Tony started the business. To begin with I was only involved in the back-end, doing the administration and helping at the back of the room during training courses. But after having watched Tony a few hundred times I decided I could be at the front of the room too. Over the last 15 years we’ve been running the business together, I’ve been able to study the differences between us when it comes to public speaking. And I’ve also studied how best to help the people who are our clients and for whom the conventional public speaking advice doesn’t work – introverts.
In making this distinction between what works for introverts and extroverts I acknowledge the thought leadership of Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
So as I reinvigorate this blog (longtime readers will know that this is my first post for a number of years) I’m going to be writing about what works for introverts.
Public speaking and presentation advice for introverts, by an introvert.
I’m also going to be looking at what keeps us quiet – turning down opportunities to present, not speaking up in meetings, keeping our best ideas and passionate opinions under wraps – and how to speak up when we want to.
What are particular challenges, issues and obstacles that you’ve had an introvert when it comes to public speaking and presenting? What advice have you come across where you’ve thought “I could never do that”. Let me know in the comments.
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You have described me well as an introvert. I look forward to your future posts. I am interested in hearing more about thinking while speaking. I often have a hard time coming up with a particular word that I know well, but just can’t think of while standing in front of people.
For myself, I accept that thinking while speaking is not my forte. My workaround is to be more prepared – to think about the questions, the interjections, the resistance that I might get.
I’ll expand on this more in a future blog post. Thank you Wayne.
I think the value of listening is under rated. Speakers need to be great listeners, not just great talkers.
That’s such a great point Julia, thank you. I can write about that too…all the different ways that listening improves our speaking.
I agree Julia. By listening I can decide whether I even want to engage.
Thank you Anna, I appreciate the encouragement!
Welcome back! As an extrovert I get value out of your blog too!
I am curious about what extroverts can tell introverts to help them with public speaking. AND more about things extroverts work, that are terrible for introverts.
Thank you Matthew – great topics.
Thank you Olivia for your tipsand your blog! It helps me a lot!
So glad that you find my blog helpful Ciliane. Thank you.
Welcome back Olivia – looking forward to more. Preparing for the presentation is ok and helps for sure but what about handling Q & A sessions to high powered groups? mind goes blank – panic sets in – words just tumble out…. Any suggestions really welcome.
Thank you Anne. My best advice on this issue is to prepare for the Q&A as much as you do for the presentation itself. Brainstorm possible questions that might be asked – asking colleagues to help is really useful as you’ll get different perspectives to your own. Then prepare answers to all the questions. Then write out all the questions on note cards and ask a friend or colleague to ask you the questions randomly. Practice until none of the questions phase you. Yes, it’s a lot of work but you’ll be able to nail the Q&A with this approach.
At the same time remember that you don’t have to be able to answer EVERY question! It is absolutely fine to say “I don’t know the answer to that question but I’ll get back to you” or refer them a colleague or another source. Because you’re “I don’t know” response will be sandwiched between your professional, articulate answers to all the other questions, your credibility will not suffer.
Hope that helps, and I’ll write more on this topic in a future blog post.
Great to see you back, Olivia! I always enjoy reading what you have to say.
To me, it’s so much better to say “I don’t know” than to try and cover that up. In that respect, credibility’s increased.
Thank you Craig for the welcome back. And I agree.
Answering questions has always been easy for me. Remember that you know more about the subject than most of the people in the audience. If you don’t then you likely shouldn’t be talking about that subject. The most important advice I can give is don’t lie, which means don’t make stuff up. It is perfectly OK to say that you don’t know the answer and will be happy to look it up.
Jules,great work keep it up.i am an extrovert by nature but it seems I panic when it gets to the point that i have to deliver and I normally take a while before I engage my audience.can I get more help on that?
Some apprehension is normal, so you’re OK, unless you haven’t adequately prepared for the subject you’re about to present. For those few seconds, which may seem like an eternity, you’re suffering from that “Flight or Fight Response.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response. Note that I’ve reversed these responses because for introverts, I believe flight comes before fight. Your brain is temporarily handicapped by a sudden rush of adrenaline, which will pass in a few seconds to a couple minutes. I think it helps to have a short period of informal interaction with the audience before the formal presentation, but unfortunately that’s not always possible.
I’ve seen a big cat, when first encountering a small snake, jump a foot into the air. After the cat determined the snake was harmless it played with it for quite some time. For the cat it was flight and then fight. I can’t imagine what it was for the poor snake. Fright, flight, fight. Not sure how a small snake fights a big cat.
Thank you Roger for your observations, very helpful. Olivia
It’s very normal to get nervous about delivering your presentation. Just about everyone suffers from some degree of nervousness when it comes to presenting. It will be helpful to you to accept that you will get nervous and to start to get used to the feelings of nervousness – the heart beating fast and the shortness of breath. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant but not the end of the world and you will not die. I’ll be writing more about this in my next post. Olivia
Thank you for the blog & comments shared. I think I am both – very willing to be out front yet needing to recharge alone. I’ve found that taking myself lightly helps, not self-deprecating, but easy to laugh at myself if warranted – & move on! Life happens. Listening-as mentioned-is powerful, especially if I could link what someone said to the situation, e.g., “As Poku mentioned, audience engagement is a challenge, so we need to look for opportunities, such as now, when the A/V equipment has a glitch! (Breathe!)” Then you can involve others to help fix it, or open the floor: “What are some other ideas for engaging your audience?”
Lovely advice, thank you Elizabeth.
I have been an extreme introvert for more than 70 years, and I have a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. I grew up isolated from the world and have always struggled to fit in with those around me. I’ve read numerous books and articles on preparing for and making presentations, but none of that has worked for me and likely never will. It is unfortunate that those who cannot speak often don’t receive credit for what they do.
The best advice I can give is read or listen to “Your Erroneous Zones, Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. Realize that if you come to the podium adequately prepared, you will likely know more about the subject than your audience. What is “adequately prepared?” Whatever works for you, and not necessarily what you’ve read in books and articles or what the experts have told you. Know your subject matter and believe that you know more about it than “most of” your audience, which is likely true. And use whatever prompts you need to help bring thoughts to mind and always speak the truth. Lies kill!
I once listened to a great orator who spoke flawlessly for more than an hour about a wide range of highly technical subjects and without a single overhead slide. I and the audience were very impressed at the time. But the truth is he didn’t know the material and made much of it up as he went along, very similar to someone else I’ve witnessed numerous times. So who is the better speaker, the one whose untruths flow smoothly off the tongue or the one whose truths struggle to reach the audience’s ears? Never lie to the audience because someone will fact check you and spread the word.
Thank you Roger, it sounds as if much of your working life has been a struggle to be heard and recognized. That must be hard. Thank you for the advice that you have given here. Olivia
Great to have you back Olivia!
I’m also an introvert – but one that has learnt to public speak via both coaching sport and via a toastmasters course. It’s not my first choice of activity, but I do find that it doesn’t faze me now, and that has simply come through experience.
I know a good number of sports coaches who are introverts and their “audience” certainly responds well to them.
Very interesting topic and I look forward to hearing and reading more about it!
Thank you Philippa, for the encouragement!
Welcome back, Olivia. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work — especially about introverts. I’ve found that there’s often a layer of senior managers who are knowledgable and proficient but not dynamic on stage or enthusiastic about getting up there. They do well one-on-one but have difficultly translated that natural style to the podium.
On the other hand, I’ve worked with politicians who can wow a crowd but dread spending a moment in the elevator trying to make conversation.
Thanks Rob for the welcome back!I agree with you about those two types of people. Interestingly, both types can be introverts.
Glad to see you back. As a fellow introvert who loves public speaking, I get your points. I am an introverted thinker, and I need downtime. As I have increasingly grown into my own, and become willing to be seen for who I am, I find that the one off comments are being said and not just thought.
One place that’s great for us introverted types to strengthen the quick response muscle is in a long form improve class. It’s a totally safe environment, you can say the dumbest things out loud. The genius of it for introverts is that to be successful, you must pay close attention to what the other improve people say and follow along. This helps to grow the muscle of an accurate quick response.
The other idea is I’ve been reading about negotiations, and love the work of Chris Voss. (I really should become an affiliate as much as I am promoting his work. Alas, not.) He wrote a book called “Never Split the Difference,” and why this matters to us here is that he said that in any negotiation it is the quiet person who has the power.
So in a world that celebrates the extrovert, the introvert actually holds the cards. It’s just owning that and learning to leverage our innate thinking and listening skills in service of our goals.
Thank you so much Tara for adding your thoughts. I agree that doing improv can help with being quicker at responses and I’ve done some for exactly that reason! I’ve also accepted that that’s not my strength – I’m unlikely to have the witty responses that seem to just flow from some people – like Tony, my husband. That’s OK, I have other strengths.
I’m intrigued by Chris Voss. I will look up that book. Thank you
It’s lovely to have you back Olivia. I’d love to hear about the speaking engagement settings that introverts are best suited to (and those that aren’t such a great fit).
A few years ago, I was asked to speak to a large group over lunch where there was lots of wine flowing and my sense was that the setting was better suited to a presentation that was light and comic, delivered by an extrovert.
I’ve learned to be more discerning about the speaking engagements and the kinds of settings I’m best suited to but would love to hear your experience too.
Such a good point Kate and thank you for the welcome back. I actually haven’t thought about it much, because for me, I’ve simply not done “after dinner speaking” (I know yours was over lunch, but a similar context) because it wouldn’t be a good match for my skills.
Bravo Olivia, the comments posted illustrate the power of sharing your insights. Thank you.
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