I’m a transparent type of guy so here’s a little secret for you: I’m an introverted writer. And, as an introverted writer, I greatly enjoy capturing my thoughts on paper. One activity I savor even more is…wait for it…sharing my ideas with a live audience. I know what you’re thinking…”that’s impossible, introverted writers don’t do public speaking. It’s not in our DNA.” But what I’m telling you is that the chasm between written expression and the spoken word is not as wide as you may think. The first thing you need to do is read the rest of this article. Fair warning: after reading it your ideas about what an introverted writer can and can’t do may be shattered forever. Are you ready?
I’m five minutes out from being called to the stage of my firm’s headquarters building in Manhattan. I’m there to speak to a substantial group of top executives summoned from across the country to hear me speak about the new renovation program I’m managing which will significantly impact their offices. I’ve prepared a slick-looking presentation. I’m wearing a custom-made suit. The stage is set for me to deliver a dynamic, compelling and totally unforgettable talk. The only thing missing from my big moment is…me.
I’m in the bathroom with the worst case of nerves I’ve ever experienced. I can’t take a healthy breath without coughing my lungs out. I’m shaking uncontrollably and sweating all over. I’m seriously considering running out of the building, jumping into a cab and calling it a career. This is a surely disaster.
Looking back at that day still makes me wonder how I pulled myself together just enough to get onto that stage. My knees were weak and my mouth was dry, yet I muddled through. But unless someone was in the bathroom with me they would never have known that I was one small step away from total collapse.
My story brings us to the first tip for speaking in public: the audience only experiences what the speaker projects. You’re free to telegraph your anxiety, or tell them all about the mistakes you’ve made. However if your goal is to convince your audience to see you as a subject matter expert, then I suggest you leave your insecurities in the bathroom.
Of course, when you’re a novice speaker it’s not easy to project confidence while on stage. Here’s how to solve that dilemma…before going on stage imagine what it’d feel like to rock your presentation and then be given a standing ovation afterward. Feel the enveloping warmth and gratitude provided by your audience. Imagine the smiling faces and appreciative nods thrown your way. Feels good, right? Your confidence swells before you step on stage. This technique works because our minds can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s vividly imagined. The key is the degree of vividness you create with your imagination. For that reason, it’s best to find a quiet room before going on stage to minimize distractions.
Back when I was just beginning my public speaking journey, I subscribed to the thinking that I could speak about anything without preparation. My flawed logic went something like this: I’m very familiar with the thoughts in my head, therefore I simply need to open my mouth and the words will flow out smoothly and clearly. Well all it took was a flop or two to convince my brain that my idea regarding my speaking skills and cold hard reality were not on the same page. Not even in the same book. I had ignored the fact that I was an introverted writer who’s primary residence was my head. That’s the place where everything magically works out the way I imagine. If you’re an introverted writer I think you know what I mean.
The way to avoid that cold hard slap of reality is to prepare an outline before you speak about it. An outline is just that…a bare structure on which your speech will eventually be fleshed out. It consists of an introduction, which tells the audience what your talk will be about. That’s your primary message. Then comes the body that provides the main points to support your message. Finally, you wrap it up by reminding the audience what you spoke about. The conclusion is where you boil down your speech into one or two memorable nuggets presented as audience takeaways. Preparing your speech in this way will save you days, even weeks, of effort in writing a speech that is logical and coherent. In addition an outline will rescue you from sounding like an amateur.
We all want to be our best when on stage. We put tremendous pressure on ourselves to perform at the highest level. But self-imposed pressure leads to anxiety which makes our body tight. That’s the opposite of how we need to feel on stage. The problem is not in our bodies but in our heads. The solution is to remind ourselves that being our best is not a static condition. Our best performance today will pale in comparison to our best showing a few months from now.
Why? Because we need to give ourselves permission to grow. When we see public speaking as a learning process we bring the right attitude to our performances. When we approach our speaking career as a journey of discovery we allow our skills to grow organically. The old adage, “nothing is constant except change”, holds true in public speaking as well as any skill we repeatedly work on. Let yourself learn something new every time you speak. That’s the way to enjoy your performances.
Public speaking is a skill that can be improved. Introverted writers understand the value of improvement as they’re intimately familiar with writing as a process. By following the strategies described in this article it’s not inconceivable that you may soon find yourself on stage sharing your ideas with a live audience. And, believe it or not, you may enjoy the experience. The public speaking bug bit me. I truly enjoy being in the limelight. It can happen to you too.
Seth B. Greenwald is the owner of the Creative Warrior Group. Seth is a veteran member of the public speaking organization Toastmasters. He has authored two books about how harnessing the immense power of creativity will help you make big things happen in your life. Seth’s most recent title is Answering the Call of Your Creative Warrior which has been published in paperback and ebook formats. Visit his site for tips on building a better you to get what you want out of life.
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