Public Speaking for Private People

I just had my first book launch event for Self-Promotion for Introverts®. As I was preparing a speech to deliver at the event, I recalled what my colleague, PJ Lehrer, a plucky adjunct lecturer who teaches advertising at New York University, recently shared.

“I heard about a rock star who threw up before he performed and thought, ‘Why would he keep doing that if it made him sick?’,” said Lehrer. “But then,” she adds, “I was asked to do a spontaneous radio interview. I went into the bathroom, threw up, and came back out and did the interview. Afterward, I thought, ‘I feel just like a rock star!'”

Many introverts and extroverts alike dread public speaking—it’s on all the lists of our top fears. Some people consider it even more frightful than death. This excerpt from my book is apropos: “For an introvert, giving a presentation off the cuff can be like starring in your own personal low-budget horror flick. A fierce wind blows. You’re standing at the edge of a large black hole with a many-headed monster lashing its tentacles at you from the pit below. Your mind goes blank, your voice goes mum, and your presence fades into a shadow of itself as your mother tongue flies out the window. The monster rolls its eyes at your every utterance, the audio system roars at you, and purple flames lick at your feet.”

Since you only die once, but you could live to give many speeches, why not learn to make public speaking easier? Here’s what I did to help me take center stage—joyously!—at my book launch event:

  1. As an introvert, I’m at my best if I get to think before I speak. So I wrote out my key points in advance.
  2. I bounced the content of my speech off a trusted colleague.
  3. I picked a couple of stories to tell. My favorite is the one about how I met Bill Clinton at a place where I often went to write my book. I love telling how I, as an introvert, got up the nerve to approach him and ask him for advice for my readers.
  4. I rehearsed. I had my notes in front of me in case I needed them, but I never read them word for word.
  5. A week before the book launch, I recruited some friends to help out at the event—meeting and greeting, selling books, serving drinks—so I could concentrate more on my speech.
  6. As to creature comforts, I arrived at the event well rested, which is particularly important for me as an introvert. I wore comfortable (but attractive!) shoes and was well hydrated (no caffeine, which amplifies jitters).
  7. I struck a balance between socializing with my guests and getting my much needed time alone. Right before it was time for my speech, I went into a quiet room to meditate.
  8. I remembered to breathe, consciously, before, during, and after my speech. I included the word “BREATHE” in big red letters in the margins of my speaker’s notes.
  9. I spoke in a strong, confident voice and modulated it to emphasize my points.
  10. I always kept my eye on my goal. I was there to inform and entertain my audience and, of course, to sell books. So rather than worrying about how my guests might judge me, I made eye contact with one person at a time as if we were just having a one-on-one conversation. Not so scary.

I had a great time and my audience was with me. A tremendous benefit of public speaking for introverts: when you get up in front of an audience, you speak to many more people than you would normally in a day. It’s an efficient way to spread your message and raise your visibility. It can also help you get to the next level in your career. 

While I was writing my book, I had the privilege of asking Warren Buffett how introverts could raise their visibility in their careers. He said: “The ability to communicate both in writing and orally is enormously important. Most schools won’t teach it because they consider it too simple.” He added, “However, if you can communicate well, it’s a big advantage.”

Buffett, who was terrified of public speaking as a young man, shared that he “got physically ill even thinking about speaking.” If that describes you, too, help is available. Buffett took a Dale Carnegie class. Alternatively, you could take a continuing education class in public speaking or presentation skills, hire a public speaking coach and/or join Toastmasters International. Voice lessons can help too.

Public speaking, like self-promotion, is just a skill. Anyone can learn it and it doesn’t typically take a long time to do so. You don’t have to be a rock star or a billionaire investor. And it doesn’t have to make you sick. You can do it well as an introvert if you prepare, practice, and arrive well rested.

Start by booking yourself a small speaking gig, possibly at your local library or as part of your volunteer work. Focus on sharing your knowledge with people who could benefit from it. Let me know how it goes. I’m rooting for you!

Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, 2009, (Chapter 6, “Your Chalk Talk: Public Speaking for Private People”),
p. 141.

©Copyright 2010 Nancy Ancowitz

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One Response to “Public Speaking for Private People”

  1. unnikrishnan a Says:

    Good writing. very usefull tips for introvert people to manage public speaking events which is unavoidable.

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