Monday, May 17, 2010

Public Speaking for Introverts: Jonesing for the Zone

A Special Guest Post by Nancy Ancowitz

How can introverts get into the zone more quickly when giving a talk? First, quick is a relative term. An introvert’s quick could be an extrovert’s slow. Not that we’re sluggards and dullards—we just need to go at our own pace.

While an extrovert might blast out onstage after schmoozing all day, get a further charge from all the people in her audience, and then give a speech worthy of the Academy, that combination of activities could deplete an introvert, making him feel like ducking for cover. Remember: an extrovert’s fuel can be an introvert’s kryptonite—and vice versa.

Let’s say you’re an introvert who is about to give a presentation to the top dogs at your company, a pitch to win a pivotal deal for your business, or a talk at your first book signing (!). You’ll need to rest up, prepare, and practice to do your personal best. Here’s what else you can do to get into the zone:

Arrive early. Get to the venue early. I like the one-hour rule. An hour is usually just enough time to put all your stuff in place, check out the technology (e.g., your slides are projecting), make a quick run to the rest room if even just to check your hair, talk to the whomsoevers, and get a little quiet time before you’re on. Venues aren’t always available ahead of time, but whenever possible, make arrangements to gain access well before your speech begins. Also, always bring a “Murphy’s Law kit” containing an extra jump drive with crucial files like your speaker’s notes, slides, and hand outs on it, spare pantyhose or necktie, small cough drops, a handkerchief, and anything else you can think of to add to your peace of mind.

Arrange seats. If you’re speaking in a small room, you may be able to arrange the audience seating to make it conducive to the kind of presentation you’re giving. For example, if you’re giving a workshop for 12 people, you can arrange the seats in a semi-circle to encourage interaction. For simple schematics and explanations of various seating arrangements, click here (scroll down to Activity 4, Figure 3, “Various Seating Plans”).

Move around the stage. There I was before a recent talk I gave at a US Naval base doing a sound check, loosening up, flapping my arms around onstage, and running through my first few lines when one of the senior brass entered the room and caught my eye. He laughed, I laughed, and somehow, my big bird stayed in flight. Did I feel silly? Not really. I was doing my job, getting grounded so I could do my best in just a short while for my audience. Whenever possible, walk around the stage, block out where you’ll be during different parts of your talk, and even practice making eye contact—cultural considerations notwithstanding—with different parts of the room (by looking at different seats throughout the space for a few seconds at a time, as opposed to scanning the room).

Prepare for some chat time. Audience members often enter a venue at least 15 minutes early—and some can’t live another day without talking to the speaker! So think of that hour you arrive early as more like 45 minutes to get things done before you emerge from your introvert’s cocoon. Assuming you’re sufficiently rested up and prepared, consider the benefits of having an offline chat or two with your participants. It can be a good way to break the ice, learn their interests and concerns, build some rapport before show time, and even provide you with some relevant information you can refer to during your talk (“I was just talking to Yolanda who shared some great news.”)

Find a quiet space. At some point, you need to wind down before you get wound up again. Find a space where no one will find you—it could be an empty conference room or even the rest room for some down time. But not just any rest room. Find a rest room on a different floor (or a nearby Starbucks) so you don’t run into your host and members of the audience. Honor your need for downtime until you’re ready to interact. What do you do during your quiet time? You might like to review your speaker’s notes, if even to go over your first few lines. You might like to meditate or just take a few deep breaths. Or you might like a quick multimedia buzz by tuning into some soothing or inspiring music or a video on your iPod. Or bring a poem, a picture, or some other touchstone to help ease you into your zone.

For more tips, quips, and insights about public speaking for introverts, see Public Speaking for Private People” and Cool Tool for Public Speakers—and the chapter on public speaking in my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®.


Nancy, thank you so much for such a excellent and enlightening post! Nancy was with us a while back when Laura Salas did a great interview with her, on public speaking and self-promotion. In response to that, one of our readers asked for some help to get into her comfort zone earlier. This post does a bang-on job addressing just that. Just ask and ye shall receive at Shrinking Violets. :-]

Heads up East Coasters! Robin is on tour this week in your neighborhood, promoting her two new wonderful books, Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus and the her latest in the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series, with illustrator Kelly Murphy entitled The Basilisk's Lair.

Here is where you can catch up with her--
May 19, 4:00 p.m. Curious George Bookstore, Boston, Massechussetts
May 21, 4:00 p.m. The Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne, Vermont

Robin, have fun and don't forget to crawl back into your magic, renewing shell each night and recharge. :-]

Have a most exceptional week, everyone! May those of you waiting to hear from agents and editors finally get the ***news*** you've been waiting for. May those of you needing to be inspired in your WIP have a most enlightening date with the Muse. May those of you with school visits or public speaking events be heartened by today's post. And may we all continue to encourage and support one another on our creative journeys!

Mary Hershey


Tabitha said...

What a great post! I'm terrified of public speaking, though I know I can do it if I prepare myself first. And practice...but that whole practice thing is sooo painful when it means more of talking in front of lots of people.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Terrific info here!
I also like to bring a couple of bottles of water with straws. When I'm nervous it's easier for me to drink from a straw than risk turning up a glass with ice and splashing myself in the process. (I know I must sound incredibly clumsy, but when I'm a little freaked out, I am!)

Nancy Ancowitz said...

Thank you, Tabitha. You're right about preparing. It will only make you a better speaker and you'll arrive at your talks more grounded. As to practice, you're right that it can be tough. What can you do to take a small step in the right direction? And dare I say, how about finding something you really enjoy about public speaking? If you take the spotlight off yourself, you may find that you enjoy sharing your knowledge, information, and insights with others. Focus on how you can benefit your audience.

Nancy Ancowitz said...

Thank you, Rebecca. Bottles of water with straws sound like a good idea. It sounds like you really think things through. The important thing is to find whatever makes you feel comfortable so you can focus on delivering your best to your audience and minimize distractions. To that end, I'm also a fan of wearing attractive yet comfortable clothing and shoes when presenting.

tanita✿davis said...

I think the point about MOVING is very crucial. I freeze up, and it becomes literal - my muscles lock. If I can swing my arms, pace, bounce up on my toes -- keep moving -- I think I could still talk.

Although if someone caught me warming up, I might have to hide under a table...

Carrie Harris said...

I get a little shaky voiced when I get nervous, so I always find a secluded spot and sing. Stress on the word "secluded." :)

Thanks for the fabulous advice to add to the speech-preparedness file!

Shari Green said...

Thanks for this post. I don't do any public speaking (yet!), but for sure I'll file away these tips for when I'm further along in my career. ;)

Carrie, I'm sure my voice would be shaky, too, and I can imagine your singing tip working well for me - thanks!

Nancy Ancowitz said...

Moving, singing, finding a secluded spot - all of these activities can help. The key is to figure out what works for you and that can take some trial and error. So be patient with yourself and see if you can find ways to enjoy the process. After all, tackling something that's always been tough can be extremely rewarding.

prashant said...

I also like to bring a couple of bottles of water with straws
data entry work from home

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Straws and water bottles - great idea!

And thank you for all the FANTASTIC speaking tips! I'm going to remember them over the next couple of months during my book signings and launch parties!

I'm already nervous!


Nancy Ancowitz said...

Thank you, Kimberly. One way to manage the nervousness is by having your first few lines (words and delivery) down cold. This may help you hit your stride quicker and with greater ease.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Thank you so much, Nancy, That is a really, REALLY good tip: to memorize my opening. Simple, but gets ya past the initial nerves. Thanks!

Mary Hershey said...

Nancy, you are the gift that keeps on giving! Thanks so much for this marvelously helpful post and all your great chat with our readers here--


Nancy Ancowitz said...

Thank you, Kimberly. I'm so glad the opening line tip is helpful. Just like with writing, getting started is often the hardest part.

Mary, thank you for inviting me back. It's always a joy to chat with other Violets. You and Robin have created a special community here and I'm grateful for that.