08.10.12 Career & Finances

Public Speaking for Introverts

Public Speaking for Introverts

BY Kerry Winfrey

Most shy people share the same number one fear. Heights? Big deal. Spiders? Whatever. Clowns? Give me a break. But plop any of us down in front of a room full of people and tell us to speak? That’s terrifying.

I’ve never been good in front of people. It’s not that I don’t like attention; I do write on the internet, after all. What I don’t like is people looking at me or listening to me. Many terrible attempts at small talk have reassured me that I’m awkward enough one-one-one, but if I have to deliver a speech, I blush, stammer and shake. While some lucky people are blessed with naturally booming voices, my own voice is small and thin. The inevitable shouts of “Speak up!” that happen whenever I talk only make me more embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Tempting as it might sound, it’s impossible for most of us to avoid public speaking entirely, unless we go full-on Howard Hughes and retreat into our homes. Whether it’s a meeting at work or a presentation at school, at some point all of us will have to get our sweaty, nervous selves up in front of a group of people and talk. A few weeks ago, I had to deliver a maid-of-honor toast to about 150 wedding goers, a prospect that had me shaking in my glittery heels. Since that fateful phone call when my best friend announced her engagement and asked me to be her maid of honor, I’d been planning for (and worrying about) my speech. I consider myself the introvert of all introverts, so if I can get though a speech and live to tell the tale, so can you. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind the next time you have to have to do a little public speaking:

1. Prepare. Improv is great, but this isn’t UCB. There are people who can make up a speech as they go along, but if you’re reading this article looking for tips, you definitely aren’t one of them. This is actually something I learned way back in my high school speech class: if I prepare what I’m going to say, I’m significantly less nervous and I do a much better job. Make sure you do your research and bring everything you need. Rehearse everything: your gestures, your pauses, etc. It helps to write down the entire speech beforehand, which is what I did before my toast. If I focused on it as a writing assignment instead of a performance, it was much easier for me to handle.

2. Accept that you’re going to be nervous. It’s okay to be freaked out! Almost everyone is before they have to give a speech. Before my toast, I felt like I was going to straight up vomit all over my bridesmaid dress. Instead of focusing on getting rid of your anxiety, just take deep breaths and accept it.

3. Realize that everyone wants you to succeed. Unless you’re in front of a room full of psychopaths, everybody is on your side. The audience isn’t the enemy; they’re your support. Think about the last time you watched a speech or presentation. Were you waiting for the speaker to mess up, misspeak, or stutter? Of course not! Everyone else wants this to go as smoothly as you do.

4. Remember what you’re trying to do. Ultimately, your speech isn’t about you; it’s about getting specific information across to your audience. Maybe for you this involves telling a client about the work you’ve been doing, or describing a project to your class. In my case, I wanted to let everyone know how much I love the bride, and what a great couple she and her new groom are. When I focused on them, it took the pressure off me.

A few other small tips to remember: Use props if you can—they take the focus off of you, and give you something to do with your shaky hands! Do a quick mirror check—the last thing you want to worry about is if your mascara is smudged or whether you spilled something on the front of your dress. Go over the speech with someone else beforehand—they can let you know what parts seem awkward. The most important thing to remember, though, is that it will all be over soon. Even if you do mess something up, most people won’t notice or care. In retrospect, it was totally silly for me to waste so much time and energy worrying about a speech that took all of a minute and a half. It went over fine and I didn’t do anything embarrassing enough to end up on a viral video with a title like, “Worst Maid of Honor Toast Ever!” Obsessing over every human interaction is just another one of the fun things about being shy, but simple preparation and some self-awareness can help you get through a speech without hyperventilating. Sure, you might not ever be a performer or an extrovert, but you are someone who can face a crowd and get your message across.

Featured image by schubertbenjamin on Flickr

Kerry Winfrey is a writer and sandwich aficionado living in Ohio. She writes about young adult books for Hello Giggles and blogs at Welcome to Ladyville. You can follow her on Twitter @KerryAnn.


  • Krishann

    I like the notion of simply accepting the fact that you’ll be nervous. I wish I had read something like this in my college days. I’m a shaker too and if I’m holding something in my hand it’s even more obvious :-/ I think that’s one of the reasons I love writing so much. I can share and express myself without feeling like everyone is staring at me or worrying if I forget something or can’t talk because my mouth got too dry…
    BUT next time I do have to speak in front of a group of people I’ll keep your tips in mind! 🙂

  • 3. Realize that everyone wants you to succeed. Unless you’re in front of a room full of psychopaths, everybody is on your side.”
    Haha! That really made me laugh quite a bit. When I got my new job which required me to do public speaking regularly, I dove right in without any tips. I REALLY could have used that one…and the others for that matter! Great article.

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