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Public Speaking for Introverts: Jonesing for the Zone

Extroverts’ rocket fuel can be introverts’ kryptonite—and vice versa.

How can an introvert 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 rocket 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. The seating arrangement schematic above is from the OpenLearn Lab Space, which includes a discussion of each of the options.
  3. 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 for my audience in just a short while. 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).
  4. 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.”).
  5. 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 you ease into your zone.

For more tips, quips, and insights about public speaking for introverts, see my stories, “Public Speaking for Private People” and “Cool Tool for Public Speakers”—not to mention the chapter on public speaking in my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®.

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