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Public Speaking 101: Tips from an Introvert, for an Introvert

Did you know that the majority of people fear public speaking more than death? There’s something undeniably terrifying about giving a speech in front of an audience.

If the thought of standing up and addressing a crowd makes you sweat and tremble, then take comfort in the fact that you don’t suffer alone!

I’ve been somewhat shy and quiet my entire life, and as an introvert I take no pleasure in the idea of public speaking. So when my recent Matron of Honor duties required me to give a heartfelt speech, let’s just say I was nervous and panicky.

But you know what? My speech wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I stayed calm, kept my voice steady, and even teased a few laughs from the audience in the process. Score!

How did I manage to keep my cool (without picturing every guest in the room sans clothes)? Time to spill the beans.

Public Speaking Tip #1: Rehearse like it’s going out of style.

Practice may seem silly, but it works.

Practice may seem silly, but it works.

Will you look silly rehearsing a speech in front of a mirror? Probably. But there’s an upside to that scenario: You’ll be the only one who’ll know. There’s absolutely ZERO shame in practicing your speech out loud when you’re alone. Practice will not only make you more familiar with the words you’ve chosen and the rhythm of your sentences, but it will also help you commit sections to memory (which I’ll bring up again later in this post).

Public Speaking Tip #2: Take deep breaths and give yourself a pep talk when you start to panic.

Breathe deep, just like you would for your checkup!

Breathe deep, just like you would for your checkup!

The first time I gave a MOH speech, I worried about it the entire day and couldn’t focus on anything else. This time, though, I forced myself to worry about the speech later and I didn’t think about it until the reception. Can you guess what happened minutes before go-time? Yep, I temporarily freaked out; my heart raced, my palms sweated, and my breath sputtered.

However, I swiftly ended that panic attack with a few long deep breaths and a convincing pep talk. The breathing lowered my heart rate long enough for me to tell myself, “Hey, you’re going to be fine! This is just a speech, not the end of the world. Just get up there, do your thing, and let it happen. You’re going to be fantastic!” It worked.

Public Speaking Tip #3: Trick yourself into tranquility.

Be your own huddle. You've got this.

Be your own huddle. You’ve got this.

This one goes hand in hand with tip #2. I felt semi-confident after hearing my own pep talk — confident enough, in fact, to take my brain trickery one step further. Here’s how it works: You have to create a mantra that defies the issue at hand. Mine was, “You aren’t scared. You’ve got this.” I repeated those phrases in my mind until I actually started to believe it. When I got up to stand at the podium, my fear had dramatically decreased and I didn’t feel faint once, which is quite an accomplishment for me.

(Hint: If you’ve read any of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series or watched HBO’s Game of Thrones, then take a cue from Daenerys Targaryen on this one. She frequently repeats the phrase “I am the blood of the dragon” when she’s feeling scared. It works for her, too).

Public Speaking Tip #4: Designate a few focal points throughout the room.

If the audience can't see these, you're doing it wrong.

If the audience can’t see these, you’re doing it wrong.

Remember in the first tip when I mentioned memorization? Well, here’s where that could come into play. I’d suggest selecting 3 focal points within the room before it’s time to deliver your speech; this gives your eyes direction when you glance up from your notes every now and then. As a result of my various practice sessions, I managed to memorize a few sentences here and there. I rotated between my 3 designated focal points every time I got to a portion of my speech I’d memorized, which broke up the monotony and gave the impression I wasn’t as nervous as I felt.

(Hint: Your focal points should be in separate areas so you’re not singling out that one relative or buffet table the entire time).

Public Speaking Tip #5: Smile, smile, smile!

Smile like you've got a small dog in front of you!

Smile like you’ve got a small dog in front of you!

Okay, so maybe smiling doesn’t automatically inspire happiness, but it’s another way to trick your body into submission. I felt a burst of confidence every time I smiled and that did wonders for my overall presentation! Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own insecurities that we tense up, and that shouldn’t be the case. Frowning or tensing will only add to your fear and quicken your heart rate, but smiling will put you at ease with your surroundings. Besides, if your speech is personal in any way then you’ll probably want to smile anyway.

There you have it — a public speaking tutorial for even the most introverted of introverts! If you only take away a single tip from this post, then please remember your breathing. You won’t be able to speak at all if you’re not breathing…

Have you ever addressed a large audience before? Do you get nervous about public speaking, too? How do you overcome your initial terror?



Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great tips, Jill!

    I wish had this post when I was younger. I could’ve used tips 2 and 3 for a speech I gave during my first year of college. I was asked to give a humorous speech at the student activities banquet that year, and I was so nervous. I mean, a freshman giving a speech in front of seniors? Terrifying! I managed to eventually calm myself down about 1/3 of the way in, but it would’ve been nicer to approach the whole thing with a “I can do this” attitude!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Mandy. I’m still no expert by any means, but I can more effectively psych myself out after this last speech. The trick is to stay stern with yourself, as weird as that sounds. I could hear the nervous voice inside of me piping up to say it was scared, but instead of letting it threaten me I told it that everything was cool. Doesn’t always work, but it’s a good place to start! :)

  2. Lauren

    Great tips, Jill! And by the way, you did nail it! ;) Extroverts are afraid speaking too, I’m one of them! I get so nervous, studder and usually say um every other word. Its hard to believe, but yes its true. I’m definitely using these tips next time! Great post!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Lady L! I didn’t mean to exclude extroverts by any means, so I’m glad you got something from this post. I can’t imagine you being intimidated about speaking in front of people, you’re usually so calm and collected! I appreciate you stopping by and giving my blog a read. :)

  3. Rachel

    Tip #1 is always the one I fall back on. Practice, practice, practice! You can never be over-prepared for something like this.

    I like your tip about smiling as well. Not only will it make YOU feel better, but it’ll probably put your audience more at ease, too! Nobody likes a sour-looking public speaker. Unless that’s the look you’re going for, I guess. :)

    Great post, Jill!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thank you, Rachel. Practice should never be underestimated, that’s for darn sure. I felt like a moron talking to myself in the mirror, but it gave me a good grasp on my own presentation and facial expressions so it was worth it!

      To quote Buddy the Elf – “Smiling’s my favorite!” :) Unless you’re a cynical comedian, sour looks probably won’t do much for the impression you convey.

  4. Bret Bonnet

    I prefer to close my eyes, read my speech as quickly as possible, then finish with a big expletive.

  5. Eric

    Biggest tip I could give as someone who’s had to himself? Rehearse not being rehearsed. One of the biggest problems both candidates will face in this upcoming debate is the fact neither is brilliantly articulate when put on-the-spot. People make fun of flashcards, but I’d rather see those than see someone read entirely from script. It makes it more interesting for the listener, and especially if honestly and truth are things you want to convey, the audience will immediately be more invested, because your focus has turned to them, instead of the top of the podium.

    I once had to go up in front of a bunch of professors and MArch students at Taliesin. The presentation? Went swimmingly. The Q & A? Totally was too young to have much experience at holding my own.

    I’m not saying to have someone throwing dodgeballs at you while you speak, but really, it never hurts to see how your information works as a conversation, in addition to a speech.

    Alright. That’s all I’ve got before this comment turns into another blog itself. :)

    Good advice, Jill!

  6. Good Public Speaking

    Great resource!

    Getting into a public speaking course, gaining as much experience and doing it often can help you become the kind of public speaker that you want to be.

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