Not your average public speaking advice for introverts

Image credit: Paul Hudson

One of the themes I’ve heard from my interviews with quiet changemakers over the past two years is related to public speaking, so a while back I put out a question to the Quiet Changemaker community via email (sign up at and Facebook.

How do you approach public speaking that might be unique/helpful to quiet changemakers? What helps you speak in public successfully? How do you know when your talk/presentation has gone well? When do you feel good about speaking in public?

The insights are not the usual public speaking advice. Some of it conflicts, but all of it is interesting.

It’s important to note that being quiet does not mean a hatred/fear of public speaking. I know people who are quiet who are great at and enjoy speaking in public, and more extroverted folk who are the opposite. However, there are tactics for public speaking that are unique to the more introverted among us.

What are the themes that quiet changemakers can learn from?

Know if public speaking is for you.

It’s not for everyone. You might love it. You might see it as a learning opportunity, as Sandra shared via email:

As an introvert who doesn’t enjoy public speaking, I don’t actively seek out these types of opportunities, BUT if I am asked to speak, I never say no as it is a chance to challenge myself, grow, and get feedback from others.

Or you might see it as a unnecessary task that you can delegate to others who may be better at this form of communication. Only you know if it’s an activity that is meant for you.

Treat public speaking as a performance.

This theme cropped up very clearly when interviewing quiet changemakers. We see public speaking as a performance. We go onstage and are “on”, give a talk, then are “off”. We’re a little bit outside ourselves when we talk, as though we are seeing ourselves giving a dramatic monologue rather than focusing on the audience. As per usual, we’re more inner-focused.

In line with this thinking, I took a workshop a few years ago (targeted to university instructors) on body, space and voice. It was led by two education professionals, one of whom is also an actor. We practiced using our voice and body in ways that might feel too BIG or unnatural, as though we’re taking up too much space, but in reality look quite natural from the audience. It was a fantastic experience to be able to play with gestures and tone.

Create a public speaking persona.

One quiet changemaker shared that when he speaks in public, he uses a persona that is an exaggerated version of himself. It’s a bit more dramatic, sillier, grander, even stranger than his daily self. For him, this is a form of protection. If people give him negative feedback, he knows it’s directed to this persona, and not his true self.

Speak who you are.

Conflicting with the previous advice, on the opposite end of authenticity, Tony suggested the importance “of being authentic and true to yourself.” He shared his version of a Parker Palmer quote “The best teachers teach who they are,” which probably comes from the true Parker Palmer quote “You are who you teach.” Or not.

Either way, public speaking comes in many forms and purposes, and it’s important to know what purpose your talk has, and what comes most naturally for you.

Are you an inspirational storyteller? (I’m know I’m not….those talks totally turn me off. Bleh. ) Are you an influencer? Are you an educator?

I’m definitely the last one, and am upfront about it when I speak. A keynote I did last year on leadership and volunteer engagement made sure to emphasize that my goal was not to make the audience feel warm fuzzies about the spirit of volunteerism, but instead was meant to provide a new perspective on volunteer engagement, with 3 actions to take the next day using this new lens.

Remember, people are forced to hear you. No interaction required.

Good public speakers know how to read an audience and adjust as necessary. I use this all the time in the classroom, whether to allow more time for an exercise that has people excited, or cut something short if energy is waning.

However, one of the reasons I enjoy public speaking (and other forms of performing in public, like dance) is that it’s not a two way conversation (no matter what the advice articles say). Most of the communication is from you to the audience. Public speaking is an opportunity to be alone, but in front of others.

Also…no interruptions! (Hopefully.) Mandy shared on Facebook that she feels better about public speaking more than group discussion because:

“I do not have to fight for a turn to speak. I will take this over being drowned out by loud group members any day!”

It’s a chance to talk about something you’re passionate about.

Quiet changemakers are often mistaken for extroverts because they can talk a lot, and excitedly, about things they are passionate about, and may even dominate a room (I know I can!)

Public speaking gives quiet changemakers a chance to speak about something they love, and usually people are in the audience because they are interested in that same topic. No need to exhaust yourself finding intellectual chemistry in a crowded room. Yuck!

Book quiet time afterwards, but not right away.

After a day of facilitation, I often go to bed WAAAY early. Public speaking can be fun and enjoyable and EXHAUSTING. Susan Cain has spoken of booking time for herself after her talk, about not taking too many questions or sticking around to schmooze.

I enjoy some Q&A after, as again it gives me an opportunity to chat more about something I’m interested in AND it gives me an opportunity to get feedback on my talk. Also, after a talk people know who you are and come to you, so you don’t have to look around awkwardly to find people to make chit chat with.

How do you approach public speaking that might be unique/helpful to quiet changemakers? What helps you speak in public successfully? How do you know when your talk/presentation has gone well? When do you feel good about speaking in public?