February 13, 2018

Comfortable in the Spotlight: 3 Tips for Shy Speakers

Public Speaking , Three Things , Tips

Before our Executive Seminar, we survey students--asking them to assess themselves and the obstacles they face when speaking and presenting.

We often hear:

I'm an introvert.
I don't like to make it about me.
I'm not comfortable talking about myself.
I don't want to seem arrogant--or be boring.

So we found familiar worries and a lot to like in this article by Melissa Dahl we saw on The Cut: Self-Promotion Advice for the Extremely Self-Conscious.

She confesses the difficulties she has promoting her books. She writes:

At a party not long ago, a woman asked me an extremely rude question: “What is your book about?”

Some people love talking themselves up. This advice is not for them. This is for those of us who hate calling attention to ourselves, even when we’re proud of our accomplishments and really should be talking them up.

The funny thing is that my book is even about self-consciousness, or at least it is in part. Shouldn’t I be better at this by now?

She turns to a psychologist for tips--and hears the same things we recommend for dealing with public speaking fears and shyness on stage:

1. Focus on what you have to offer, not on yourself.

The idea for the author is that she wrote a book with valuable information, so she should embrace promoting the book because it can help others.

At The Buckley School, our version of this is our standard advice for getting past public speaking nerves: Be the servant of your message.

In other words, shift your focus to what you are presenting and why it's important for the audience to hear it. When you can tap into this sense of purpose, it will help you push through public speaking fears. Your message becomes bigger than your concerns about yourself.

2. Be yourself, of course--but find your presentation self.

There's no single way to be a great public speaker. We want speakers to be themselves. But to be effective on stage, you may have to bring a version of yourself that's more animated than your everyday style. You figure that out with coaching, planning, and practice.

Dahl's version of that advice is "Pretend you're playing a part." Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, interviewed by Dahl for the article, describes this approach as framing: You create a role to play (such as "marketing expert"), prep yourself to excel in that role, then playing it gives you temporary distance from yourself and your anxiety.

3. Realize you may always be a little nervous--and speak anyway.

As Hendriksen tells Dahl: "You become confident by doing things that are a little bit hard, by stretching and growing and pushing yourself a little bit. And as you do those things, your confidence catches up."

Even confident speakers say they experience nerves, that they have to psych themselves up sometimes to give a certain presentation or face a certain type of audience.

We also see in every one of our programs that speakers say they feel nervous, but audiences never detect it. The nerves you feel on the inside, in other words, are apparent only to you.

To read all of Dahl's article, go here. For more on how we coach speakers to manage their presentation nerves, try this and this. And if you're curious about the science behind self-consciousness, Dahl's written a book about it called Cringeworthy.

Share this article