Preparation: The Key to Public Speaking Success for Introverts*
The year was 2000. It was time to give the annual report to the Board and Suzanne, the VP of Finance, was sweating buckets. The rolls of nausea began before she moved up to the podium. With clammy hands and short breaths, she went through her Power Points, breathing a sigh of relief when the 20 minutes were up. Fast forward, seven years later. A new company and a new board waited. As the A.V. team adjusted her mike she came from behind the lectern and watched calmly, with a slight smile as the audience members filed in. The paralysis of years ago had disappeared. Under protest, Suzanne had enrolled in a Toastmasters group at her company and attended it consistently for 3 years. She took these learned skills and confidence into her work, seized every opportunity to speak in public and overcame what might have become a huge career derailer.
Warren Buffet said that public speaking can be our greatest asset or our worst liability.1 Do you experience what Suzanne felt in her earlier days or are you able to find your “voice” and give presentations with ease and confidence? Perhaps you are somewhere in between? We all have heard the statistics about people fearing public speaking more than death. Even the act of getting up and introducing themselves makes introverts in my classes anxious. Their voices and hands shake the first few times they are asked to report out to the group. However, as Warren Buffet said, presenting your ideas coherently in all kinds of situations moves your career forward. Being introverted does not mean you can’t also be a phenomenal speaker. Just like an actor goes into character in some of earlier examples in this book, you can perform brilliantly in the role. You need to educate, inform and persuade people as a leader in your organization or profession. You also need to challenge individuals to talk to you and each other. Setting the stage, by laying out a business case or problem to be solved requires you to deliver a command performance.
On some level, most people know the steps they need to take to overcome their fear of public speaking. A combination of training and, like the Nike commercial slogan “Just Do It!” is part of the formula for success. As the “Sales Guy”, Richard Elmes says, “The presentation you give tomorrow will be that much better because of the speech you delivered today.” Life is too short to be paralyzed by this fear. People need to hear what you have to say. Why rob them of that opportunity?
When I first started as a corporate trainer I spent days and days preparing for one presentation. I studied the material, tried to anticipate every question and entered the room ready to be “the expert”. Of course, I soon realized that though I felt well versed in the material, I could never be totally aware of every fact and every question that might arise. The company had hired a coach to work with our team on presentation skills. He saw my tenseness that day and before the program walked up to the lectern and said, gently, “Jennifer”, he said, “You know this material. Now enjoy the experience and relax.” His words have stuck with me over the years. The synergy of preparing the material and even more importantly, your attitude, is a winning combination for presentation success. So what are three key steps in preparing to be a more confident and competent speaker? 1) Know Your Purpose 2) Tell Stories and 3) No More PowerPoint Karaoke.
1. Know Your Purpose
You should know the purpose of your program. Is it to inform, persuade, educate or motivate? Do you know what you want people to leave with? Why should they care about what you have to say? What are the three big points you want to make? Focus in depth on these points and use lots of examples, not on numerous points that overload your audience. What do you want them to remember? This will be the basis of your talk. Your preference for introspection as an introvert will allow you to reflect on this and think it through before putting “pen to paper.” Being prepared gives you the confidence to get up there and be with your audience. Many introverted professionals I know have said that people do not believe them when they say they are introverts because they look so at ease on the stage. It is the preparation that allows them to relax into the delivery.
2. Tell Me a Story
A few years ago, I heard Montel Williams deliver a keynote speech to a room full of administrative professionals. He told a story about promoting his secretary to president of one of his companies and introduced this woman to the crowd. It was a moving moment and many of the people in the audience were visibly touched by his showcasing a living, breathing role model. The power is in example. How many times have you heard a speaker, whether it is a motivational speaker or your CEO, engage a group by sharing a story? How about a leader made a point by sharing a personal experience? The use of stories to make a point is a skill you can master.
The good news is that you can prepare and rehearse stories to bring out points a lot more powerfully than through making a case with bullet points on a slide. This can be done to motivate a team on a project that is lagging as equally as it can be used to influence customers to purchase your product. Today, stories are the key to a successful presentation.
Annette Simmons, a storytelling expert, says, “The human presence in communication is frequently elbowed out by criteria designed to make communication clear, bite sized and attention grabbing, but which instead oversimplifies, truncates and irritates. These “sub goals” often obscure the real goal: human connection. Communication can’t feel genuine without the distinctive personality of a human being to provide context. You need to show up when you communicate. The real you, not the polished, idealized you. The missing ingredient in most failed communication is humanity. This is an easy fix. In order to blend humanity into every communication you send, all you have to do is tell more stories and bingo – you just showed up. Your communication has a human presence. “2
We are not all natural born storytellers (coming from someone who forgets the punch line of most jokes!) but you can learn to tell great stories. There are sources of stories all around us, the media, books, movies, television, and etcetera. I think the most powerful stories however, come from our own experience. This is true especially when we reveal our flaws. It is then that we connect with the audience.
I remember an experience several years ago when our family went whitewater rafting. My spouse, Bill, flipped out of the raft and because I never really listened to our trusted, ponytailed guide before the trip, I practically strangled Bill in the process of “rescuing” him. I often use that story (with more graphic details of course), to make a point about the importance of listening. It certainly wasn’t funny at the time but in retrospect, with time to reflect and weave stories like that in, I can get some laughs and make a point at the same time. You can do the same.
Follow a format that works. For instance, what is the point you want to make? What was going on in the scene? What were the smells, the sights and the sounds? You can help the listener be there with you. I am so committed to tell stories in my work now that I keep a small notebook with me and jot down memories and observations. Just open your eyes and you will find stories waiting to be told.
3. No More Powerpoint Karaoke Though PowerPoint is a great tool it has become overused and over-relied on by many of us. Too many bullet points on a slide, reading the slide out loud when the audience can do it themselves and not promoting audience engagement are some negative impacts of PowerPoint. Kevin Smith, a Marketing Manager at Dell Canada put it well. “The audience showed up to hear the expert (that’s you) talk about a solution to a problem that s causing them pain, not to hear you perform “powerpoint karaoke” by reading PowerPoint off of the slides.
Instead, consider using photos, a single question, key words and even audio to make your points. Cliff Atkinson on his website, http://www.beyondbulletpoints.com, has some great examples of how to construct these types of presentations. I had a Benefits Specialist resist this approach when I suggested it to her. I advised her to suggest her audience take notes on an outlined handout and make the material available on line. You are better off providing the three key points in your presentation on your slides. By writing down the points important to them, retention will be greater and they can get more details in their follow up. I think she is kidding herself if she thinks people are retaining the myriad of benefits details she is providing. It takes a little getting used to but your audiences will appreciate it and gain more from your program. So spend some time on the front end, thinking about your purpose, preparing stories and editing your slides. With some practice, you will, like Suzanne, learn to embrace the experience of speaking to groups and your fear will melt away.
1. Buffet and Gates Go Back To School, PBS Home Video Net Foundation for Television, 2006.
2. Annette Simmons, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, (AMACOM 2007), 4.
* Excerpt from The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength available at Amazon for 30% off http://tinyurl.com/55f3y6
Check out Jennifer’s CD, No More PowerPoint Karaoke: Mastering Public Speaking for Introverts, available at http://www.aboutyouinc.com, and watch for her new book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength (Berrett Koehler Publishers), due out in June 2009. Dr. Jennifer B. Kahnweiler is a “workplace guru” who helps leaders and aspiring leaders bring out their best. She has a special expertise in helping people to strengthen the people skills necessary for workplace success.