If you’re an introvert, delivering talks may not be your first choice of how to apply your skills. However, as a business owner, you’ll need to present to your teams, clients or investors whether you like it or not.
It is important to remember a) that presenting is an important part of getting your ideas across, influencing the development of your company and making sales; b) there are positive aspects of being an introvert that you can use to your advantage and which make you more effective than you may realise. Here, Paul Carroll from Toastmasters International explains how introverts can improve their presenting skills.
What advantages do introverts have as presenters?
As Introverts tend to like to think about their subjects carefully you are likely to be good at doing the research for your presentations. In addition, according to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study, “introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions”. How do we apply our research, listening skills and willingness to adapt?
Handling unscripted moments
In presentations with a small audience, there’s likely to be more back-and-forth conversation – something that particularly shy introverts will dread. You can’t script your conversations, but you can prepare and boost your confidence. Practice how you’ll respond to certain questions, especially questions you know will arise. If you’re addressing long-term clients, you should already have a great deal of knowledge from your experience with them: needs, wants, budgets, etc.
When addressing new people (e.g. potential clients) you have to learn as much of this as you can via research of available information, and there’s a great deal of information at Companies House, LinkedIn etc. Use your natural talents and make use of this. The additional knowledge will help you keep calm and handle whatever comes up professionally.
Preparation for a small group
I often give presentations as part of a workshop. I found the best way to give my best is to follow a routine I have developed. Firstly, I get there early. That way I can make sure everything is OK with my computer’s connection, the projector or screen etc. Next, I greet attendees at the registration/coffee and engage them a bit about their current professional environments, problems etc. When we’re about to begin the workshop, I step away (quick comfort break). In these few minutes, I prepare myself mentally with deep breathing and with reminders that I know the subject better than they do, which is why they’re here and I’m here. Relaxed, nerves in order, I can begin.
Preparation for a large group
In presenting to a larger group, you should be prepared by rehearsing your talk. One thing I find particularly helpful (especially for boosting confidence) is to have the opening and closing memorised. What happens in the middle can be more flexible, since people aren’t expecting you to read robotically from a script.
When you’re addressing a large group and can’t get to know them individually, take other steps. I once addressed such a group of financial service professionals about Collateral Management. This wasn’t a workshop, so I didn’t know most of the people in the audience, but I knew their companies were and I knew, in general, what roles they performed. That gave me insight into what–of all possible information to include in my talk.
Get info from people you know
Introverts are often quite comfortable talking to people we know. At a recent large event, I went to the organiser who booked me and spoke with her. As a representative of the industry group, she could tell me the questions and concerns most recently being raised by her members, (i.e. the audience). This reassured me that my presentation was on the right track, and gave me ideas for sections I might expand if there was time.
Make use of your listening skills
Since there was a coffee reception, I mingled with the attendees and observed their conversations. Clusters of people were chatting about their common interests. HBR observed that introverts are better at listening and more receptive to suggestions, so I floated, cluster-to-cluster, sometimes joining in but usually just hanging on the periphery and listening.
This meant I was able to pick up a “vibe” from them and also some specific phrases they were using in their conversations. I was able to reach them more intimately when I worked these phrases into my talk and into my answers during Q&A.
Use end of event networking opportunities
Remember too that when your presentation is over you’ve not yet quite finished. The first time I made a presentation and the chairman said: “And as there are no further questions, I’d like to thank Paul…” I thought, “Whew” Now I can get out of here!” But of course, businesspeople being businesspeople, most of them stayed for more networking. Many also wanted to follow up on their individual questions! This was a positive experience as we had common interests and it was a way to build relationships in, what for an introvert, was a more natural and easy way than starting cold.
So, remember, unless everyone is dashing away, you’ll need to stay, even if you want to get back to your comfort zone. There is a good chance you’ll be glad you did.
After decades of giving talks, I still get nervous speaking in public. I can say, however, that over the years having learned to master my material, control my feelings with deep breathing (and reminding myself that I know my material) and by being willing to listen to the concerns and interests of the people I’m presenting to, it’s doable. If it’s doable, you can get it done. You’ll feel better afterwards and you will have got your business message across to many more people.