by Linda Dunlop
Can introverts ace presentations? You bet we can! Case in point: Susan Cain, author of the runaway bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. As a studious introvert, Cain spent seven years in her element, quietly working on her book. Then came the hard part—selling her ideas to audiences. How did this soft-spoken thinker step onto the stage and deliver one of the most popular TED Talks of all time? She stepped out of her comfort zone, brushed up her public speaking skills and dove in.
I’ve seen countless presentations through my work as a journalist, teacher and Wavelength facilitator. While a few can dazzle a room with their gregarious charm and charisma, it’s the introverts who consistently deliver on both style and substance.
What makes introverts surprisingly strong presenters? I believe the answer is ingrained in our personalities. When we’re primed to step onto the podium, we often follow a tried-and-true playbook:
Introverts don’t wing it. Instead, we plan our successes—meticulously. The process of choosing the right content, crafting a clear message, designing powerful slides and then practicing our delivery over and over reassures reluctant presenters and helps build confidence. Susan Cain spent a year getting ready for her big book tour. “It was like training for an Olympic event,” she has said, “except instead of protein shakes and weight training I was getting all the public speaking practice that I could.”
Embrace the butterflies
Everybody gets nervous when they’ve got a big presentation coming up, especially people who are introspective by nature. How do introverts cope? We harness our stress and use it as a motivator. If all eyes are going to be on me next week, I’ll tackle the challenge with the deep focus that’s typical of my personality type. Then when I’m standing center stage—feeling those butterflies fluttering around my stomach—I’ll use the adrenaline rush to pump up my performance. For typically low-key speakers like me, nervousness is a gift.
Involve your audience
Great presentations often provide built-in opportunities for audience interaction. This is a bonus for introverts who are usually happy to step out of the limelight, even for a moment. When spectators become active and engaged participants, the presenter gets to stop talking and take a sip of water. It’s a win-win for all.
Ever drawn a blank in middle of a presentation? This is an introvert’s worst nightmare. But here’s a secret: real-life stories are easy to remember. Beginning, middle, end and you’re done. Reserved speakers know that peppering planned anecdotes strategically throughout a presentation can decrease their chances of brain freeze and increase their chances of success. Added bonus: audiences love them.
Seek opportunities for silence
Introverts love quiet. It helps calm our minds and focus our thinking. It’s also a powerful presentation tool. A lingering pause after raising a key question can compel the audience to answer—either out loud or in their heads. It also helps presenters collect their thoughts before transitioning to the next point.
Practice active listening
Studies show that introvert leaders are more receptive to others’ opinions than their extravert counterparts. Perhaps that’s why we’re such good listeners. In a presentation Q & A led by an introvert, audience members can expect an engaged and thoughtful listener who values their opinions and insights.
There’s yet another advantage for introverts these days. In a world of virtual presentations, we’re in our element. Sitting alone in a room speaking to a laptop feels like a one-on-one conversation to me.
Am I a born presenter like some of my more outspoken colleagues? Not by nature. But armed with a toolbox full of public speaking strategies, I can draw on the quiet strengths of my personality type and deliver the goods in spades.