(Photo by Ollie Crafoord)
If you’re naturally an extrovert, then public speaking feels easy. Sharing your passion with others makes you feel more alive. But what if you’re naturally shy – how can you get over your natural desire to be alone (or with a few trusted friends) and confidently share your story with strangers?
The preparation to give a great speech is the same: a great story, heartfelt emotions, appropriate details, and a clear story arc. But the mechanics for shy people needs to be different, since shy people get drained by interacting in public. The key is to not think about the hundred (or thousand) of individual people in your audience – it’s to think of them as a just a few people that are listening in.
Visually you begin by using a technique called “soft eyes”. Imagine that the lighting is good in your presentation hall and that you could, if you wished, see each of your listeners clearly. As you look from face-to-face, you can feel your energy drop because each person is looking at you. Instead, soften your gaze to not see the faces of people, but see the audience as just a few groups or regions. When you have a softer gaze, you feel like you can engage your peripheral vision better, and can’t see as clearly forward. You naturally use a soft gaze when you walk around a busy city street to avoid bumping into the crowd. You use a hard/focused gaze when you read a book or talk to people in a small dinner party. So, if you’re shy, visually switch to a soft gaze. Perhaps you might pick a person in different regions to act as your “representative” – this person is who you’ll focus on, and keep soft eyes on everyone else in the area.
Physically you’ll need to open your body posture. Shy people naturally try to make themselves invisible. When speaking with passion, you want your actions to be congruent with your story. If you’re excited about something you’re talking about, your body (and voice) needs to underscore this. Otherwise, you’ll be confusing your audience (they won’t know if you’re shy or if you’re being sarcastic). Ensure your posture is upright and feet are splayed. This will naturally open up your body. Talk slower. Not r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but slower than you think. Adrenaline will naturally distort your sense of time and space, so by consciously slowing down your speech, you’ll come across more “centered”.
Before your speech, sequester yourself if you need to. Take time to do whatever relaxes you. After your speech, be available to chat, but mentally prepare to take a few minutes for yourself again (a planned bathroom break might be a helpful excuse).
Public speaking is not natural for shy people, but it’s a skill worth learning so you can share your expertise and passion with larger audiences.