It's common for people to feel an aversion to giving a presentation or networking with colleagues, but it can be even more daunting for people with an introverted personality. Introverts are defined as "shy, reticent people" who tend to avoid large groups and draw energy from solitude and minimally stimulating environments. Naturally, becoming the center of attention in a crowded conference room or navigating the swirling chaos of a networking event are nightmare scenarios for most introverts.
Luckily, delivering presentations and networking are skills that anyone can learn. With a little bit of preparation and the right recovery routine, introverts can successfully tackle these tasks without draining themselves completely.
Change your perspective about networking and presentations.
Progress in all things requires the right perspective. As an introvert, you might know why you don't like networking or delivering presentations. However, making progress toward successfully doing these things (and achieving the results you want in your career) means adopting a broader perspective.
"My advice, and the best technique I've found that works for me, is to change how you think about what you are doing," said Robert Dixon, of Robert Dixon Consulting. He broke down the method he used to change his perspective into four steps:
- Accept that you are uncomfortable.
- Recognize that you have something of importance and value for the audience. They are eager to hear from you.
- The audience wants you to be successful, [so] think of them as friends.
- Stop thinking about it as a presentation. Instead, think about it as telling a story.
Establish a quiet home base at the event.
When you first arrive at the venue, whether you're giving a speech or networking, try to claim a quiet, out-of-the-way space as your own. In the event you become overwhelmed, you have a little sanctuary to retreat to. Sure, it's still in a chaotic environment, but at least it offers a minor reprieve.
"One tactic is to leave a book or briefcase in your safe space so that others can see that you have claimed this space for your own," said business consultant Nahamani YisraEl. "In the event there aren't any such spaces you can use for this purpose, there is always the option to go to the restroom or step outside to catch your breath."
There's nothing wrong with honoring your emotions and anxieties and stepping away for a minute. The fact that you've shown up at all is the first step toward business success and personal growth.
Public speaking is a skill that can be learned.
Introverts are often no strangers to learning new skills; they have spent a great deal of alone time honing their hobbies and crafts in private. Thinking of public speaking and networking as skills that can be learned, even if you aren't naturally inclined toward them, makes the failures and awkward starts feel more natural and forgivable.
"Presenting and speaking are skill sets, not necessarily innate abilities as many people falsely believe. Being an extrovert or introvert is not the cause of whether … someone is a great presenter," said Connelly Hayward, of ConnellyHayward.com. "Anyone can be an effective presenter or speaker if they are willing to learn the skills. Skills are learnable. Thinking about something as a skill set allows the mind to believe it can learn how to do that thing."
If you think of the skills you have today, especially the ones you're very good at, and look back at when you were first learning them, you'll recognize that you were once clumsy and awkward when it came to most of them. Sure, some things you are naturally inclined toward, but others you are not; you persevered because you recognized that those skills were important or useful to you. It is much the same with public speaking and networking – give yourself time to acclimate, and don't let a bad experience deter you from future opportunities.
Practice regularly and record yourself.
Since public speaking is a skill, it is important to practice and polish your delivery. Practicing in private gives you the advantage of refining your approach until your delivery is as you want it to be. You want to avoid becoming robotic, but practice in a dynamic, off-the-cuff manner that allows you to be more comfortable thinking on your feet.
"[P]ractice in private with a camera. Video yourself," Hayward said. "As you watch the playback, look for the skills you've learned, and notice what doesn't work. Using video allows you to become familiar with yourself presenting and speaking. This helps reduce the energy expenditure introverts experience when presenting. Familiarity reduces anxiety and unknowns, both of which drain energy. Familiarity increases self-confidence, which feeds our energy level."
Don't be afraid to make mistakes for the camera. In fact, making mistakes while you're practicing helps you learn best, so even when your errors feel cringeworthy, realize they are evidence of your ongoing progress.
Remember the "illusion of transparency."
The illusion of transparency is a form of cognitive bias that causes us to overestimate people's ability to know our emotional state. Because we have direct insight into our emotions through thoughts and feelings, we assume other people are just as aware of our emotions, but that is false. People are likely totally unaware if you're nervous, even if you feel on the verge of panic. So slow down, acknowledge your feelings, and carry on just as you practiced.
"In the context of public speaking, the illusion of transparency can cause us to overestimate the degree to which other people are aware of how nervous we are when we are presenting," said Itamar Shatz, author of the website Solving Procrastination. "We experience this bias because we have direct access to our emotional state; we struggle to remember that other people don't have direct access to it too."
Shatz added, "Research on the topic shows that simply being aware of this bias can help us reduce its influence, which could allow you to feel less anxious and more confident while you're presenting. Before giving a talk, if you're feeling nervous, try to remember that the people in the audience can't tell how nervous you are, even if it seems obvious to you."
Don't forget to recharge your batteries.
It is critical for introverts to recharge their batteries after delivering a presentation or attending a networking session. Set aside some alone time where you can focus on minimally stimulating tasks in a quiet, controlled environment. Not only have you earned it, you need it.
"Be sure to schedule downtime after each big event to allow yourself time to recharge," YisraEl said. "Resist the urge to stack appointments as this does not permit you the necessary self-care time that introverts often require."
Establishing work methods as an introvert.
Donna Chambers, founder and CEO of SensaCalm, manages social anxiety and ADHD, but leads a company. She has learned techniques for managing her introverted tendencies and anxiety disorders successfully, but the result of her hard work is the satisfaction of leading her team successfully and building a profitable business.
"Introverts must be willing to use non-traditional methods: fewer meetings, more online communication rather than phone calls and in-person meetups," Chambers said. "I recommend trying to get the alone time you need in between social tasks to re-energize and don't schedule socialization-heavy encounters back to back."
Chambers added, "Introverts are quite capable of leading, it just looks different than [the style] we expect. However, with the rise in working from home, long-distance work, etc., we are seeing more introverts excel at leadership, and we will see even more."
While certain facets of business can be stressful and draining to an introvert, learning how to manage these scenarios can boost your career and business. It can be a challenge, but by employing these tips and discovering your own strategies, you can not only survive networking and delivering a speech but thrive.