Quiet Ways to Capture and Hold the Attention of an Audience
Flamboyant! Larger-than-life! Extroverted! That’s the ideal presenter, right? A cross between P.T.Barnum and Oprah Winfrey, always ready for the limelight. Actually, wrong. Many of the greatest presenters of today are the quieter souls we often call introverts.
“There’s zero correlation between having the best ideas and being the best talker.”
Steve Jobs live-cast the iPhone launch to an audience of billions, but in his private life was a meditator and minimalist. Marilyn Monroe dazzled audiences on the silver screen, but spent her downtime reading a book and sipping tea.
In today’s knowledge economy it’s the introverted speaker who often has most to say. Introverted personality types are expert at developing new knowledge and honing advanced expertise. But after months or years of work in private, stepping into the public arena can be a challenge.
Your presenting ambitions may not be TED talk or CEO level, but whatever your communication goals, there’s no reason to let introversion stop you. To flourish as presenters, introverts need to understand who we are.
A better understanding of introversion.
In her groundbreaking book Quiet, researcher and lecturer Susan Cain introduced the world to a different way of understanding introversion. Far from being a weakness, the introverted personality type indicates the presence of advanced cognitive skills, exactly the skills most valued in today’s economy.
Cal Newport captures the value of introversion in his book Deep Work. In a world of constant distractions, from work meetings to social media alerts, the introverts are those with the power to switch off the smartphone, shutdown the laptop, and do the thing that extroverts find so hard – spend time alone.
Coming back into the public eye, however, can be challenging. The internal life that introverts cultivate has the side effect of amplifying nerves and anxiety. While extroverts are looking out at a room full of friendly faces, introverts often make the mistake of listening to internal voices of doubt and negativity.
A few simple techniques can make life easier for even the most introverted presenter.
Let Your Ideas do the Talking
When introverts come to presenting, it’s because they have something to say. Whether it’s unique research, a new direction for their business, or an inspiring personal story, introverts create powerful ideas. So let the ideas speak for themselves.
You don’t need to pepper your presentation with jokes or anecdotes or cover your Power Point slides with premium creative (all too often these things are covering up a lack of new ideas). Present your ideas simply and clearly, and audiences will be excited to hear them.
Fascinate with Silence
New presenters are naturally terrified of forgetting what they are saying, losing concentration, and leaving the audience in nerve-wracking silence. Even thinking about it has probably sent your blood pressure through the roof! In fact, silence is a presenter’s very best friend.
Take your time, and allow yourself to stop and collect your thoughts as you progress through the ideas in your presentation. Nothing conveys expertise and authority as effectively as somebody who is clearly thinking about what they say as they are saying it.
Use Questions to be Present
One of the simplest and most powerful presentation tools is the question. Beginning your presentation with a question can help to take down the wall between speaker and audience, bringing you fully into a room full of people.
A question doesn’t have to be answered to be useful. With a large audience, a question can be used rhetorically, without expectation of an answer. This can deepen engagement with complex ideas by inviting the audience to consider their own opinions. Do you agree?
Tell a Great Story
We remember what “Eureka!” means because we know Archimedes was sitting in the bath when he shouted it. The personal details that surround the discovery and development of new ideas help to make abstract concepts real for an audience.
Don’t just tell us you discovered a new planet, tell us about the strange accident that meant you were in the observatory on your night off, which just happened to be the only night of the year the planet was visible! Telling a story gives colour and flavour to even the most complex idea.