Can Shy or Introverted People Become Engaging Public Speakers?

In February I attended a Heroic Public Speaking conference, hosted by Michael Port and Amy Meade, in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Along with an impressive lineup of some of the most highly paid and most consistently sought after talent in the public speaking industry, Michael invited his most beloved professor from NYU’s Graduate School of Acting…Dan Cordle.

I could go on and on about Dan’s talent or the kindness and generosity of his teaching but I’ll stick to what’s relevant to you. Observing Dan perform, on three consecutive days, brought me to this conclusion: Speaking to an audience when you are shy OR Introverted can actually be a fast track to getting your audience on board with your ideas, winning more clients or getting more job offers because, when done well, it increases your relate-ability and your likeability.

According to Susan Cain, in her phenomenally interesting book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “Public speaking is the number-one fear in America, more common than the fear of death. Public speaking has many causes, including early childhood setbacks, that have to do with our unique personal histories, not inborn temperament” (107). So let’s get one thing straight from the get go, your fear of public speaking…it’s not special.

However, being shy or introverted might be…Dan Cordle is genuinely shy. And, yet, he makes a living acting and teaching others to act. I watched him single-handedly win-over an audience of 250 people using his shyness as his strength.

How is this relevant to me? You’re wondering…

You’re shy too, aren’t you? Introverted? On the cusp, like me?

Let me guess, you do all right until the stakes are high and then it feels as though when you need your powers of personality the most they fail you?

Many architects, engineers, and scientists are shy OR introverted. Some are both shy AND introverted. These traits may even have been strong deciding factors in your choice of a “behind the scenes” career.

You aren’t much for the limelight, I know. Truth be told, you’re terrified of public speaking. When all eyes are on you, you feel like your life depends on how fast you can run off the stage. There may be good reason for that, “One theory, based on the writings of the sociologist E.O. Wilson, holds that when our ancestors lived on the savannah, being watched intently meant only one thing: a wild animal was stalking us” (108).

The desire to run off stage applies to most people regardless of their personality type or place on the introverted-extroverted spectrum.

Where it gets more difficult for the introverted and shy among us is that they add to what is already a challenging proposition—public speaking—the self limiting belief that being shy, for example, means that you cannot or should not perform, that your feelings of fear are directly related to your personality traits, and that your feelings make you “different” from the rest of humanity.

Let’s be honest, you feel that someone else—someone more gregarious or extraverted–is surely better suited for the job of getting up there in front of people.

You might want to re-think that. On the contrary, and this is what I learned from watching Dan, from the audience’s perspective, watching a person who is genuinely triumphing over a skill-set that does not come easy to them or allowing themselves to be vulnerable by exposing the facts of their inward thinking or shyness can increase the likeability factor, build trust, and create benevolent feelings. Exactly the results you want WHENEVER you get in front of people.

So when, on day three, after I was absolutely and totally convinced that Dan was shy in a way that’s as indisputable as the fact that I am 5’1”, Dan dropped his pants (you absolutely had to be there)…I laughed because it was funny, I cried because he is shy and so am I, and I loved because he made himself vulnerable in a way that was absolutely and totally real.

Am I saying you should drop your drawers to get your next client or sell your next high-tech gadget? No, not hardly. I’m saying you need to get comfortable with getting vulnerable by sharing your ideas and yourself at the same time.

Let people see you. I promise they won’t bite. They’ll have more respect for you. They’ll like you more. They might even love you for it. And that, my friends, is good for business…no matter what you do.