The gist: Not all introverts suffer from public speaking anxiety. But if you do, here are some ideas to eliminate it and become a strong communicator.
I stood on stage, looking out over everyone focused on me—waiting for me to speak, to say anything— and the voice in the back of head made its way forward to remind me, “You’re not good at public speaking.”
I was the opening talk for the TEDx event, and it was up to me to set the tone.
This is an extraordinary responsibility on top of giving the most important talk of your life and, had it been any other circumstance, I might have given into that voice. “Yeah, you’re right. I shouldn’t be here. I’m an introvert. I’m an internal editor. I can’t even finish a sentence with my wife without wanting a do-over.”
Thankfully, I’d done my homework. Not just on the talk, but on how to overcome my public speaking anxiety. I knew what I needed to say, I believed in the message, and I had a plan even if the perfect circumstances I spent so much time practicing in didn’t reflect reality on game day.
Today, I can get on stage in front of a few thousand people and speak with confidence and authority. If I’m lucky, some finesse and a few jokes that aren’t total duds. But it certainly wasn’t always like that.
When it comes to public speaking, any confidence I have is the result of a tremendous amount of work, frustration, cold sweats, and embarrassment. But I’m glad I had those experiences because they got me here—a place I can share some lessons about how to go from a terrified, bumbling idiot to a calm, confident communicator.
That, perhaps, will be the most useful part of this article for you—simply knowing that public speaking skills can be learned. You don’t have to be born with them.
From sharing an idea with a small team of friends to standing in front of thousands of strangers, these are the public speaking skills—many from speakers far better than me—that have transformed me from a timid, stuttering speaker to a confident, respected one. I hope they help you spread your own big ideas.