Eleanor Handley says yes. In fact, in a recent podcast interview about her upcoming HOW Design Live session, Speak To Be Heard: Communicating Your Best Ideas, she said that even if you are the world’s shyest person, or even if you hate to present—or both—you can use the tools she will be teaching to make an impact and do it confidently.
Plus, she says you don’t need to feel confident to project confidence and it’s not about faking it.
The reality is, whether you consider yourself shy or not, you probably have to present your ideas in some professional capacity. For most of us, presenting won’t happen in a thousand-seat auditorium. It will more likely be in a group of two or three, just you and your boss, or a conference room with 10 of your colleagues.
Mastering the Presentation: Public Speaking Tips for Introverts
Communication as a physical art form
No matter how you feel when it’s time to present, because you hate getting up in front of people, or you’re tired because you didn’t get enough sleep, or didn’t have enough time to prepare, Handley suggests that there are physical changes you can make to convey confidence, exuberance, and energy, if you so choose.
It’s kind of like “faking it till you make it”—but different. “It’s what we call the virtuous cycle of good communication. It’s one of those infinity loops. When you “fake it till you make it,” you will find that you do actually change your body, and you change yourself. You actually become the thing you’re pretending to be. The idea is that actually they feed into each other.”
One of those changes is to breathe. “We use the acronym, RTB for remember to breathe, and the one piece of advice that I would give is this: if you do nothing else, take a breath before you start speaking.
“It sounds like the simplest thing in the world. And even now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Of course I do that. I have to breathe to live.’ But you’d be amazed how many people rush to speak. Without knowing it, you may launch right in to show that you’re on top of things and that you know what you want to say.
“For example,” she says, “when I take the time to get enough breath to project my voice loudly enough to reach the edges of the room, I give myself an extra nanosecond, which I use to think of something smarter to say. Suddenly I hear myself saying something smarter and I’m connected to the audience. I see them nodding or smiling. That feedback loop gives me the confidence and the energy to go off in a different direction and reinforce something that I just thought of, again in that extra nanosecond that I’m taking while I’m giving myself enough breath, and so on.”
Prepare, prepare—but not too much.
As a communications trainer and coach with GK Training and Communications, Handley works closely with clients as they prepare for their presentations.
“I think we need to shift our thinking about how we prepare. I will often walk into a room with a client who is about to give a presentation and I’ll say, ‘Have you practiced?’ They’ll show me their piece of paper with some notes and say, ‘Yeah, I sat down and I typed that out.’ But the number of people who stand up and practice out loud is slim to none.
“Communication is not an intellectual exercise. It’s a physical art form. You need to start to build in physical habits from the preparation stage. You can’t think your way out of a physical problem so you need to start building the muscles of standing, talking, taking a breath, producing enough sound—all right from the practice stage.”
But don’t practice too much, warns Handley. “While I’m a big fan of practice, don’t go too far. Repetitive practice can start to take on a rehearsed quality. You want to discover your material each time, as if for the first time. This might sound a bit weird, but tell yourself the story as if for the first time. Make it engaging and interesting to you and play both roles for yourself; the person wanting to convey the message but also the person hearing yourself for the first time.”
If you have to read aloud…
Handley also shared some tips for situations in which you need to read a text aloud without putting your audience to sleep.
She suggests starting by saying, “I’m going to read this verbatim because I don’t want to forget anything.” By doing that, you’ve invited the audience into what’s going on, rather than just getting up and starting to read from the page. That way, they’ll feel like they’re part of the experience.
Second, keep in contact with the audience while you are reading. Being in a constant feedback loop with the audience will make any presentation feel more spontaneous. Then, at the end of a paragraph, find time to pause, look up and connect with the audience.
It may even be imperceptible, but they’re going to be giving you nonverbal signals, nodding or looking a bit confused, that allow you to modulate. Maybe they’ll laugh, which gives you time to decide, “Okay, let me take a little longer before I move on.” If they look confused you can repeat or clarify what you said.”
Even when you’re reading, you want to stay in this contact loop so that they know that you’re most interested in them. Also, as a flexible presenter you will incorporate the feedback you’re getting into where you go next, even with written or prepared material.
You see, at some point, we all need to present our ideas, whether to a boss, a client, a team or a big auditorium of strangers. And we need to do it with impact and clarity, with confidence and, especially, with authenticity.
And for more tips from Eleanor Handley, read, “How to Be Authentic When Pitching” on the Creative Coast blog.