Why YOU (an introverted nerd) Should Try Public Speaking

You should be speaking at conferences.

Not an extrovert? Great. Speaking is for introverts!

We go to conferences to meet people (and learn things from people and find opportunities… from people). Meeting people at events takes a lot of energy, especially if you don’t look like the average dude at a conference. You have to explain your story to every single person you talk to, listen to theirs, and try to see if you have overlapping interests. It’s inefficient and takes a lot of time.

By being a speaker, you can tell your story just once, to everyone, and the people who are excited about what you have to say will come find you. You will actually save energy if you get up on stage.

It’s a great hack.

Before you say, “fine, but I’m not good at speaking”, please take a look at this:

People who are way less intelligent than you give excellent talks every day (you might not agree with what they say, but do try to appreciate the skilled delivery). If they can learn to do it, you can learn to do it.

A few years ago, I decided to learn how to speak. I started by studying people whose techniques I admired, and distilling their techniques down into algorithms that I can understand and try to apply to my own presentations. I’m very much a student but have really enjoyed talking to people about giving talks, so I’m going to do an experiment and post one speaking hack per week here on my blog on Fridays. Let me know what you think.

27 Comments on “Why YOU (an introverted nerd) Should Try Public Speaking”

  1. Ravi Iyer says:

    I like the idea of speaking hacks and will read with interest, but I have to admit that it reminds me of the guy who writes down things he is going to say when he gets to a cocktail party.  One dimension that psychologists often use to differentiate people is systemizing vs. empathizing (see work by Simon Baron-Cohen), as both are valid ways of understanding the world.  I don’t know the answer to this question, but I wonder how one can systemize public speaking while not losing track of the empathizing aspect of it.  

    • Ken says:

      The main secrets are to know and understand your subject matter, be enthusiastic about it, have a broad outline, definitely don’t have a script, and then just explain it as if you were explaining to a colleague or student. Run through it a few times to make sure the timing is right. A couple of pretty pictures or graphs always helps. Like most of us, you probably wont be the greatest public speaker, but people will like your presentation.

    • Hilary Mason says:

      Some people seem to be able to give great talks intuitively, others need to plan and practice. Personally, I find my talks are most successful when I plan the narrative arc and practice, then use that as the foundation for the live performance, trying to respond to the queues of the audience. I’m sure other people have different preferences and experiences, though.

      • I make a conscious effort not to practice, at least not any more than I need to keep flow with my slides.  Too much practice and I tend to lose the dynamic quality of what I’m speaking about, making the practice more interesting than the actual delivery.

  2. Patrick D'Souza says:

    As I always say, the first time is the toughest. But if you’re smart, you WILL find a way to overcome your fears and the subsequent attempts will be a lot easier. 

  3. Richard Fritzson says:

    Gotta second Steve Cultrera. Find and join a good Toastmasters club. It’s the cheapest and best way to get good at public speaking. There’s no substitute for a friendly and thoughtful audience applauding you, encouraging you, gently critiquing your work and encouraging you to improve. It doesn’t matter where you are starting from; you will get better.

  4. The Sarah Palin dig was low class.

  5. Tim says:

    Sounds like a great idea.  I look forward to your
    hacks.  For an excellent book on introversion versus extroversion check

    Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop
    Talking by Susan Cain

    Lots of very amazing
    insights, for example, a baby which cries more is more likely an introvert.   Intuitively
    people believe the baby would be an extrovert. 
    The book is a real boost for introverts. 

    • Nn says:

      Cannot recommend this book highly enough! Its a must read for introverts and extraverts alike.

  6. Denko says:

    1. Does your commenting section pipe in responses from Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms besides plain old WordPress? I was reading it on my phone and thought it did. Now I’m not sure. But that would be a great feature.

    2. Sarah isn’t an idiot. She’s smart. You just don’t like her.

    3. Not sure about the conflict between systematizing and empathizing. Every good presentation hits both. In general, people who are good at one aren’t good at the other, and there are certainly lots of Aspergery guys who memorize scripts and bore everyone around them. But suggesting that one precludes the other at the individual level is an example of the ecological fallacy. Look at Garrison Keillor – he’s got structure, he’s got a system, he’s got hacks, and he touches your heart.

    4. I think Ken is generalizing from what works for him. Good suggestions, good things to try, but try a lot of things and see what works. There are no rules, only suggestions. Some people do well with scripts. Not read in a monotone, but as tool.

    I’m such a fan, Hilary. I look forward to your hacks.

  7. func says:

    Conferences sounds really pretentious, but I get what you mean. I started doing internal talks of some tech to have the chance to practice.
    The good think is that the benefit is double: you get practice and the better you can explain a subject, the better you understand int.

  8. Kathryn Neel says:

    This is an incredibly important skill for introverts to cultivate. We need for intelligent, thoughtful people stepping up to the mike and speaking. It is a frightening process to consider, but like everything it can be acquired in small steps and it makes a huge difference in one’s working life, personal life and in the larger world. Introverts are traditionally very deep and considered thinkers. We need more and more of that these days to fix the serious problems we are facing economically, socially, and environmentally. It really isn’t that hard to step up to the mike once you learn how.

  9. Sven says:

    Looking forward thanks for sharing your experience

  10. Jake Porway says:

    Hear hear!  Thanks for writing this, Hilary.  I’d love to see a broader discussion around  communication skills in the tech/data scene.  We’re a fun and inclusive community, but I often see gears grinding when we try to explain to people outside our circle why they should care about what we’re doing.  As you pointed out, the stage is an *amazingly* powerful (and efficient) platform to spread your ideas, but, if you’re not a natural speaker, you have to work hard to get your message out effectively, something I still struggle with constantly.

    This isn’t a single hack (and I may get a lot of criticism for this), but I would recommend Nancy Duarte’s book on public speaking, Resonate: http://www.amazon.com/Resonate-Present-Stories-Transform-Audiences/dp/0470632011.  You can criticize the aesthetic or the oversimplification, but this book really helped me understand what separates OK talks from great talks.  TL;DR – her TED talk on giving good talks :)  http://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_duarte_the_secret_structure_of_great_talks.html

    I remind myself every time I go on stage, I’m not Luke Skywalker, I’m Yoda…

  11. I agree with you about this. I have always been an introvert but I have really stepped out of my comfort zone and have been regularly going to networking events and also working on a podcast/TV show. My partner in the podcast/TV show about entrepreneurship interviewed you when you came to Saint John, New Brunswick for the Big Data Conference.  I was working on the sound and thought your interview was pretty cool. It will get posted on our site in March. Anyways, doing these interviews has definitely helped me out. I do practice what I want to say before the interview and anticipate responses.

  12. Fiona says:

    This sounds like a great idea :) looking forward to hearing about your hacks! Would be good to know which speakers you follow as well.

  13. Rich Day says:

    I am an introvert, and I don’t know why I got an A in every speech class I ever took. Strange, huh? Like your example above, I tried to use just a little bit of humor (it’s like seasoning, not too much needed). I would benefit from your suggestion now, and will give it some thought.

  14. OMG, there are no coincidences! Here I am today thinking about this opportunity I got to speak during Autism Week in Holland and not thinking I could do it when I find this! Thanks so much! I think I will give it a try.. Aaahhhh… SCARY!

  15. […] This article is part of my series of speaking hacks for introverts and nerds. Read about the motivation here. […]

  16. pravin says:

    sounds good and keep it less extraneous and more to the point

  17. […] This article is part of my series of speaking hacks for introverts and nerds. Read about the motivation here. […]

  18. alanwillingham says:

    So… Sarah Palin is the example of “People who are way less intelligent than you give excellent talks every day…”

    Too bad you had to take such a cheap shot as Sarah Palin in what could have been an encouraging and positive message.

  19. SilentLennie says:

    To be honest my last talk I didn’t speak all that much, but it was the best presentation reponse I had seen in years. And I don’t just mean my own.

    This was a presentation about the possibilities of HTML5 and I didn’t have time to actually create a proper presentation.

    I used a bunch of short existing demonstration videos I had already seen online before.

    It fit very well with your other blog posts, because it was entertaining and didn’t teach but showed what is possible.