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Public Speaking, Personal Confidence, and the ‘Shy Extrovert’

Today we have a special guest post.  To make it really useful to you, it includes some very personal experience so on this occasion I'm not going to publish the name of the writer.  But she has my very grateful thanks.

Public Speaking, Personal Confidence, and the ‘Shy Extrovert’

Forget chicken soup for the soul, one of the best cures for lack of confidence and some forms of depression could in fact be public speaking.

Usually the benefits of becoming a competent public speaker are seen as advancing your career prospects or building your reputation, if you are in business! In fact it is seen as being good for any cause you want to promote. Public speaking is a ‘skill’ but I would like to propose that it can also be a great ‘medicine.’ Just as exercise is recommended for increasing serotonin levels in the brain, getting your mind and body to perform under pressure can also give you a high! As for me, well, I found that beating one of my worst nightmares was actually far better than talking to a therapist.

Susan Cain, author of The Power of Introverts("Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking"recently criticised the culture of modern society in which the ‘pressure to sell ourselves…keeps ratcheting up,’; that the introvert’s skills are neglected in favour of the extrovert who sounds convincing, passionate and engaging to listen to. However it seems just a touch ironic that Cain herself appears on the popular ‘ideas worth spreading’ website, the YouTube of motivational speeches,TED,to sell her bid for the introverts (see link below).

Cain also points out, quite rightly, that the introversion/extraversion spectrum is different to being shy or lacking in confidence. Something about this really hit home! I think for the best result to be achieved with public speaking, the ideal patient if you will, is the extrovert lacking self esteem. Yes, they do exist. I’m one. I’m one of the people who was anxious for months before a 5 min school presentation! I would work out a strategy not to be there! There are those of us who hold a secret desire to be on stage, but only make it as far as the choir.  Even then I’d probably mime the words on the night, as the sound just wouldn’t come out.

When I was approached to join a ToastMasters club to hone my public speaking skills, I thought there is nothing more I would rather shy away from.  But, how good it feels for that emotion now to be a memory! There’s a certain energy and positivity I’m left with, after each meeting. Ok, I’ll go so far as call it a high. And I think the reason for that is that I get my energy from other people, and there is nothing more appealing for the extrovert than having an audience to engage with.

The structure of ToastMasters means that in every meeting there is time for all to deliver a one-minute impromptu speech on randomly chosen topics. This is great as no preparation is needed; it catches you off-guard, with no exit strategy. It’s about learning to react with confidence, even if inside you  are quaking.

Then, there are prepared speeches, and there was nothing more rewarding than an alcoholic beverage in the pub after my first five minute ‘ice-breaker’ speech. It was a point I thought I would not actually get to!  But the support of other people at ToastMasters was near to elation inducing. The specific remit of our ‘Society Speakers’ version of the club is aimed directly at people who want to speak on behalf of charities they represent. As a result, there’s a really encouraging atmosphere, and you leave propped up with praise after every meeting. People evaluate your speech on the day, so you get verbal feedback, and then members send written notes on your performance, if you deliver a prepared speech.

Essentially, of course, this is great for self-esteem. Everyone loves a compliment, and positive, frequent, insightful reinforcement of the positive aspects of your personal delivery style can only be a good thing.  But it doesn’t just stop there. I know what you might be thinking; it sounds very “Californian”. It is all very worthy, and a little cult-like! But here are my top reasons why you should give public speaking for pleasure a try:

My Top Five
1.       Doing one thing every day that scares you - Yes, this is a quote from ‘Wear Sunscreen,’ but that song hit a nerve with us all, and this snippet reminds us to accomplish a little of something outside of your comfort zone, because the short term pain will most definitely be a gain for your long-term wellbeing.
2.       Sell yourself and your sales pitch becomes the truth – There is no way to deliver a speech without a positive message, whether that’s selling yourself or a product. My advice is to deliver a short ice-breaker speech about yourself – in doing so you’ll be forced to find something interesting to entertain your audience and you can rediscover your own USP! Enough practicing the positive messages and you begin to believe what you say.
3.       You can be comfortable with your voice/ find your adult voice/finding yourself – When I began ToastMasters, part of me felt like Vada in My Girl when she gets up to read a poem about ice-cream in front of a mature audience reading serious poets.  A friend of mine pointed out that finding your inner confidence is essentially about finding an adult voice that can talk with authority. Incidentally, she’s looking to find hers for her mother’s 60th birthday speech via ToastMasters.
4.       All the support of alcoholics anonymous without any need for an addiction! Public speaking is 20% skill and 80% confidence, and with the supportive network of interesting people you meet at ToastMasters there’s something very energizing working up to that level.
5.       Learning how to structure your thoughts – People with depression or lack of confidence often get their thoughts fixed into negative patterns. Getting up to do a prepared speech helps the mind to focus and structuring thoughts is great for creating a sense of inner control over your own thoughts

People have commented that they got things from ToastMasters which they would never have expected,.  I would thoroughly recommend a little of what might seem the thing you would least like to do with your evening. It might surprise you, and even, strangely, make you happy. And if it doesn’t, well, that glass of wine after the event might just do the trick instead. 

You can find a ToastMasters club near you at this link


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