Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
So here’s the thing: you have been working seriously in your chosen profession for over 20 years. You have some credibility: diplomas, degrees, served on committees, taught, organised, managed…all that stuff. So, you’re pretty comfortable presenting to large or small groups, right? No problem chairing a committee, running a tutorial, or asking questions at meetings in large groups of your peers? Right?
Well, no, actually.
I work in health. I am an anaesthetist. This has been an outstanding career choice for me. I was the girl at school who never said much, studied hard, played sport, sang in the choir, did debating, was dutiful. They made me school captain, which required a bit of speech making, which I wasn’t terribly happy about, but it seemed to go with the territory. Then the bliss of university, where, with 300 others I could sit quietly, absorb and study, and do quite well.
I passed the necessary exams to specialise in a highly competitive field, and I’ve flourished in the workplace. Reliable, quiet, practical, getting it done with minimum fuss - I’ve been the ultimate enabler. I’m the backstage manager, I make the conditions right for the lead players, and I have always loved it. I’m on their team, and I know I am valued.
A while back, I moved from the city to the country, and a whole new world of opportunities opened up. I got the chance to contribute at a higher level in teaching and policy. In Australia a non-metropolitan clinician who wants to contribute to reforming the system is on everyone’s guest list. So now my CV includes management experience and committee chairing, endless trips to Sydney and Canberra and even a quite prestigious moment at Harvard.
The problem? Presentations. Doesn’t matter to whom: medical students, junior doctors, peers, bureaucrats…whatever. I tremble, my heart pounds in my ears, my voice goes all shaky. The stress is in proportion to the perceived threat. For a student gig the nerves are short-lived, while the Ministerial presentation had me sleepless for a week. I even suffer physically in a small meeting (until I get underway, when it usually settles down).
I am analytical enough to know I need to do something about this. As the ultimate anxious nerd, with a pressing need to speak up, I need all the help I can get. I have made various attempts. Beta blockers (short term solution), reading some stuff, a “presentation” course at a drama school (not bad). Lots of thinking, probably too much thinking, and in all the wrong ways.
Here’s the trouble: if you feel you have something to say, you must find a way to get those things said, in the most effective way possible. If, by reason of education or experience, you are the natural leader, but this conflicts with your basic personality type, it’s your duty (there’s that word again) to find a way round this conflict. You just have to speak up, and take centre stage. You just have to.
I came across this book which I think summarises my fundamental dilemma: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain*. It really spoke to me.
So far, here are my solutions. It’s a work in progress.
* Susan Cain is a former lawyer who quit Wall Street to write a book about how society is geared around extroverts at the expense of introverts and the wider economy. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has been on the US bestseller lists since publication, and was published by Viking in the UK in April 2012.
Watch Susan Cain tell her story here.
Wikipedia says this about the two personality types:
The term introversion here is taken from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion expend energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.
You might think introverts are less suited to speaking than extraverts, but it’s not necessarily so. For one thing, as The Eloquent Woman says , “You’re less likely to wing it and more likely to bring a thoughtful approach, among other advantages”.
For more advice on mastering nervousness, take a look at Four secrets to not screwing up under pressure, Nuke those nerves! Six steps to great script. Step 5: Rehearse and re-edit
Many thanks to Jo for sharing. How do other introverts handle this? PLease share in the comments.