Cold sweats usually begin right under my arm pits and flow like a rapid waterfall just below my underdeveloped chest whenever I have to address a crowd or someone in a higher position than myself.
At least that use to be the case.
Years ago, public speaking was something that had become extremely uncomfortable for me as my mouth often forgot the words I was attempting to speak and my mind fixated on trivial things like was my voice too pitchy or were my lips ashy?
It was mental agony in preparation for something that would probably only last 10 minutes. I loathed anything that brought extra attention. Yet, here I am attempting to develop a platform in high schools where I hope to mentor and speak publicly.
Despite my earlier sweat fests, I would surprise myself with elegant addresses and handshakes that contradicted the fact that I was having hot flashes just moments before my speaking engagement. Having to speak to higher ranking military personnel, bosses, or in meetings, interviews, even asking for extra buffalo sauce in front of a crowd at Chick-Fil-A all flared my anxiety to unreasonable levels.
It’s true that I am what others call an introvert but I have learned the art of how to successfully navigate the world like an extrovert on their best day. Stick with me, I’ll explain.
Feisty Lil’ Thing
My mom has a host of memories about me as a child that she gushes on about sporadically.
Typical Mommy behavior.
Anyway, they include me walking the halls of the high school where she worked like I owned the place; I was 4. Apparently I had networking down to a science as I developed close working relationships with the big kids who would buy me cookies in exchange for my adorable presence.
I wasn’t afraid to ask questions, explore and venture off into the principle’s office just to see what he was up to. I was a boss. Around this same age period is when I strong armed my way into my favorite speaking part in a school play. I had gotten a small part in which I felt was dull while one of my classmates had gotten the part I really wanted.
Up on the stage the microphone was passed from student to student as each said their part. It was now my turn and I said my one line elegantly and uneventful then passed the microphone to the classmate beside me with the “good” part. I willed her (telepathically) to say the part with enthusiasm and spirit. Instead, she mumbled what she knew and stood near tears having forgotten the rest.
No worries! (plays superhero theme music) I was right beside her to save the day. I swooped in on the microphone and said the part line for line in the best character voice possible. Once I was done I heard laughter and applause from the audience and a loud “THAT’S MY BABY!” I could only assume it came from my dad lost in the sea of parents. My mom’s face was completely red even though she was smiling. I was 4.
Two Sides, Same Coin
She reminds me of this because it’s one of her favorite memories. Mine too. I was an extrovert who took command in places public and private. I was sure of myself. So what the hell happened to make me an introvert in the later years of my life? It is possible that bullying, financial disparities compared to my peers and dealing with death at an early age caused me to close up inside myself like a clam.
It is also equally possible that I have two distinct aspects of myself that I have only recently learned to unveil in the proper contexts. In my youth I could command an audience, in contrast, I could also spend hours silent to the point of pure creepiness. I have mastered being an introvert with extrovert tendencies. In doing so, I’ve embraced a natural gift in speaking to others individually or in addressing large sums of people. I only reveal this pearl of a talent whenever necessary.
It is now easier to hold meetings for business partnerships, network and interview whenever I remember the bravery of 4 year old me under the eyes of strangers. Most introverts I know would rather curl up with a book or take a quiet walk in the park compared to networking or speaking publicly. Yet, these things are a necessity in the workforce and even in education (public speaking 101 anyone?). Here’s some tried and true ways I’ve learned to harness my inner extrovert power while remaining very much an introvert.
Practice your speech, interview, elevator pitch, meeting topic etc…Honestly, I find myself giving random speeches about (whatever) in my car or at home while I’m cleaning. As weird as it sounds I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. Flashback to being 8 years old in my room giving an acceptance speech for a nonexistent award to a nonexistent audience. Using voice projection, natural pauses, and witty examples have all developed from me giving phantom speeches in which no is present for.
I got accustomed to hearing how my voice sounds when I’m passionate and calm. This has created a baseline for me to refer back to whenever I’m in front of strangers feeling completely naked. The mental muscle memory has acted as a antidote for my anxiety in public speaking and allows me to deliver in meetings, speeches, and networking regardless of the sweat war happening inside my blouse. Some people say I’m talking to myself; I say that I’m preparing for my future award.
Remember they’re just people. This is so important to keep in the back of your mind because sometimes we have a tendency to place people on an extended pedestal simply because they hold a certain position. Similarly, we see a crowd of people and immediately become self conscious about everything.
The problem with this is it creates a mental barrier for you in which you aren’t allowing yourself to approach them with the same passionate thoughts, issues or questions you would in other situations where you aren’t nervous. Take the time to calm yourself before you give a speech or try to network with an individual/ business. Anticipate questions so that you’re not thrown into an “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” moment where you mind goes blank and your stomach goes sour.
By reminding yourself that those you are engaging with are people it helps you to find a link in which you can speak to them on a level they can relate to and understand. Trust me, no one wants to speak with or hear someone who talks stiffly or rehearsed. They’d much rather feel your own interests through the passionate presentation of yourself or your venture. Remind yourself that people are more or less just, people and nobody likes a sweaty hand.
Research saves lives. I recently had a business meeting with an organization I was unfamiliar with. I had made the rookie mistake of reaching out to this organization based on an assumption that I knew what they were about without actually researching the facts. The title “The Women’s League” sounded pretty straightforward to me but 40 minutes before the meeting it dawned on me that I had ample material to talk about my business without knowing much of theirs.
Needless to say I spent those 40 minutes finding out everything I could about the history of The Women’s League and what this particular group had done in our town.
The meeting went a lot more smoothly having already prepared myself to speak from a place of knowledge on what they had done and could provide.
Researching is just a sub-section of preparation. Just as you practice those acceptance speeches you should prepare yourself by researching your audience. It could be one person or 200 people. Regardless, knowing your audience whether its an interview or public speaking platform will help to tailor your words to the expectations of those who are listening.
I have mastered being an introvert with extrovert tendencies.
Discovering these little speech hacks has helped me to blossom from an introvert into a commanding force right in front of my very eyes. I hate the way anxiety and anticipation makes me feel so I do these things to keep me sharp and ahead of the game. Being an introvert is lovely, we like to take our time with the small things in life. We prefer quality time with our favorite things which tends to be ourselves.
However, for us to be successful we must embrace the 4 year old in us who was never afraid to ask questions or talk about our passions. In unleashing that part of ourselves we can do great things and conquer the art of public speaking and networking.