Three years ago the Getty formed a Toastmasters club, where staff members come together twice a month to practice something that scholars, editors, librarians, and many other introverts among us find incredibly difficult: public speaking.
As a member since the beginning, I’ve spoken to and received feedback from my colleagues many times. I’ve also listened to their speeches and given them constructive feedback. After three years with the club, I find that I listen with greater care and attention to any speaker, whatever the venue. That’s because I now see speaking and listening as opportunities to show people who I am and to learn more about who they are.
What follows are a few tips and observations I’ve assembled over the past few years, intended for fellow introverts who’d like to improve their speaking skills.
- Pick a topic you know. Sharing what you know and what you are passionate about builds confidence.
- Make it personal. The audience will be more interested in what you have to say if you have a stake in the topic. A speech is an opportunity for audience to get to know you better, to see you for who you really are—even if you’re not explicitly talking about yourself.
- Limit the scope. Only include what can be easily explained and explored with a few examples. Keep it brief and memorable.
- Out loud and in front of a friend. Don’t be afraid of constructive feedback—it’s like looking in a mirror, except that you get to see yourself through someone else’s eyes instead of your own. Which is mostly a good thing.
- Memorize your introduction and conclusion. Memorize is such a dirty word, but if you know your introduction and conclusion cold, it’s a lot easier to relax. In Toastmasters, we are not just speaking, but speaking for a set length of time. If I’m running short on time, it helps to know that I can lose one example and get back on track.
- Don’t read your speech. You want to create a feeling of intimacy between yourself and the audience. Intimacy comes from sustained eye contact with in the audience, even if you’re only looking at five or six people. You can’t maintain eye contact if you’re looking at your notes.
- Put down your notes. If you don’t think you can forgo your notes entirely, try keeping them nearby, but not in your hands. The first time I spoke without notes, I was surprised by how much more easily I could incorporate gestures and movement into my speech.
- Feeling nervous? Tell yourself that you feel excited. I’m shocked to be repeating advice that I’m told comes from Glamour magazine, but this works most of the time.
- Pay attention when other people speak. Watch, listen, and take notes. I learn so much from watching other people speak—and, as an introvert, listening should be right in your wheelhouse.
- Practice is the only thing that will make you a better speaker. Find a forum and a community where you are able to practice: brown bag lunches, conferences, Toastmasters. Through repetition, you will build muscle memory, the same way that an athlete does. You become better able to speak calmly and control your nerves. In watching other people make effective use of pauses, you become more comfortable incorporating silence into your own speeches. You learn strategies for how to respond to off-the-cuff questions. You learn how to feel more at ease with yourself. The goal is always progress, not perfection.
The best way to improve at public speaking is to step away from the computer and go practice. But for more online tips, see the Toastmasters resources section—including (of course), how to confidently make a toast.