Thursday, December 4, 2014

.@andreaskluth on the best thing an introvert can do 15 minutes before a talk

I'm always shooing introverted speakers out of the room--the green room, the reception, the lunch gathering, the crowded hallway--about 15 minutes (and sometimes more) before their talks begin. That's because if you're at all introverted, you need to be by yourself before you start a speech, talk, or presentation. It's a way to build the energy you'll certainly need to share yourself on stage, since introverts gain energy when alone, but see it drain in crowds of people.

At TEDMED, I shooed introverts up to the terrace level of the Kennedy Center, where they could walk around the rooftop terrace and take in the view mostly by themselves. At networking receptions or conferences, a walk around the block or in a nearby park is what I recommend. If all else fails or time is short, the restroom or the nearest stairwell can offer a space in which to be alone. If you're around me in a speaking situation, and you admit to being introverted, I know you won't be offended when I tell you to get lost. But I rarely hear back about the impact of those quiet moments of prep.

Last week, Andreas Kluth, Berlin bureau chief for the Economist, wrote about hearing this from me right before his talk at the European Speechwriter Network conference in Amsterdam. I'd found a lone empty place to perch my lunch in a corner of the crowd and we wound up having a nice talk about public speaking, since he was due to go on right after lunch. We were talking about political speakers and introverts in general, and he told me he was an introvert. So I'm afraid I did a little freelance coaching.

Turns out my usual advice was both unusual in his experience, and welcome on that day. In his post Advice to introverted public speakers (and their hosts), he wisely warns conference organizers to avoid dragging their introverted speakers around to meet everyone right before or after their talks. At this speechwriters' conference, however, there were plenty who understand introversion. He wrote of our encounter:
I was standing at lunch with one of them, when she noticed all by herself that my speaking time was coming up. 
“Honestly,” she said, “if I were you I would now walk away from me and go outside, to the toilet or wherever, and get focussed.” Those may not have been her exact words. But the sentiment was modest, pertinent and beautiful. So I went to the men’s room, did a few power poses in a stall, and read through my index cards (but then put them away).
I'm always glad to be outed on advice like this, particularly when it strikes the speaker as "modest, pertinent and beautiful."

If you're the conference organizer or panel moderator, a nice way to introduce this option is to say to every speaker, "And if you're at all introverted, you may want some time by yourself before and after your talk," then point them to that roof terrace, empty nearby meeting room, stairwell, or park. The last thing most introverts want to do is initiate a discussion of their introversion, see, or be called out for it in front of others. But if you take responsibility for introducing the topic, they'll love you for it. (Please don't try guessing who's introverted and who's not. You'll be wrong, mostly.)

You may think you have that space available, but that speaker-ready room so many conferences have, crowded with folks rehearsing or fixing slides, would be better organized as a few quiet spaces. It's also helpful to know that stressed-out extroverts sometimes revert to their introverted sides, and so will need the same option but be less aware of that need--another reason to offer quiet space to every speaker. At a recent conference where I coached nearly 20 of the speakers, many of them introverted, my client arranged an empty room set aside just in case any of my speakers needed time alone. Let's just say we made use of it.

Please share Kluth's post with your conference organizers and moderators to spread this tip around. Introverted speakers, see my checklist for the whole speaker, annotated for introverts, and I'll see you in the stairwell....

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Daniel Hoherd)

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