Introverts guide to being seen on social media

Apr 20, 2021

There are few people who truly enjoy speaking in public. In fact, according to communication theorist, coach and leadership expert Nick Morgan, it is only a super confident 10% who get a buzz about taking centre stage. The remaining 90% are made up of people who are absolutely terrified of public speaking (10%) and – the majority by far – individuals who feel nervous about the prospect of being put in the spotlight, but know they will survive (80%).

The rapid rise of Zoom meetings over the past year, as well as the launch of new social media platforms such as Clubhouse, means that most of us will have to learn to overcome our discomfort and improve on our public speaking skills. We have put together some tips to help you overcome nerves and feel more confident when it’s your turn to take the mic!

You’re not alone 

First of all, it’s reassuring to know that those of us with a fear of speaking in public are not alone! Many world-famous leaders and entrepreneurs have admitted that they used to loathe public speaking, and worked hard to overcome this predicament. American investor, CEO and author Warren Buffett, who is currently listed as the fourth richest person on the planet, realised early on that he had to face his fears in order to succeed and enrolled in a public speaking course. 

Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Richard Branson and many other big names are known to have suffered from a fear of public speaking. Even former US president Barack Obama, who is known for his memorable speeches, is said to be an introvert at heart and reportedly spent many hours working alone in his former White House office. 

Why do we fear public speaking?

It all comes down to two of our strongest primal instincts; our inbuilt flight-or-fight response and our need for social acceptance. The prospect of standing in front of a big (or small) audience, tripping over our words or saying something that is not ‘right’, triggers our fear of being cast out of our ‘tribe’ – which in prehistoric days was equal to certain death. 

Therefore, our worries about embarrassing ourselves in public create the same physical reaction as being faced with a sabre-tooth tiger and having to run for our lives. Adrenaline is coursing through our body, our heart beats faster, and we find it difficult to stand still. However, the good news is that we can turn this nervous energy into an advantage!  

Prepare & practise to feel more confident

According to Obama’s very own former speech writer, Sarada Peri, planning and preparation are key to help you deliver your presentation or talk with more confidence. Do your research, pull relevant information, write down key points and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. 

Peri also advises not to try to copy other public speakers, but to play to your own strengths. She told British newspaper The Telegraph, “Sometimes people will hire me because they think they want to sound like Barack Obama, but they don’t. They just want to sound like the best version of themselves.

“It can be really intimidating to compare yourself to other people, in hopes that you might sound like them. That’s not the point. You must first find your authentic voice.”

Turn adrenaline into energy & excitement

Did you know you experience the same feelings when you are excited as you are nervous? So instead of thinking these feelings are doom and gloom, just think ‘I’m excited’ to face this challenge. 

Referring to the aforementioned fight-or-flight response that is inherent to us, Forbes author Nick Morgan advises, “Focus on those annoying physical symptoms and redefine them as the signs of the good energy that they are. Tell yourself, My hands are clammy, my heart is beating fast, and my mind is racing. I’m ready to run with the mammoths and tigers! This is what I need to do a good job!

“If you work on this each time you experience the sensations, you’ll learn to respect, value, and even enjoy the symptoms of adrenaline. […] Adrenaline is your friend; it makes your body and brain work better. So first get used to it, and then make sure that you’ve always got a little adrenaline at important moments for the boost it will give your performance.”

Take a breath

Our breath is an amazing, free tool that we carry with us and can employ at all times to calm our nervous system. 

There are hundreds of conscious breathing techniques, but one of the easiest and quickest one to help alleviate stress and anxiety is the Box Breathing technique. It is also said to help heighten performance and focus, and is used by everyone from athletes to U.S. Navy SEALs, police officers, and nurses.

Sitting in an upright position, start by slowly exhaling for a count of four, pushing out all the oxygen. Then, inhale for the same slow count of four, focusing on the air filling your lungs. At the top, hold for four seconds. Then start the cycle again by exhaling.

You will be surprised by how quickly your breathing steadies and your body begins to relax.

Embrace the silence

What to do when a Zoom meeting or Clubhouse discussion falls into an awkward silence? Or when you forget your words during a presentation? It’s excruciating, right? There are many studies on why us humans struggle with silence, and especially in business it can be perceived as a lack of control or direction when our words fail us. However, if you can practise getting more comfortable with being in silence, short pauses can be employed as a powerful tool during presentations, negotiations and discussions. 

Matthew MacLachlan of UK-based Learnlight, a language and soft skills training provider, cited the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs as an example of using breaks to your advantage, telling the BBC, “He introduced pauses so that you didn’t miss his key points. Because silence makes us nervous, our instinctive reaction is that we’d better pay attention, there’s something going on here.”

‘Owning’ the silence can make you appear more confident, give you a few seconds to gather your thoughts or cause someone else to jump in with an interesting discussion point. 

However, if you are the host of a Zoom meeting or Clubhouse talk, it is helpful to think about a few conversation prompts or questions to throw into the ring should the conversation die down. Jot them down on a list and keep them nearby for all eventualities.

Challenge yourself daily

The title of Susan Jeffers’ world-famous self-help book “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway” has become iconic. Accept your discomfort around public speaking, but challenge it daily! Taking baby steps such as speaking-to-camera on your Instagram Stories, going live on Facebook or raising your hand to ask a question in Clubhouse, your confidence will grow and your ‘public speaking muscle’ will build up with every challenge faced. 

Learn to feel comfortable being uncomfortable

At the end of the day, no matter how nervous the prospect of speaking up and ‘being seen’ makes you feel, remember: most of us humans feel this way. It’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable in these situations, so try to embrace. As speech expert Peri points out in her Telegraph piece, your audience will almost always root for you as long as you speak “from the heart.” She says, “People are on your side and they will be there for whatever it is that you’re saying as long as it sounds authentic.”

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