Presentation Skills: Introverts and Extroverts

I really liked the TED version of this presentation because of the way that Susan Cain talked about her own struggles as an introvert with public speaking. That’s not in this condensed version, but some of my other favorite parts are, including the research that shows that audiences find extroverts to be more persuasive and believable than more introverted speakers.

I love this kind of science, but the idea that extroverts are more convincing is understandable even on a common-sense level. Extroverts tend to be much more engaging and more enthusiastic, both of which help an audience pay attention and stay focused on what’s being said. Enthusiasm is particularly powerful because it can be quite contagious and help win people over to a presenter’s point of view. If you think about it, the RSA videos are kind of like the “extroverted” versions of the original talks. They’ve been edited and animated to make them more engaging and entertaining.

As a closet introvert myself, I know that I’m a much more effective public speaker because I make a conscious effort to be more extroverted. I try to bring as much energy as I can to every presentation, I tell my best jokes and stories in an attempt to be entertaining, and I talk to people that I don’t know in a way I’d probably never do if we were random guests at a party.

The difference between being an introvert and at least being able to act like an extrovert is often the difference between success and failure in a presentation. Maybe you’re not a natural extrovert, but a lot of people (including Susan Cain and myself) aren’t, and we’re doing passable jobs at public speaking. Can you manage to be an extrovert for 30 minutes? An hour? Try giving it a shot. If you’re still having a hard time, try co-presenting with someone who is more outgoing than you are. I find that I’m even more successful when I’m paired with someone who is an extrovert (or seems like they are one).

That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to be fake, to put on a personality that isn’t your own. Audiences react badly when they perceive that someone is acting “phony.” What you want to do instead is be the best, most interesting and energetic version of yourself.

RSA Shorts–The Power of Quiet

Awkward Pauses: The Value of “Um, Er and Uh” in Public Speaking

Last year I did several talks where one of the most important points I wanted to make  is that our desire to be effective public speakers is undermined when we make it our goal to be perfect public speakers. Everyone has something they could do better but focusing on these issues too much can make us anxious and undermine our performance. You want to be aware of the things you can do better and make an effort to implement them whenever you can.  But don’t feel like any little mistake is going to ruin your whole presentation.

The example I always used was my habit of inserting an “um” into pauses while I’m talking. I’m usually not even aware of it while I’m speaking, but I’ve listened to recordings of myself enough to hear that it’s an issue. It’s not something I do a lot, and I probably do it less than most people. But I’d really prefer not to do it at all. Still, I wasn’t going to torture myself over it.

“You don’t want to have a tic that so bad that it’s distracting,” I’d tell my audiences.  “I knew an executive once who said “uh” so often that people would stop listening to what he actually had to say and start counting ‘uh’s for sport. But it’s not the end of the world if you say “um” every now and then.”

And then I’d pause and say “um”. Every time I gave the talk. I have different versions of the presentation on audio and video and I say “um” every time.

The first time I didn’t even realize what had happened, why the audience was laughing. Of course this could have been humiliating, but it was actually a perfect illustration of what I was talking about. I didn’t let it bother me and the audience didn’t think less of me. In fact, they seemed to think it was hilarious.

So, as a frequent “um”-er, I was happy to see my experience validated in this article from Slate. They’ve gathered up research (I love how Slate does these articles that use science to disprove common perceptions) to show that disfluencies like “um” and “ah” won’t really ruin your speech. In fact, they suggest that using filler words or syllables can actually improve your listeners’ ability to recall what you say and help them see you as more genuine. Being too polished, it seems, can make you sound “slick” or scripted.

Much better to sound like yourself than a salesperson.  Even if that includes some, er, awkward pauses.

Motivational Speeches: Show a Little Enthusiasm

Showing a little enthusiasm in your presentations is a great way to bring up the energy level in the room and demonstrate to your audience that you really care about your subject.  Enthusiasm is entertaining in itself and audiences will be much more open to the message of a presenter who is clearly excited.  They’ll even be more tolerant of a presenter who isn’t perfectly polished if they can tell you care.

Of course your enthusiasm has to be genuine– you can’t fake it.  But try to show your audience why you’re passionate about your topic if you want them feel anything.

That said, you probably don’t want to be quite as excited as this kid learning to ride his bike.  It might be a little much in a professional presentation.

“Thumbs up for rock and roll!”

Bad Role Models: Charlie Sheen’s “Torpedo of Truth” Bombs

Without the right material even a “natural” performer can fail.

You get the feeling that Charlie Sheen isn’t going to learn from his mistakes.  But maybe we can.  No, I’m not suggesting that we take a lesson in how to handle relationships with our wives, bosses, or “guests” in our hotel rooms from Mr. Sheen. But the live tour he has just embarked on certainly gives us a good example of how not to handle a live presentation.

From all accounts the “Torpedo of Truth” tour’s first stop in Chicago was an unmitigated disaster that ended with fans (people who had actually been willing to pay money for this event) walking out during the middle of the show and Sheen abandoning the stage after less than an hour.  What went wrong?  Based on the clips I’ve seen, it looks like lots of things.  Aside from the star’s brain chemistry, I’d be willing to bet that the main culprit was simply a lack of preparation.

According to many of the people who have been talking about him on TV lately, Sheen can apparently be very charming in person.  He seems like the kind of guy who has been told that he has a great personality and come to rely on this belief in all the facets of his life.  He’s publicly criticized the work of the creator and writers of his former TV show while claiming all the credit for its success himself.  It’s been reported that he regularly missed rehearsals and said that he doesn’t need to rehearse; you get the feeling that he thought that it was enough to show up and be himself, that the whole show was powered by his personality.

Apparently this worked for him for years.  So he tried to do the same thing with his live show.  He thought he didn’t need material (or writers), that he could just go out on stage and work his charm on the audience.  An improvised rant here, a catch phrase there, little or no planning required.  How could that plan fail?

This is a problem that people who think of themselves as “natural” performers and enthusiastic public speakers often come up against eventually.  They’re so confident in their abilities that they can fail to think about what they need to provide for their audience in order to make a presentation a success.

Don’t ever be that inconsiderate of your audience– even if they aren’t paying they’ll resent you if they feel like you haven’t given them a good reason to be there.  Always try to keep in mind that any presentation should be about the audience’s needs, not yours.