One of the many stereotypes of the business world is that successful business leaders are extroverted and charismatic. Even though plenty of introverted, shy, and socially anxious chief executives like Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook have proved it false, the responsibility of facing the public doesn’t cut slack for shy leaders. But have you ever thought, “How to overcome shyness when speaking in public”
You may feel tongue-tied at the thought of delivering a speech, appearing in front of the media, or making your case in front of investors. Yet as a business leader, it’s your responsibility to overcome shyness when speaking in public and give a memorable presentation.
It’s normal for a business leader or a startup founder to wonder if shyness is really the issue they need to tackle. Shyness may not directly affect your business, but it does in a way you can’t imagine.
Shyness can make it difficult to maintain eye contact when conversing with others. If you don’t do this, you won’t be hired when a leadership position becomes available in your company. It can ruin your chances if you want to build a startup. Investors don’t want to invest their money in people who don’t have confidence.
The pressure to overcome public speaking shyness can also lead to other physical and psychological problems. When introverts are put in a situation where they need to speak in public, they make mistakes. Someone may blush or stutter because of fear of being caught. It’s natural for everyone to be nervous before a meeting or big presentation. But it’s a little harder to hide the excessive blushing and stuttering that can make an introvert even more afraid of public speaking.
During the pandemic, business leaders were somewhat relieved from the burden of public speaking. The shift to phone and video calls as the primary means of communication creates a safety barrier for people who are reluctant to speak face-to-face.
But now, as the world resumes normal business operations and real-time meetings are back, business leaders must tackle their social anxiety and overcome shyness when speaking in public to sustain themselves in the business world.
A few things can prepare you to come out of your shell and play to your strengths when asked to participate in public-facing interactions such as board meetings, media interviews, and stakeholder presentations. Follow these suggestions or train with a professional public course to improve your public speaking skills.
The first step of solving any problem is acknowledging that you have a problem. In the case of shyness, you must understand how it is a problem for you. Usually, it is a manifestation of social anxiety that usually begins in childhood.
You may be using coping mechanisms like only communicating via chat messages or bringing people you know to network events so that you don’t have to talk to anyone new. But the best way to overcome shyness when speaking in public is exposure.
You can start by making a list of situations that cause you social anxiety, such as giving presentations or pitching to angel investors.
Then you have to write down how those situations make you feel on a scale of 1 to 10.
Pick the least intimidating situation from the bottom of the list and participate in it. By exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, you can work your way up until you feel you have mastered each one.
Once you have realized your problem, you need a strong plan to overcome it. A plan would involve several things, from enrolling in a public speaking course and building the right platform to figuring out things that make you feel confident.
Lay a well-thought-out plan for your content as well, including an outline, a script, lots of practice, positive feedback, and support.
Great business leaders center their inspiration on a few things they can rely on, for example, personal stories.
When you’re about to lead a presentation or speech, instead of stating the numbers and facts, you can make the environment more comfortable for you and your audience by sharing a few stories of your first-hand experiences. It is the best way to connect with customers, employees, and shareholders.
Leaders hesitate to tell stories. Because the inherent nature of the story presents difficulties. Many CEOs are reluctant to use personal anecdotes, but some have had great success. Some of the CEOs, including Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, best found the courage to show their true selves in their talks to empower their presentations and inspire their organizations.
As a business leader who consistently has to make public appearances in one way or the other, you should determine the environments in which you perform the best. Any public speaking engagement can be either a conversation or a presentation. While conservation is a dialogue and less formal, a presentation is one-sided and formal.
Instead of practicing one type of speaking, try conversation and presentation to see where you perform the best. Most CEOs find out that having a conversation is more comfortable than giving a presentation. So, to overcome shyness when speaking in public, try to carry out every speaking engagement as a conversation. Converse with your audience, team, board members, and everyone else.
When you are presenting in front of a group of people and want to keep your fear of public speaking at bay, create a calendar and plan. Map out all the potential notes and talking points in advance for board meetings, media interviews, and presentations to stakeholders. Next, you can review and tweak them to suit the event better. Once you’re prepared with the right materials and talking points in advance, it may lessen your degree of anxiety.
Most business leaders feel shy or embarrassed when they stand out unusually. While you can’t control others’ perceptions of you, you can control yours. That’s why it’s important to focus and turn our (mental) attention to other things. Once you stop focusing on yourself, you’ll stop worrying about how you are doing.
The easiest way to do this is to focus on compassion. When we feel compassion, sympathy, or empathy, we stop caring about ourselves and start devoting all our mental resources to understanding others. Remembering that everyone is fighting some sort of battle helps us remember that everyone – big or small deserves our care.
You can overcome shyness by learning to speak to yourself clearly. This way you can avoid the potential embarrassment of having to repeat what was said by mumbling or speaking too softly. Also, you’ll get used to hearing your own voice.
Pretend as if you’re having a conversation and record yourself. It sure sounds silly. But, you’ll notice patterns like when and why you interrupt. When you think you’re talking loud, but you really aren’t. At first, you’ll feel like an actor, but it becomes a habit. Practicing these techniques will help you form good public speaking habits.
The more you compare yourself to others, the more you feel inferior, fearful, and shy. It doesn’t make sense to compare yourself to someone else as a business leader. But if you do, be realistic. Understand that everyone else is overwhelmed with confidence issues too. No one is a born public speaker. All the renowned speakers and leaders have spent hours and hours training and mastering the craft.
You can too by enrolling in Emerge Global’s public speaking course led by an esteemed TedX speaker. You’ll receive the guidance and resources you need to navigate the social part of your job. After taking this course, you’re likely to present in front of a group of people without being shy.
Last but not least is your body language and appearance. You must look approachable to your audience. Being approachable makes you seem confident and in charge of the event.
Use your body language to convey an open and friendly demeanor. Make sure your arms aren’t crossed, your head is up, and your hands aren’t busy. No one will talk to you if you’re buried in Candy Crush.
One successful technique for improving body language is to compare approachable and unapproachable people you know. Think of the people you would want to approach, and then think of someone who doesn’t seem approachable.
What do their bodies and faces say?
How do they sit?
And how is their body language different from one another?
Then you can choose which end of the spectrum you want to be.
These tips can help you overcome shyness when speaking in public. But remember, being shy isn’t a bad thing. But as a business leader, you have to be the jack of all trades, including public speaking as well. Your profession demands that you strengthen your social skills and relieve some anxiety.
Emerge Global’s online public speaking course will not only help you manage your social anxiety and shyness but overcome it as well. This course will help business leaders like you start tackling social situations with confidence. Learn more about the strategies of our eight-week course that help you overcome shyness.
Shyness is probably the most common trait humans share. Everyone is shy of one thing or the other and no one is invincible. While a common person can lead their life being shy, a business leader can’t. High-level executives and leaders have to face the public as a part of their job. So, if you’re a business leader who is shy about speaking, it’s important that you overcome it as soon as possible for the sake of your profession. You can take professional help and sign up for Emerge Global’s public speaking course to start your journey of overcoming shyness.
Jeremiah O’Brian is a faculty member at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. His exceptionally diverse background – from gritty nuts-and-bolts firefighting to film and theatre credits and accolades – is bolstered by his several graduate degrees.