Video: Public Speaking for Introverted Creatives

If you want to succeed as a creative professional, sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up in front of an audience and persuade them of the value of your work.

If you’re a writer you’ll be invited to give readings and talks.

If you’re an artist you’ll be asked to talk about your work at salons and exhibitions.

If you’re an agency creative, you’ll have to pitch ideas to your colleagues and clients.

If you’re an entrepreneur you’ll need to tell investors and potential buyers about your company and products.

If you’re a consultant, you’ll need to persuade clients and conference audiences of the value of your ideas.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to avoid any of the above – but if you hide away behind your Mac, you’ll miss a lot of opportunities. And your potential listeners will miss the chance to experience you and your work.

If you’re feeling a little nervous at the thought, you’re in good company: in surveys, public speaking is consistently ranked as one of the top things that scare the living daylights out of human beings (up there with death, heights, confined spaces, and of course mice and spiders).

And if you’re a natural introvert like me, then stepping out in front of an audience may feel like the last thing you want to do. But if you really want to take advantage of all the opportunities that are waiting out there for you, you’re going to have to find a way to do it.

Realising this many years ago, I gritted my teeth and resolved to learn presentation skills. I went on courses. I read books and watched videos of great presenters. I got a coach to help me.

It took a lot of trial and error. In the early years, several audiences suffered nearly as much as I did. But I managed to do it, eventually delivering hundreds of successful training workshops, and presenting at conferences in Europe and the US.

These days, I even teach public speaking – Creative Presentation Skills is one of my most popular courses. Speaking to an audience is so normal I rarely give it a second thought. But the whole learning journey came back to me recently, when author and speaker Joanna Penn interviewed me for her book Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.

Joanna is a fellow introvert, and wrote the book to help people like us who are naturally more at home in the library than on the podium. She asked me some great questions, and we covered a range of topics in the 45-minute interview, including:

  • Why introversion isn’t the same as shyness
  • Should you ever speak for free?
  • Why a presentation should be a life-changing experience
  • How I prepare for a presentation
  • How to deal with challenging audiences
  • The difference between professional speaking and performing as a poet

Watch the video (you may need to click through to the website if you’re an email subscriber) and use it as an opportunity to reflect on your own experience of, and ambitions for, sharing your ideas as a speaker.

And if you’re serious about improving your speaking skills, you should check out Joanna’s book – it was written for people just like you.

Over to you

Introverts

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to public speaking?

What opportunities will open up for you if you become a confident speaker?

Any tips for overcoming your nerves and learning to love the stage?

Extroverts

Don’t be shy! ;-) Please tell me it’s not just us introverts who have to suffer. Feel free to share your challenges and tips when it comes to public speaking.

Mark McGuinness is a poet and a coach for creative professionals. For a free 26-week creative career guide (including a lesson on creative presentation skills) sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

Joanna Penn is a best-selling author and in-demand speaker. To become a more confident and creative speaker read her book Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.

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  1. This is a wonderful resource!

    My biggest challenge is thinking that what I know isn’t interesting enough to guarantee a speaking engagement.
    I mean there are a lot of useful skills I possess, but I haven’t realized yet how to present it in a way that won’t bore people. I look at people on TED and think “damn, I can’t do that, my work is just not that interesting”.

    I don’t have stage fright or other things, it’s mostly just that old “not feeling good enough” in a brand new suit.

    • Have you ever thought of giving a talk on the inspiration behind your art? You create some pretty mind-boggling images, I can’t be the only one who wonders how you think them up…

  2. Thanks Mark and Joanna for posting this, it is very insightful and helpful. I have spoken in public a few times, and I find it a combination of so nerve wracking I feel like I am in a dream and so exhilarating I want to do it again! I like the idea that an introverted person is not necessarily a shy person, which I had not thought about before. I also like the ritual of setting up a room so that it is a familiar environment. I have rituals for creating work, but had never thought that it could be applied to presenting.

    In a strange coincidence Mark, you have emailed this to me the day after a brilliant possible opportunity has been offered to me. Something which has made public speaking go from mid way down my list of things to improve to the top! I don’t want to say more about it than that as I am a bit superstitious, and I might jinx it. But let’s just say, this post could not have come at a better time!

    • so nerve wracking I feel like I am in a dream and so exhilarating I want to do it again!

      Like so many of the best things in life. :-)

      Glad to hear it was well-timed for you, fingers crossed for your opportunity…

  3. Terrific interview! Both Joanna and Mark did a great job. Packed full of information and good ideas and encouragement. As is always the case whenever either of you post anything.

    As a formerly terrified speaker I agree with everything Mark says. It gets easier the more you do it. A long time ago I was lucky to be thrown into a job where talking in front of groups was a requirement. I’ve gone from shaking so hard my clothes waved in the breeze to having someone tell me I’m a “natural speaker”. Which certainly isn’t so – every last skill was learned. The hard way.

    And worth it!

  4. It is so heartening to hear Mark talk about his fear of public speaking early in his career. His tips on discriminating between the good and not so good offers were quite helpful. Thank you!

  5. Growing up, I fitted into the “Shyest People on the Planet” category, so if I can do public speaking, anyone can. I remember having to do a 5 minute presentation at college and I was literally shaking with fear. These days I give talks and presentations on a regular basis, and I love it. The keys to success?
    (1) Make yourself do it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I took a job that had a teaching element to it, so I was forced to stand up in front of an audience. Tough in the beginning, straightforward today.
    (2) Be prepared, so you know your material inside out. Knowing that you know your subject better than anyone else in the audience gives you confidence.
    (3) Be enthusiastic – it’s infectious, and you’ll carry your audience with you.

    It’s well worth creatives learning presentation skills. At the very least it opens up another income stream, effectively pays you to advertise your work to a new audience, and brings new opportunities. Groups get to hear interesting talks. Win-win for both parties.

  6. Hi Mark and Joanna, really enjoyed the interview and its inspired me take my training sessions up a notch. Mark, the image of you scrambling around on the floor picking up post it notes is great, and its made me think about how I can communicate some of the complex concepts that I have to get over in a way that is more meaningful for my clients and more fun for me. I hadn’t thought about owning the space either and have taken steps to improve this.

    tips – start off small, speaking to a small group of people of 4 to 10 has been helpful for me to build up confidence.

    what I.ve struggled with a few times – when you get really nervous, throat goes tight and random words come out of my mouth and I have no idea what I’m going to say next and you say something and everyone just stares at you completely expressionless.

    • Thanks Simon. Re nerves – from my own experience and working with clients on this, I usually find it feels worse on the inside than it looks on the outside.

      I’ve seen some people give amazing performances where they looked totally confident, and then tell me afterwards that they felt really nervous and didn’t realise how well they came across.

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