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Many introverted writers want to immediately dismiss the idea of public speaking simply because they’re introverted and they hate the stage.

I recently interviewed Joanna Penn, who challenged authors to broaden their definition of public speaking. 

Joanna hosts the excellent podcast The Creative Penn. She’s a popular guest on this podcast and the author of numerous books, including Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: What qualifies as public speaking for authors?

Joanna Penn: Public speaking isn’t relegated to auditoriums and classrooms. Every time you give a reading at your library or give a podcast interview, you’re speaking publicly. The skills required for speaking coherently on a podcast are just as relevant to giving a talk at a literary festival, being on a panel, or doing a keynote at a conference.

Thomas: Once you learn the art of public speaking, it’s useful everywhere you go, even if you’re alone in a room in front of a microphone.

Why is public speaking so intimidating for introverted authors?

Joanna: I would like to separate the idea of being introverted from the idea of speaking. They say more people are afraid of public speaking than dying, so it’s a common fear.

We’re all afraid of being judged by our tribe. If you say something people don’t like, you can be judged. But that fear is common to every person and every professional speaker. Everyone has butterflies and anxiety around speaking. 

We introverts spend a lot of time in our heads, and we don’t’ spend much time being seen or heard. Introverts create alone in a room or alone in their heads head. There’s a difference between the voice in your head and the voice that comes out of your mouth. 

People might not believe me, but I spend most of my time being quiet. Introverts have to get over the hump of going from silence to making noise that people hear. Being introverted is more about what you’re used to. 

What are the advantages of being an introverted speaker?

Joanna: As an introvert, I actually find it easier being on stage than in a crowd. One of the benefits of being the speaker at an event is that you don’t have to go up and talk to people. People will come and talk to you!

 Thomas: I agree! I lean toward introversion, and one of the great things about speaking at conferences is that people come and talk to me. I don’t have to initiate that conversation while standing awkwardly on the outskirts of the room, fiddling with my punch.

Joanna: Introverts tend to think deeply about a topic and tend to do a lot of preparation in advance. We’re often thinking about the audience. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. You are there to serve them. They only care about what they can get from you that will change their lives. They don’t care much about you.

When you understand that, you can evaluate how your expertise meets the needs of your audience. When you deliver what they want, it will go very well for you. 

Being sensitive to environmental noise and energy, as many introverts are, can be a benefit when you’re speaking. You can feed off that energy and gauge facial expressions when you deliver your message. Your awareness of that energy also helps you give the audience a satisfying experience.

When I first started speaking professionally and getting paid for it, I was surprised to learn that some of the best motivational speakers in the world are introverted. You don’t expect that because of how they behave on stage. 

If you’re an introvert, you don’t need to be someone different, but you do need to be 150% yourself. Even admitting from the stage that you’re an introvert will be a point of common connection and resonance with many in your audience. 

I speak to writers, and I’ve found my introversion to be a benefit.

Thomas: My family started a speech and debate club in Austin for homeschool students. My dad and I observed that many speakers were introverted. His theory was that extroverted people are comfortable around crowds and that comfort allows them to forego practice. 

It’s not that extroverts can’t be as good as introverts, but they practice until they get comfortable, which for extroverts means less practice. Their performance ends up being less polished than the introvert’s performance. 

An introvert’s ability to think through what would be unique and beneficial causes them to work harder, and that shows up in their performance. 

Joanna: Most authors cannot speak in public well. We’ve all probably heard a beloved novelist speak from the stage and found them appalling. You can stand out in the author community by learning to speak well and giving a good performance. You’ll sell more books because people will find you interesting, and you’ll be invited to speak at other events. That will get you more free marketing and sometimes a paycheck. 

Thomas: More than 1,000 books are published on Amazon every day, and it’s hard to stand out. But when you become an author who does public speaking, you stand out in the best way. 

Why is it important for introverted speakers to schedule alone time?

Thomas: In your book, Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts, you discuss scheduling alone time before and after an event. Why is that important?

Joanna: It’s so important, but I still struggle to practice scheduling alone time before and after speaking. 

I was speaking on the first morning of a five-day writer’s conference, and the pre-speaking stress was high. I’m an experienced speaker and well-versed in my topic. But this was a new physical location. It was a new time zone, and I had jet lag. It was a new audience, and I had recently adapted my talk to this particular group. When I got there, I found my computer had the wrong adapter. 

If I had scheduled a meeting before that, I would have already been completely exhausted before I even went to the stage. 

Introverts are energized by being alone, and being with people is draining. But as a speaker, I want to give everything to my audience of 400 authors. Energy was pouring out of me, and in the moment, I almost felt my body vibrating because I’m a passionate speaker. 

But after you’ve given a talk, people want to talk to you, take selfies, and get books signed. It’s not as though you can step off stage, run away, and be alone. You have to continue giving, and you should never just leave. Your audience wants that time from you.

By the time you’re finished, you’re exhausted. If you’re at a conference, you’ll probably be speaking more than once, not to mention walking around the hotel meeting people and visiting. As a speaker, you have to look after your energy. 

A few days before I’m scheduled to speak, I write in my calendar, “Do not do anything.” I schedule rest days after the speaking event as well because I know I’ll be exhausted. You’re liable to get sick from being around so many people and being worn down. So, take vitamin supplements to help strengthen yourself. 

For introverts, energy management is the most important thing to do. You have to budget your energy for speaking and for your creative endeavors. I only schedule speaking engagements every other year so that I can concentrate my creative energy on books in the off-years. 

Thomas: Michael Hyatt has said that he feels like he ran a marathon after he gives a talk, and I’ve experienced that as well. When I’m at conferences, I’ll get booked for multiple one-on-one consultations. I enjoy those meetings, but after I’ve given two talks and 20 people have picked my brain, I am completely spent. 

I’ve learned to schedule a one-day meeting called “recovery” when I get home. My out-of-office email doesn’t say when I’ll be back home. It states when I’ll be back in the office, which is sometime after that recovery day. 

If I’ve been speaking in Europe, I’ll give myself several days. The effects of time zone changes are unpredictably tough. Sometimes, jetlag isn’t a big deal, but other times I feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train. My only advice for jetlag is to arrive a day or two early so that your body has a chance to adjust. 

Joanna: When I have jetlag, I prefer to speak in the morning because I’ve been up since 4:00 AM. I know I’ll be asleep in the afternoon. 

These are good tips for anyone attending a conference, not just for speakers and presenters. I used to wonder why it was so hard for me to deal with a multi-day conference. I was learning so much, but I was always so tired. Alone time is important for recharging your energy.

How do authors get started with public speaking?

Thomas: How do authors get started with public speaking?

Start Speaking for Free

Joanna: You can start speaking for free locally. Libraries will almost always allow you to speak. You can organize a speaking engagement for your local writing group. When you speak for free, there’s no pressure. You’ll still feel nervous, but if it goes wrong, it’s not a big deal. 

Joining a group like Toastmasters will help you with the craft of speaking, but if you want to get paid for speaking, I’d suggest doing a lot of free speaking. 

Ask for Testimonials

You’ll need testimonials saying you were great, and you can use those as references when you are seeking future speaking engagements. 

Organize Your Own Event

The first time I got paid to speak, I organized it myself. I put up a banner at the library saying I’d be talking about self-publishing, and people could hear me speak for $10 admission. 

Build a Speaking a Page

Over time, you can build a speaking page featuring those testimonials and past events. I built a speaking page on my website and called myself an author, speaker, and podcaster. When my website and my business card said “Speaker,” slowly, I started to get booked. 

Because of my website, I got invited to speak at an event in Bali. I was only paid for my expenses, but I still got to go to Bali! Plus, I got a lot of experience at a great location. Make sure your website clearly communicates that you’re available for speaking. Get used to calling yourself a speaker.

Thomas: By the end of Zig Ziglar’s career, he got paid $100,000 per event. He spoke a thousand times for free before he ever got paid. People won’t pay you $100,000 to hear you say, “Ummm.” You have to practice, polish, and build your portfolio.

Joanna: Testimonials are really important. The best time to get a testimonial is right after you speak while the energy is still in the room. If someone writes a public tweet that your talk was amazing, you can screen-shot that and use it on your website because it’s already public. 

Thomas: People may be tweeting about you while you’re talking. In your book, you say not to tell people to put their phones away because it will just make them mad. Instead, view their phone as your competition. You must be more interesting than their Twitter feed.

Joanna: Plus, people may be taking notes on their phones. You’re showing your age if you ask people to put their devices away. I get angry when someone tells me to put my phone away.

I give people permission to take pictures of me and my slides. I only ask people not to share my special downloads page that I create for the people who paid to attend the conference. When they visit the download, I encourage them to sign up for my Author Blueprint. In a room with 500 attendees, I can’t pass around a paper for people to write their email addresses, so I always try to drive them back to my website.

Thomas: And that’s why reader magnets are important. You must offer something valuable that they want as an immediate reward for signing up.

 Joanna: I also have my fiction site. As a novelist, you can also collect email addresses, but you’re much more likely to be teaching writing classes or attending festivals. Many novelists make an income teaching writing.

Thomas: You can still pursue nonfiction topics, but just realize your novel won’t sell as well. On the other hand, if you touch people emotionally, they want to take something with them, and that could be your novel. 

Do you have any other public speaking tips for us?

Joanna: Look at public speaking with a different mindset. The mention of public speaking often provokes anxiety, but there are techniques for dealing with the dread and managing energy. I think public speaking is a skill that compounds everything else. You have to keep future opportunities in mind. 

I can’t believe the opportunities I’ve had because of and through speaking on podcasts, in person, and with people. As writers, we gravitate to the written word, but humans still connect better with a face and body language. You can’t imagine the opportunities that will come your way if you give this a try.

Thomas: You never know who will be in your audience. I gave a talk to a small group one time, and afterward, a lady came up and invited me to speak at her even in Hawaii. I gladly accepted that invitation. In a way, public speaking is like hunting for treasure while growing in your craft. 


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