This month, I celebrate my 5 year anniversary as an SAP employee. When I reflect on these years, I am proud of the things I can do with confidence now, which I would have once shied away from. I give SAP a lot of the credit for that, as one thing all of my managers have had in common is challenging me to get out of my comfort zone and push myself in directions that may not feel natural, and giving me plenty of opportunities to do so. It’s part of SAP’s culture and commitment to nurturing professional growth.
As a shy introvert, the types of things that don’t feel natural to me are rather extensive — as in anything that has me the center of attention in a group setting. So this year, when that gentle push was towards a speaking engagement, no one was more surprised than me when I accepted. Yet accept I did, with the encouragement of Audrey Stevenson, Gali Kling Schneider, and my husband, to give a talk at the Gamification & Digital Engagement Strategies for Business Results conference in Chicago in October.
This post is not about putting a spin on my experience. I regretted accepting as soon as I sent the email to do so and I wanted to back out every day. I didn’t back out. (My husband stopped me.) I went through with it, and I can honestly say I’m glad I did it!
Not because it was a Hollywood ending and I overcame all my hang-ups and presented like a polished expert even though it was my first time. But because it was not a disaster and I learned so much by doing it. Yes, it could have gone better, and so here I am to (knowledge) share, in case I can help another shy introverted professional considering your first ever speaking engagement. Before you let yourself shy away, this is my pitch to challenge yourself instead.
Obviously, start with your own best practice research, there is so much available from the seasoned speakers who have been at it for years.On top of that, here are a few tips specifically meant to help your shy quiet shine.
- Trust your content
- Prepare extra material
- Say something they’re not expecting
- Connect virtually with other speakers and attendees before the conference
- Read Quiet, by Susan Cain and Presence, by Amy Cuddy before you go
Let me set the (speaker’s) stage for you. There were several speakers before me, so I tried to enjoy their presentations instead of counting down the minutes before I was going to be the one up there being stared at by all those people. I was holding up reasonably well, at least I don’t think I had betrayed my nervousness to attendees yet.
Until the speaker before me showed up. Can you say senior executive from Amazon? Polished, at ease, funny.
I shrunk in my chair.
Trust your content
I panicked. In the course of his presentation I second guessed everything that was in mine. I made the rash decision to slash, on the fly, the talk track I had rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. Being adaptive is one thing – it’s perfectly reasonable to read the room and the audience and adjust accordingly. That’s smart. Speaker panic is different. It’s rash. It’s impulsive. It’s driven by fear.
No one who went before me spent much time sharing their background or focus areas in their current role. So just like that, I decided to slash those two slides from my presentation. This despite the best practice research I had done to prepare. People want to know about you. They want to hear your story, and you can tell it better than the person introducing you whom you’ve barely met.
Then I worried the SAP Fast Facts I included would feel too much like marketing and flew through them instead of explaining why they were relevant – all those complicated transactions, driven by really sophisticated software help tell the story of why technologists rely on this community.
Prepare extra material
Of course I timed myself when I rehearsed my presentation. I had it timed to the minute. I hadn’t accounted for panic slashing over six minutes of material. That panic cost me substance in my presentation, and I ended up finishing earlier than my allotted time. I felt like I was cheating attendees out of learning time they had paid for. Realistically, most were probably happy to start lunch a few minutes early. However, next time, I’ll anticipate panic and make sure I have a few extra slides ready to go, flagged for skipping if I surprise myself.
In addition, I’ll prepare a few questions to ask the audience in the event of extra time. I did get some very thoughtful questions from attendees, which I was able to handle well, just not enough to make up for my content slashing.
Say something they’re not expecting
Each speaker was introduced by our conference facilitator. Part of the introduction included asking us to share something important to us that people wouldn’t know from our bio. As a mother of four, who left four little ones behind to get to this conference, of course, it’s my family. We’re supposed to be authentic, right? So that’s what I said, my family. The problem was, it had already been said by one of the “Dad” speakers. In addition, as one of the few female speakers at the conference, it was just came out so cliché. My children would have understood.
What my resume doesn’t reflect is that I’m actually an aspiring cartoonist that loves using illustrations to communicate complex issues. The illustration in my presentation was one I had drawn, and I didn’t even mention that. The illustration in this blog post is also one of my own. That’s much more interesting at a gamification conference than I’m a mamma who loves her kiddos.
Connect virtually with other speakers and attendees before the conference
I don’t know if every shy introvert feels this way, but interacting with large numbers of new people makes me want to run away. I’m not sure that is ever going to change. However I do know something that helps – connecting virtually first. Being recognized when you walk into a big room of anxiety reduces the stress tremendously.
Remember how in October we were in the middle of the community go-live? So stepping away for an extended period to enjoy my first trip to Chicago wasn’t really feasible. I flew in late in the afternoon the night before my session. I flew out just a couple of hours after my session. No time for networking except the morning of, at breakfast.
I had a list in advance of the other conference speakers, I should have reached out! We were using a twitter hashtag leading up to the event, I should have been mingling there. We had an app setup by one of the vendors to foster event-based communication and coordinating, I could have used that to connect with attendees in advance.
Social media doesn’t come naturally to me, but there is no doubt that virtual introductions are easier for me than in-person introductions. I could have leveraged that to make the in-person introductions easier.
Read Quiet, by Susan Cain and Presence, by Amy Cuddy before you go
I don’t think I would have the courage to share so openly about my experiences as a shy introvert if it wasn’t for Susan Cain, and her eloquent exploration of what it’s like to be one in a “world that won’t stop talking.”
This book changed my life because after I read it, instead of feeling broken, I felt validated. Instead of focusing on getting better, I started focusing on doing better – using techniques to help me find the initiative to do the things I want to do, but which my natural instincts hold be back from.
Now, I start meetings that way, sharing with new colleagues so they know if I’m quiet it’s because I’m listening.
Getting there and being fully there are two different things, and that is why I also recommend reading Presence, by Amy Cuddy. She shares research and techniques that help me every day bring my best self to challenging situations. Understanding how body language affects how others see us, and maybe more importantly, how we see ourselves, is empowering. Yes, of course I was power posing in the bathroom before my session.