An introvert shares the psychological trick for speaking in front of strangers

Susan Cain TED talkYouTubeBestselling author Susan Cain.

While the idea of public speaking may tie your stomach in knots, self-proclaimed introvert Susan Cain proves that even for the most reserved, the deed can be done.

In 2012 the bestselling author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” took the stage at TED and spoke before an audience of 1,500 people — ironically enough — about being quiet and contemplative in a society that favours entertainment. And she did so using a common psychological tactic.

During a Reddit AMA, the champion for introverts shared her best tip for accomplishing the seemingly impossible:

Practice until you’re numb.

In response to a question about how Cain prepares to speak in front of large groups, she responded, “Ohhhhh… This has been the great challenge of my life.”

She went on to explain that these days she gives dozens of talks a year without feeling much anxiety, something she could never imagine being able to do without the psychological device called desensitization.

Psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe, a pioneer of behaviour therapy, believed that a lot of our behaviour is learned, including our phobias, and, through new learning experiences, we can “unlearn” some of those fears.

“You have to desensitize yourself to your fear of or discomfort with speaking by practicing in small, safe steps,” Cain explained.

She suggests enrolling in Toastmasters International, a public speaking organisation where members can practice giving speeches and get feedback, which she did before her TED talk. She also canceled everything during the week leading up to her talk and hired an acting coach to rehearse with all day.

“You need a group of supportive people to practice with, a group where you can screw up as much as you want without any real consequences,” Cain asserted. “This is how I overcame my fear — little by little by little by little.”

And if all else fails, Cain admits to once swigging some Bailey’s Irish Cream to calm her nerves before a public interview. Bottoms up.

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