An #UPFRONT conversation with Emma Taggart
Emma Taggart is a career development coach and facilitator. She helps ambitious introverts succeed in an extroverted world, enabling confidence in leaders who don’t fit into stereotypes.
“Many introverts don’t actually know they are introverted, because they think it means shy, which is wrong.”
As an introvert herself who has learned to speak confidently on the public stage, she shares practical advice and strategies that are helpful for fellow introverts who want to improve their confidence and public speaking skills.
We had the chance to talk to Emma to learn more. Here’s her story.
What does confidence mean to you?
The ability to do what you want in life without allowing fear to hold you back.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?
Finding the confidence to speak in public was a big challenge for me. These days I have no problem getting up in front of an audience but it wasn’t always that way. In the past I would avoid public speaking at all costs – I hated speaking up in relatively small meetings at work, never mind from a stage.
The thought of having to speak in front of people was terrifying and I worried that no one would want to hear what I had to say. If there was a way of avoiding it, I would.
Early on in my career, I realised if I didn’t do something to increase my confidence it would hold me back. I knew I had the ability to take on senior roles but continuing to avoid public speaking was not compatible with promotion. So, I got some training to learn the fundamentals of how to deliver a good speech and started looking for opportunities to put the training into practice.
The trick was to start small. For example, speaking up in meetings or volunteering to do a short presentation to my team was much easier than doing a full-blown presentation to the board or speaking at a conference.
Now, I regularly talk to audiences who want to learn about introverted leadership and how to harness the talents of introverted employees.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Being an introvert means I need plenty of quiet time alone to recharge my battery – if I’m around people, noise or any sort of external stimulation for too long, I feel exhausted and am unable to perform at my best.
Finding enough peace and quiet to do my best work and get sufficient rest can be challenging – back-to-back meetings, interruptions and being required to attend noisy events full of people all take their toll.
Now I’m self-employed, and it’s a lot easier to be in control of my own time and manage my energy. When I was office-based, the strategies that helped me included blocking quiet, focused time in my diary and fiercely protecting it from anyone who wanted to fill it with meetings. I also made sure that on days when back-to-back meetings were necessary, I would do something solitary and rejuvenating in the evening to quickly restore my energy, like reading a novel with a glass of wine or going for a swim.
What are some things you have on the horizon for building or challenging your confidence?
I never stop challenging myself! Some people would find it exhausting to always be on the lookout for the next way to stretch themselves, but I find it exhilarating. Stretching our comfort zone is how personal and professional development happens.
My current challenges include continuing to hone my public speaking skills. I like to set the bar high so I’m aiming to get as good as a TED talker! Even if I only manage to be half as good, it will still be an amazing achievement considering where I started.
I’m also keen to get better at speaking up when put on the spot, for example when someone asks a question at a conference. Introverts find it difficult to think on their feet – we prefer time to reflect before we have to articulate our thoughts but that’s not always possible. Attending my local Toastmasters group is helping with that.
Running my own business often takes me out of my comfort zone. The next thing I would like to get comfortable with is video – speaking to the camera so I can share tips with my followers on LinkedIn. So far I haven’t managed it but I know it won’t be long before I “feel the fear and do it anyway”!
What would your advice be to people reading who want to be more #UPFRONT?
Feel the fear and do it anyway! Fear was a useful emotion when we were hunter-gatherers who needed to stay alert and be ready to run away from wild animals at a moment’s notice. It’s less useful now but unfortunately, our brains are yet to catch up and continue to kick into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode whenever anything seems threatening.
Some people are able to force themselves past the fear. Others need some support to do so. If you are one of the latter my advice is to ask for help.
It could be buddying up with a friend or colleague for mutual encouragement and support, getting some formal training or working with a coach who can support your development. What you definitely should NOT do is allow the fear to stop you doing whatever it is that you want to do.
Why do you think organisations like #UPFRONT are important?
The thing I most appreciate about #UPFRONT is it helps people take small steps towards finding the confidence to speak on stage. Enabling people to sit upfront on a couch and experience the feeling of being on stage without the pressure to speak is a great idea.
There is absolutely no point in throwing yourself in at the deep end if it is going to terrify you and end up putting you off for life. As a small child supposedly being taught to swim, I was literally thrown in the deep end of the pool by the instructor (it was the 1970s!). For decades I refused to go anywhere near the water until at the age of 30 I had finally had enough of missing out on going into the sea on holidays and started adult swimming lessons.
Taking small steps to gradually build up confidence is a more effective way to achieve challenging goals.
Thank you Emma for sharing your story with us at #UPFRONT. You can learn more about her and the work she does by visiting her website. If you’re a new or aspiring introverted leader who wants to excel in their career, you can also download her Introverted Leader Strengths Assessment that helps you discover your strengths and where you can improve.