One of the biggest problems shy people have is with their ability to communicate clearly and confidently. But there are simple things you can do to quickly speak better.
I remember days where I would wake up and commit to making a lasting change in my life. The day ahead of me teemed with possibility and promise. I promised myself that I would be more expressive in class and finally talk to that girl.
Have you ever had a burst of confident hope like this? I’m sure you have.
But then what happens? You get to your class, or your work, or wherever and find that nothing has changed! You hear people having conversations all around you but you’re the same old quiet you.
And if you actually do speak up the conversation seems to stop for a moment as everyone looks at you and then everyone goes back to talking amongst themselves!
This is extremely common with shy people.
Fortunately there are easy ways to join conversations in a way where you will be heard and you won’t be ignored. First make sure that you:
#1. Use Eye Contact
Yes I know it can be hard at first. When I started my journey from hopelessly shy guy to the man I am today this was something I had enormous trouble with.
But here’s the thing: people trust and feel more positive towards those who maintain eye contact than those who don’t. Ten seconds of eye contact establishes a rapport and connection between you and the person you’re talking to in a way that three hours of conversation couldn’t.
Of course that doesn’t mean that you stare at people like a creep. Try practicing with low-pressure social situations first. Next time you’re at the grocery store and you walk up to the cashier look him or her in the eye when you’re speaking to them. And before you walk away thank them while maintaining eye contact.
The reason most people have trouble with eye contact is because their mind tells them that other people don’t want to make eye contact with them. This is ridiculous. Studies have shown that eye contact creates rapport between two conversation partners regardless of who they are.
The belief that you are somehow an outlier and unworthy of eye contact needs to be challenged:
#2. Be Aware Of And Silence Your Inner Critic
Everyone has that little voice of doubt in the back of their heads. It’s that voice that whispers that you’re not good enough. That your friends don’t like you as much as you thought they did. That you’re just bothering others when you try to talk to them.
With most people this voice comes and goes and is never really that strong. But with shy people the voice provides a constant little speech throughout the day. It narrates your life and tricks you into thinking that what it is saying is actually the truth.
You need to be aware that this voice is not reality and that it can be ignored.
The first step to accomplishing this is to notice the voice. Fortunately now that you have read this article you’ll find yourself noticing the voice everywhere you go. It’s always there trying to be negative and poison every interaction you have.
The second step to combating the voice is to silence it. Here’s the thing about our world: if people don’t like you they won’t put up with you. If they’re willing to hang out with you or stop what they’re doing to have a conversation with you it means that they’re interested in what you’re saying and they enjoy speaking with you.
So tell that voice to go shove it.
#3. Use a deeper voice
Thanks to our evolutionary ancestry we are more inclined to trust and listen to people with deeper voices.
If you pay attention to how your voice works you’ll find that you can easily bring it down a little while retaining your natural cadence and still sounding natural.
You’ll find speaking with a deeper voice will capture, and keep, people’s attention.
But don’t force your voice down too low! You don’t want to sound like you’re using a fake voice.
Most people when they breath use a technique called “shallow breathing”. It’s when they bring in just enough oxygen to keep themselves going. If you notice your chest rising and falling with your breath then you’re probably shallow breathing.
Shy people are more likely to engage in shallow breathing because social anxiety and nervousness increase the bodies need for oxygen since it thinks it’s under some sort of threat. You’ve felt your heart pumping when talking to that cute girl right? Well your heart is frantically pumping blood filled with oxygen to every part of your body and it is trying to bring in more oxygen using rapid shallow breathing.
The bad thing about shallow breathing is that it can result in the tightening of vocal cords which makes it more difficult for you to speak clearly.
Instead of shallow breathing use a technique called “deep breathing”. This is when you bring in the maximum amount of oxygen into your body, relax your vocal cords, and become calmer. Here’s how to do it:
- Inhale air slowly and deeply through your nose for ten seconds. As you inhale you should see your abdomen area rising (rather than your chest area as is the case with shallow breathing, you’ll need to practice at first).
- Exhale through your mouth for ten seconds. Your abdomen should fall.
If you practice this technique in private you will soon be able to do it in public without interrupting your conversations.
#5. Don’t Try To Fill Pauses
Pay attention to your speech next time you’re speaking with a friend. Do you fill in little pauses or breaks in your sentences with fillers such as “umm” or “like” or “you know”?
If you do then stop that. People who use a lot of silence “fillers” are seen as less intelligent and less confident by people.
Silence is one of your best friends when it comes to conversations. Silence can be used to underline the important bits of what you’re saying. Having a bit of silence while you’re considering your next sentence or your next word is okay.
A lot of people think that shy people don’t want to talk. That they don’t like having conversations.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
When I was extremely shy I still loved to have conversations about deep topics. But I just couldn’t work up the courage to have those conversations!
But people are extremely quick at judging quiet people. Labels are quickly generated and beliefs that you’re just not interested in talking stick to you.
This is why smiling is so important. Even if you’re usually quiet, smiling and being positive during the times when you do have conversations will make people less likely to label you as “anti-social” and they will be more likely to continue reaching out to you because interacting with you is pleasant.
#7. Use Power Postures
The way that you stand or sit has an effect on how you feel. If you cross your arms protectively and slouch then your anxiety will increase. However if you stand tall with your legs spread, your head high, and your shoulders straight you’ll experience a reduction in anxiety and an increase in confidence.
This has been proven in a series of clinical tries by Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy and her colleagues (see citations at the end of this article). They found that emotion can be controlled directly by the poses you make.
If you sit in a chair with your hands behind your head and your legs up on the table you’re going to feel more confident (and appear more confident) than if you sat scrunched up and huddled in the chair with your legs crossed.
There is an interesting TED Talk about power poses and the effects that they have on our minds. Check it out:
If you use the tips described in this article you will soon find yourself speaking more confidently. You’ll capture and keep people’s attention better. And you’ll find that people will be a lot more “into” what you’re saying.
Of course shyness isn’t something you conquer in a day. But by using the advice in this article and practicing daily you’ll soon find that the quantity and quality of your conversations and social interactions will increase.
Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carney. “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-027, September 2012.