Thursday, March 14, 2013

Five big myths about introverts and public speaking

I'll never forget the time I went to see another speaker coach talk about her work. In the Q-and-A, an audience member asked what sounded to me like a perfectly reasonable question: "What do you do when you're training introverts to be better public speakers?"

She answered right away: "If you're an introvert, I can't do anything to help you. Next question?"

There were gasps around the room at that response--and I hope that at least some of the listeners knew that that speaker coach was spreading around one of the big myths about introverts and public speaking. Here are the ones I hear most often, from extroverts and from introverts themselves:
  1. Introverts can't learn public speaking and presenting. One of the biggest myths of all in public speaking is that some people are "natural" or "born" speakers and that the rest can't learn. In reality, everyone who wishes to be a speaker needs to learn and practice the skill. Introversion isn't linked to speaking ability, although introverts process information differently than do extroverts. Introverts also need to prepare and plan their speeches and presentations in ways that support their orientation.
  2. Introverts are shy about speaking. Shyness and introversion are two different things, so you can be a shy introvert or a shy extrovert, or an introvert who's comfortable being in social situations. Shyness--a fear of embarrassment--may apply to your speaking no matter who you are, or not. We're a world of infinite variety, see.
  3. Introverts are afraid to speak. So are you, baby. So are you. Since fear of public speaking is generally considered to be among the most common fears, it's tough to pin it only to a group that represents 25 percent of the population. Plenty of introverts know how to stretch to put themselves out there for a speaking gig, and their fears, if any, are a separate issue from this personality preference.
  4. Introverts are tongue-tied. In my experience, introverts choose their timing when they speak, and choose it with care. Extroverts "think out loud" as they speak, and introverts tend to think first, talk later. But that has nothing to do with being tongue-tied, just judicious. Some might say that, by planning ahead what they wish to say, introverts are less likely to stumble when the time comes to say it.
  5. Introverts will always turn down public speaking invitations. Some of the most frequent speakers I know are introverts, and even in what might seem like high-pressure moments, I've seen introverts volunteer to come up in front of a workshop's attendees to try out a new skill--although that's not typical. They won't be elbowing you out of the way, perhaps, but that doesn't mean introverts aren't eager and willing to speak.
Don't just take it from me--I type as an extrovert, but very low on the scale (sometimes called ambivert), so I can and do have both extroverted and introverted moments. For those of you who have met me in person and are thinking right now, "Heck, I don't believe that, she's super-extroverted," I will simply say that I am a great demonstration of what training and practice can do for public speakers with an introverted streak. I still get my energy from being around people, like most extroverts, but I equally value my alone time.

For more direct insight, read this thoughtful piece on Caring for Your Introvert, from a full-on introvert. I've trained plenty of introverted speakers and enjoy doing it. Introverted speakers are a frequent topic on my public speaking blog, The Eloquent Woman, where you can find these five books for introverted speakers as a starting point. Can I help you show up these myths about introverted speakers with training that will help you play to your strengths? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for information about workshops or speaker coaching.

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