Why Labeling Yourself an “Introvert” is Holding You Back

I get it. You’ve taken the DISC, or the MBTI, or one of the other myriad leadership/communication/personality tests out there, and the word “Introvert” shows up in your results. You see it and think, “Right! That’s why (public speaking, networking, fill-in-the-blank) is hard for me!”

In some ways it feels validating: we’re all told we’re supposed to be good at those things, so if we’re not naturally good at or comfortable with them, it’s a relief to have a simple answer as to why: “I’m an introvert.” What a relief!

But if you feel like you’re not achieving your maximum potential for influence and achievement, I want to suggest that you completely eliminate the phrase “I’m an introvert” from your vocabulary.

Why? Three key reasons:

First, because the simple word “am,” from the verb “to be,” references a status. An unchanging quality of existence. If you associate “being” an introvert with “bad at public speaking,” and you accept “being an introvert” as part of your inherent identity, then you are subconsciously accepting the notion that you cannot succeed at public speaking because you’re not wired for success.

(For that matter, check out this post on why introversion actually has nothing to do with skill at public speaking.)

The second and more important reason is that “introversion” is not a singular construct; it’s a constellation of factors, each of which deserve its own attention. If you’re looking to get ahead in your career and even in your personal life, success is going to be dependent upon looking about your individual behavioral preferences (which are associated with introversion) and figuring out how to develop those skill sets.

When you use point-blank, absolute statements of being (like “I’m an introvert”), there’s no room for discussion. It is what it is, end of story. But when you identify the specific factors, the world opens up because you suddenly become clear on what can change and how.

For example, if you feel like you don’t know how to network with confidence and get results, great! Because that’s a specific context, with a mindset and skillset you can work on developing in order to change your comfort level and the overall value of your experience.

Third, introversion and extroversion are not two sides of a coin; they’re on a continuum. While exact statistics may vary, studies show that only about 15% of the population are “extreme introverts,” 15% are “extreme extroverts,” and the remaining 70%(!) are somewhere in the middle. That’s a reeeally big middle!

At that point, most people display some characteristics of introversion and some characteristics of extroversion at different times and in different contexts, so using static, absolute labels of identity like “I am an introvert” are neither useful nor universally accurate.

Instead, try something like “I have more introverted tendencies, so I typically need time to think about things by myself before getting together to hash it out with the team.” It acknowledges your natural inclinations, connects them to the situation, and identifies behaviors and skills you need to be successful: ideally, you should take time to prep on your own. If you don’t always have that luxury due to deadline changes or a packed schedule, you may need to develop some strategies for thinking on the fly, participating proactively even if your ideas aren’t completely fleshed out yet, and letting your contributions shine under sub-optimal conditions.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dismissing qualities of introversion and extroversion or the role they play in social interactions. They do matter, and understanding their influence is incredibly important if you want to be able to work effectively with different kinds of people.

What I want you to do is reframe the issue so that you don’t subconsciously reinforce self-limiting beliefs and practices. Focus on a specific quality and figure out what the associated skills and behaviors are, then set related, attainable goals. Don’t let a label hold you back!

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Need help reframing your challenges to create attainable goals and become a more confident effective communicator? E-mail me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me, personally.

Can Introverts be Good Public Speakers?

I have coached all kind of people on public speaking, and there’s one common complaint I hear more than any other: “I’m not good at public speaking because I’m an introvert.”

Here and now, allow me to put that myth to rest: Being “an introvert” has nothing to do with being a good public speaker.

Making that connection is as erroneous as it is self-destructive. Let’s take a moment to do some myth busting about introverts and public speaking, and then share a few strategies that anyone – introverted or not – can use to speak with confidence in front of any audience.

First, the myth-busting. The concept of “being an introvert” is grossly misunderstood. Introversion (vs. extraversion) is a “preference,” (not a choice) meaning what kinds of situations give you energy, and which cost you energy. For example, if you feel more energized after a networking event you’re probably more extraverted; if you feel drained even though you genuinely enjoyed yourself, and need some “alone time” to recharge your batteries, you’re probably more introverted.

Of course there are many other characteristics of introverts as well, one clarification needs to be made: “Introversion” is not a more intellectual-sounding synonym for “shy.” They are not the same. Shy people inherently feel distress in certain public contexts. However, introverts and extraverts alike can feel the same kind of anxiety when giving a formal presentation or even when thinking about public speaking.

On the other hand, introverts can feel completely at home on stage, and extraverts can hate it! Just because your Myers-Briggs classification or DISC assessment labeled you as “an introvert,” don’t convince yourself that you are genetically programmed to hate or be bad at public speaking. That excuse no longer works!

Regardless of how you self-identify on the introvert-extravert continuum, here are some tips in order speak with confidence and authority.

First, you need a mindset shift. Stop sabotaging yourself with a bunch of worst-case-scenario questions: What if I mess up? What if I draw a blank? What if… Here’s the short version of my advice: STOP. Stop as soon as you catch yourself starting down the rabbit hole. All it will accomplish is to undermine your confidence.

Instead, shift your focus away from yourself and on to meeting the needs of your audience. As I mentioned in The Four-Word Secret to Confident Public Speaking, look at the experience from a generosity-driven perspective (e.g. “How can I give my audience the most valuable experience possible?”) rather than from an ego-driven perspective (e.g. “How do I look good?”)

Ask yourself: if you were in the audience, what information would you want to hear, and what kind of speaker would you want to deliver the information? Then be that speaker.

Second, rehearse the first two minutes. And not just once. The first two minutes are your on-ramp to the rest of the journey of your talk. If that on-ramp is smooth, the rest will flow much more easily and confidently.

Finally, remember that being relatable is more important than being perfect. Regardless of your official rank, talk to the audience as peers. Share stories or tell a well-timed (and appropriate) joke if you can nail the punch line. Smile when you say something positive and invite questions and comments from the audience. If you can’t answer one at the moment for whatever reason, tell them that as soon as the meeting is over you’ll find the answer and share it accordingly.

Each of these strategies will help you own the stage, whether it’s on a conference call or at a conference podium. And if you truly are an introvert, take all the alone-time you need to think through your introduction and presentation before you deliver it, and again after it’s done in order to reflect and recharge.

But whatever you do, remember that introverts can inherently be awesome public speakers too!

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Are you an introvert, shy, or otherwise have questions or comments about confident public speaking? E-mail me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me, personally.