Why introverts can often make the most compelling public speakers

woman public speaking
Public speaking is more about connecting with the audience than putting on a performance.

  • Neil Gordon is a communication consultant who helps thought leaders improve their speaking skills.
  • While many speakers emphasize theatrics, Gordon says introverts can deliver equally effective speeches.
  • What makes a good speech isn’t a big personality – it’s the power to enact change in the audience.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I once listened to a podcast where the guest was said to be an expert on public speaking

“What is the single most important thing for being an amazing public speaker?” the host asked.

“Theatricality,” the guest expert said.

The guest then elaborated on how important it was to use dramatization to convey the emotional richness of what is being said on stage.

I was driving in my car when I was listening to this conversation, and as I made a left turn onto a busy city street I was struck by how adamant and confident the guest was in her answer.

But I was struck by something else as well.

This public speaking expert was wrong.

Dead wrong.

Yes, theatricality is indeed a valuable tool in one’s speaking.

I’m fond of being particularly theatrical in my own speaking, don’t get me wrong. My childhood love of Monty Python means that I’ll look for any excuse to do my terrible impression of a British accent.

But theatricality is not the most important thing.

And it’s not even necessary.

You’ll notice that, like that speaking expert, I too am being adamant and confident in my position.

But my fervor stems from the heartbreak I feel when I have conversations with those who are considering becoming public speakers but resist the possibility – because they’re introverts.

Indeed, there are many folks who see the value in putting themselves out there as speakers because of the trust and authority it’s possible to earn from giving a compelling presentation.

Speaking leads to many rewards, like the opportunity to spread the word about their expertise, and even more tangible outcomes like clients.

But they hold back from doing anything about it because they don’t think they belong on stage.

They hear someone say “theatricality” and rule themselves out because, well, they’re introverts.

The introvert’s public speaking dilemma

It’s understandable why an introvert might be reluctant to put themselves on stage. They see loud, larger-than-life speakers show up on big stages in front of thousands of people and compare themselves unfavorably.

Why would anyone want to listen to me when that guy over there is so warm and boisterous? they might ask themselves.

And when they hear of how important theatricality is, they’re pretty sure speaking is a non-starter for them.

I’ve known so many introverts who come up with some of the most brilliant insights when they’re left in the solitude they crave. These are the kinds of insights that would be a slam-dunk when matched with the gravity and authority that comes from delivering those insights to hundreds or thousands of people at a time.

I’ve had discovery calls with folks who were considering delving into the act of speaking, but are apprehensive because they’re introverts and don’t think they have the personality for it.

One particular call comes to mind, in that I spoke with a lovely man who as about as mild-mannered as anyone I’d encountered in my line of work.

He had an upcoming presentation to give at a trade conference for his industry: agricultural efficiency. It is such a niche field that it was one of the only conferences in town. But if it went well, he would not only attract some clients but would be able to better position his company as an authority in the industry.

But based on the apprehension he stated in the call, and the shy and subdued way he said it, I knew that getting up and speaking in front of others wasn’t at the top of the list of things he wanted to do in life.

Being an introvert, he was confronted with the possibility that his was not a personality suited to the task.

The larger myth among public speaking experts

This is only conjecture, of course, but I imagine if the gentleman in agricultural efficiency had instead taken advice from someone who valued theatricality above all else, he either would have shied away from even working on his presentation or, in an effort to be more theatrical, he would have looked a bit like Ben Stein from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” trying to do Shakespeare.

At least, that’s what I’ve seen happen with other introverts when they’re told to embrace bolder presentation styles.

There are numerous public speaking experts out there who agree with the person I heard on that podcast who said that theatricality is the most important quality for a speaker. Still there are others who are quite evangelical about making the speaker’s personal story their most central and therefore most important asset. Others state how it’s all about one’s presence on stage or even how much they directly engage with the audience with interactive experiences.

But once again, these assumptions are wrong.

There is a larger theme in these ideas, which is the common flaw. Those who tout these directives of basing a talk on how theatrical the speaker is, how poignant their personal story is, or how much interaction they build into their presentation are all perpetuating the idea that the speech someone gives is only as successful as the speaker’s ability to give it.

But when my mild-mannered prospective client became my actual client, we put together a presentation that he gave at the conference. As a result, several highly qualified leads asked him to come visit them about providing his company’s services.

The reason they invited him out to pitch his services wasn’t because of his theatricality, his personal story, or any sort of interactive tools.

It was because of something else.

A speaker’s most important asset

The talk we put together for my agriculture client did indeed have stories. But it also had the types of things that many speakers and experts rail against. It had charts. It had bullet points on slides instead of just pictures.

It also had a central, key takeaway that could be summed up in as little as a sentence. He was able to boil the entire presentation down to a single, light bulb moment that helped the audience to have a collective epiphany – to understand how to solve their problems with agricultural efficiency in a way that didn’t seem possible twenty minutes earlier.

But still, not a single one of these ingredients is absolutely critical to the kind of speech that will make someone a successful public speaker – and it’s a big deal that I’m saying that, as I’m quite passionate about the value of a central takeaway.

Ultimately, the reason he got such warm leads from his presentation wasn’t because of the qualities he possessed as a speaker or the specific ingredients that he featured.

It was because of how empowered his audience to make positive change in relation to the problems they were facing.

In their world of agriculture and farming, they were struggling with rising costs of resources. They had to navigate what was often a complicated subsidization model with the government. They had to negotiate the increased demand for an organic classification but an expectation from the marketplace to pay similar prices to that of conventional produce.

The reason why those folks came up to him was because they believed my client could solve those problems.

It turns out that a public speaker’s most important asset isn’t their theatricality, their story, or how extroverted and boisterous they are.

It’s their capacity to help their audience to believe that change is possible.

Our return to how things once were

A number of my speaker clients have reported back that they’re doing very good (and even well-paid) work presenting virtually as we work our way through the pandemic.

There are even some folks who are once again getting invited into hybrid models of presenting wherein they’re flown to another city and are presenting to a few people live but primarily are presenting to virtual audiences as well.

But as vaccinations and herd immunity become more of a reality in the coming months, there will be a rush of activity for people to re-position themselves in an industry that has otherwise been devastated.

This means that never has it been more important to get clear on the value you can deliver, and value doesn’t come from being the most boisterous, extroverted speaker out there.

Value comes from getting clear on how your expertise can empower others to live a better life than they have since this calamity began and beyond.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re theatrical, subdued, aggressive, or heartfelt – as long as the audience member is compelled to take positive and meaningful action in response.

The value of our speech isn’t based on what we say on stage, but rather what our audience does once we’re done saying it.

Introverts will make the best speakers not when they change their personalities but when they take the insights that have grown from a lifetime of productive solitude and show their audience how these ideas can help them to live a better life.

They merely need to convince their audiences that getting from point A to point B is possible.

A speaker in crisis

A handful of years ago, I was volunteering at a children’s hospital for a program that gifts books to children and reads to them bedside. The director of the program came into our main reading room all flustered because she had a 10-minute presentation to give later that day. I understood why she was in distress; she had previously described to me how glazed over people usually looked when she presented on the program.

Plus, she was an introvert. She wanted to be there as little as her audiences did.

I took her aside and asked her if she wanted some help. She said yes.

We then spoke for only two minutes, simply rearranging a few elements of what she usually said.

When I saw her later that day and asked her how it went, she told me that, upon her starting her talk, it was so deathly quiet that, yes, you could hear the pin drop. She then described how, at the end of the presentation, while people usually just politely clapped, this time they lined up with business cards and even invited her to apply for a grant.

My supervisor didn’t become an extrovert in two minutes. And she didn’t suddenly become theatrical, either. By rearranging her talk we simply took the audience from the painful thought of children staying at a hospital to the possibility of these kids feeling minimally feeling better because of books being incorporated into their hospital stay.

And when the audience saw this change as possible, they rushed to the director with interest.

So I call on you to put aside commonly held beliefs about what it takes to be an effective speaker. It’s not theatricality, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert.

It’s showing your commitment to your audience’s ability to change and doing everything you can to show them that such a transformation is possible.

Read the original article on Business Insider

If your successes often go unnoticed at work, here are 3 ways to speak up and get credit, according to an HR expert

woman wfh working laptop coffee sad lonely stressed
Introverts often have a harder time making their work successes known.

  • Beki Fraser, CPC, PCC is a business and leadership coach and HR expert.
  • If you usually work on your own and find your accomplishments ignored by colleages, Fraser says you may be an ‘introverted skeptic.’
  • It’s important for introverted skeptics to give their work a voice by engaging with coworkers more often and soliciting to feedback.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

In my 20-plus years as a leadership coach and a human resources leader at a variety of companies, I have coached hundreds of people who are introverted skeptics, the hybrid personality type that can be both an obstacle and an asset in the workplace.

Beki Fraser.
Author Beki Fraser.

As introverts, these individuals prefer quiet to concentrate, are reflective and comfortable being alone, don’t enjoy group work, take their time making decisions, and feel drained after being in a crowd. As skeptics, they don’t accept information at face value. They question and challenge, value evidence and proof, and seek out problems to be solved and work to fix them. 

Introverted skeptics tend to care deeply about the work they do and deliver thoughtful, well-reasoned solutions. They are often creative and have strong problem-solving skills including the ability to view an issue through multiple perspectives, connect dots, and identify opportunities, risks, and insights that others miss.

Challenges facing introverted skeptics

If you are an introverted skeptic, you may find yourself struggling because you don’t willingly engage collaborators or seek colleagues’ input – which may adversely affect the quality of your work or other peoples’ perception of it. You may be under-appreciated and overlooked because you don’t share your work and get support for your ideas as you go along. You may also become frustrated when people don’t embrace your solutions and recommendations – which were carefully constructed, but may seem to have come out of left field when they are finally unveiled to your stakeholders.

I often hear introverted skeptics express their frustration like this: “I’m not viewed as a strong contributor, because I’m labeled as negative or don’t speak enough in meetings. Of course, I don’t speak. No one is listening. I do great work and spend a lot of time doing things right, but I don’t get credit for the extras I contribute. Meanwhile, people who brag about lesser work and constantly kiss up get the promotions.” 

As an introverted skeptic, you tend to toil in solitude, immerse yourself in the challenge at hand, and build a solution block by block. It’s likely you find this type of work exhilarating and working collectively to be tiring – so you may hesitate to present updates or seek feedback until you’ve addressed every last issue and question. Like many of us, you’re inclined to spend more time on the tasks you love and less on the stuff that’s unpleasant.

Professional success, however, often requires the steps you tend to avoid when it comes to showing your work and lauding your own efforts

In coaching sessions, introverted skeptics often identify their communication style as an underlying cause of challenges on the job. The good news is there are three simple, repeatable steps that will help you properly show your work and thrive professionally. 

1. Engage stakeholders

With each new undertaking, determine who may ultimately be affected by the work you’re doing, who will have meaningful insights or points of view, and whose approval or help is required. Determine which relationships need to be managed – up, down, and sideways.

Commit to providing regular updates – even when there’s not much to report. This will keep your work top-of-mind among stakeholders, make them part of the project, and build understanding and buy-in.

2. Give your work a voice

Before you start work, share what you’re thinking and your proposed plan of action. This can be a simple email to those directly affected or, for large or complex projects, might warrant a group call or a presentation to your organization’s leadership. Ask for input regarding your approach, timing, and other considerations.

The bottom line is this: Your work doesn’t have a voice. It relies on you to share its value. Think of it like an uninterpreted data set that needs to be organized into a story to be understood and appreciated. When you keep that story to yourself, no one sees the value you create and your work won’t achieve its full potential. 

3. Listen with an open mind

Be sincere when you ask for and evaluate input. Don’t let your skepticism close your mind and learn to value different perspectives. Incorporating good ideas, and even so-so ones, into your work will give your colleagues a stake in the project and ultimately improve the final product.

On the other hand, work completed in isolation, even great work, will have less impact and do less to bolster your reputation. Share your work, share the results, learn lessons from the process, and share those, too.

With these simple steps, you give people the opportunity to see what you’re doing, understand why you’re doing it, and help you succeed. Your work will be aligned with other efforts and the organization’s overall strategy – so it can have more impact. Showing your work will showcase your initiative and talent, grow your reputation as a collaborative team player, and increase appreciation for your contributions.

Beki Fraser is a certified business and leadership coach who worked 15 years as an HR leader for a variety of companies. She holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management. Learn more on her website.

Read the original article on Business Insider