Writing and Speaking for Introverts
Greetings, fellow introverts.
(Is that not you? Then you can safely skip this post. Everyone else, keep reading.)
At every meetup I host, and most of the events I’m invited to speak at, I always mention that I’m a natural introvert. I know that there are likely many other shy, quiet, or introverted people in the room, and I want to make them feel welcome. Inevitably at least one of them will come up to me later and say, “Hey, that’s me too! How do you do this?”
In this post I’ll share a few thoughts and strategies on how being an introvert needn’t stop you from sharing parts of your life with others online, speaking and hosting meetups, or even creating a new career. You’re not alone, and you too can do this.
First, What Is an Introvert?
Introversion has very little to do with being shy. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert depends largely on how you derive your energy. If you feel energized by being around people, chances are you’re more extroverted. If you feel energized by spending time alone, it’s likely you’re more introverted.
Also, most of us aren’t completely introverted or completely extroverted. There is a wide range of patterns and personalities, and plenty of people can go back and forth depending on the setting.
I’ve always been much more on the introverted scale. The trip I recently took to Malaysia was a good reminder of my early days of travel. This time I was gone for ten days and had no meetings or meetups the entire time. Ten days alone! Aside from emails and online work, and aside from the people I interacted with while staying in various places, I was completely on my own.
Being more introverted doesn’t mean that you’re a misanthrope or simply don’t enjoy being around others. It just means that you need to make sure to plan for recovery time, and if you find yourself filling the schedule with meetings and gatherings, you might struggle.
How I Learned to Be More Open
I don’t think most people change their basic personality in regards to introversion or extroversion. You can, however, learn or adapt to different skills that will help you in life… without changing who you fundamentally are.
Here are a few things that have helped me in the past five years of sharing my work with a global audience.
Lesson #1: Most people are good
The biggest concern some people have about sharing work online is that other people will say bad things. This is possible—some people may indeed say bad things. However, most of them won’t. Most people will say good things, because most people are good.
When I started sharing my journey, initially through this blog and later through in-person events, I was amazed at all the interesting people who came along. Very quickly, some of these people went from strangers to virtual (and then real-life) friends. I realized that getting to know them, and helping them however I could, was a highly positive thing.
Lesson #2: Further, most people are on your side
The best speaking advice I ever received was: be passionate. Caring about what you have to say will go a lot further than mastering all the technical nuances of giving a good talk.
Of course, you shouldn’t try to manufacture passion. It’s much better to speak or write about something of which you’re already passionate. See Colleen’s note on how to be a motivational speaker.
The second best speaking advice I ever received was: remember that the audience is on your side. The audience wants you to succeed—that’s why they’re there! Unless you’re a politician, you’re probably speaking to a friendly crowd.
This lesson applies to writing as well—if people read something you write, most of them want to like it and are inclined to be your supporters. Otherwise, why would they read?
Lesson #3: You can do things your own way
Learning to survive in an extrovert-oriented world doesn’t mean you need to change everything. In some cases, other people can change to accommodate you.
I hate phone calls and try to make as few as possible. In many cases, I find phone calls draining and distracting from other work. I understand that sometimes the phone is the most efficient way to communicate, so I do make exceptions—but generally if someone asks for a call, I ask them to email their question or request. It’s just much easier for me.
Another common concern of introverts is that sharing too much will be harmful or otherwise unhealthy. But remember, you are the one who chooses which aspects of your life to share. You choose what should remain private and what is for public knowledge.
A good principle is: whatever you choose to share, be fully transparent about it. But you don’t have to choose to share everything.
When writing online, a blog is not a democracy. You don’t have to give the comments section of your blog over to anyone else. You don’t even have to have a comments section, for that matter.
Lesson #4: Practice makes perfect
It sounds simple, but it’s true: the more you do something, the better you get at it. Challenging yourself is good, and experience produces confidence.
Much of the time I’m still nervous before a speaking event, but I still get out and do it. Once in a while I’m wary of taking risks, but I know I won’t grow without stretching myself.
It’s not only experience, it’s also the fact that most of the time, everything goes well. You go to an event and meet an interesting person. You do a decent job giving a talk. You realize that there’s nothing to fear, or at least nothing terrible.
If you’ve always felt more introverted and are worried about jumping in somewhere, fret not. There’s nothing wrong with you. Chances are, you have something to offer the world, and you shouldn’t let your personality hold you back.
Question: are you more introverted or extroverted? What have you learned about how this affects your work and relationships?
Let us know in the comments.
(Don’t be shy…)
*Hat tip and shoutout to my friend Susan Cain, who is leading the worldwide introvert revolution. Check out Susan’s interview with Jonathan Fields at WDS 2012.
Image: Captain Die