Tips for Introverts to excel in a world that values interaction

To take what I am saying about introverts to the next level, I would suggest that in order for the work of an introvert to be fully appreciated and acted upon in a world that values interaction, there are times that introverts should act like extroverts.  In fact, that Susan Cain, in her book on introverts called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, includes a chapter titled: “When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?”  And, in fact, recent research does show that when introverts do push themselves to act like extraverts, they are glad they did.  So it is worth doing.

The question I will address is: how you do that?  If you are a true introvert, it isn’t easy to act like an extrovert.  But I have done it, so I will speak from my own experience of what has worked for me.  Readers (especially you introverts out there) please chime in with other suggestions.

The basic tool that helped me to be able to act more like an extrovert, even though I am not one, is preparation.  Because I feel more confident when I have thought out what I want to say, preparation becomes key for me.  I use it in situations ranging from telephone calls to meetings to presentations:  I may write out my talking points for a phone call, or a meeting.  Although I may never look at my notes again, I know I have them and I know I have thought about the issues and feel better prepared.  I know that if I get flustered, I can pull out my notes and buy some time to refresh my memory. I rarely need to do that, but just knowing I can is comforting.

Here are some more detail about how to use preparation helps me to act more like an extrovert specifically in a Market Research setting:

A. Presentations-If, like most introverts, you don’t like giving presentations, you are not alone.  The number one fear people have is public speaking, which is ranked before death.  But if you want your thoughtful, insightful work to be appreciated, then you need to learn to overcome that fear.  You don’t need to love giving presentations, just to be able to do a relatively good job.  So how do you overcome it?  You probably already know the answer but maybe this refresher will help:

  1. I’ve already said preparation- one of the best ways to feel good when going into a presentation is to be thoroughly prepared.
  2. Practice- there are two parts to practice –
  • one is your general presentation skills. The more you present the more comfortable you will feel presenting.  Taking a class or seminar on presentation skills is a great thing to do – I’ve taken both Dale Carnegie and American Management courses myself, but Toastmasters is much cheaper and has the advantage of not being for a limited time.  You can work on presentation skills in Toastmasters at your own pace.
  • The second is to practice each presentation.  You will feel more confident and do a better job if you practice.  If possible, practice in front of another person.  But even if you can’t practice in front of another real live person, taking the time to gather your thoughts and then say them out loud to yourself helps you come closer to approximating what an extrovert would do. I also use preparation to write out my thoughts on my hard copy slides and use it to prompt my thoughts if I get stuck.

B. Preparation can help with meetings.  Meetings occupy a particular place in hell for many introverts.  Not only does one have to spend lots of time with other people, you may be called upon to talk and you can end up clamming up. (It’s no surprise that research shows that introverts are more likely to be silent in meetings than extroverts.) Further, many meetings seem a waste of time, which makes us feel self righteous about not liking meetings and avoiding them  Plus of course, you can avoid being present mentally in a meeting by focusing on your smart phone or your computer.  But it is my contention that meetings are where the hard work of getting your insights appreciated happens.  It is where your point of power is, it is where the interaction happens.  So you need to make the most of meetings.  How can you prepare so you feel more comfortable talking?

  • Prepare by reading and rereading- there may be prereads for the meetings, if so, read them.  You may have reports that would be helpful – if you don’t know their contents intimately, reread them.
  • Prepare by thinking- you know the topic of the meeting and you have collected information on the topic, do some thinking before the meeting on the topic.  What speaks to you of everything you read? What are your conclusions?  If there were three things you wanted to ensure that the group took away from the meeting, what would they be?  What things would be great to learn in this meeting?
  • Prepare by talking- try to catch people in the hall and get their thoughts and share yours.  If you know what at least part of your audience is thinking, that will make you more comfortable sharing your thoughts. Or you may find your thoughts shifting as you talk to people.   The more you do this ahead of time, the more you will feel comfortable in the meeting.
  • Prepare by bringing materials- if there is a study that is particularly relevant, have a copy of the report with you. But if you didn’t bring it, or if there is something else you want to consult,…..
  • Allow yourself an out. It is ok to say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”  This takes some of the pressure off and then makes it more likely that you can set that aside and fully participate in a discussions other topics.  Otherwise, introverts like me will tend to clam up for the rest of the meeting, which doesn’t allow you to present yourself at your best.  But make sure you do get back to that person.

Don’t feel obligated to push yourself all the time.  Recognize that you need alone time to refresh so make time in your schedule for it. Don’t try to be an extrovert most of the time, pick your battles.  Susan Cain says to only act like an extravert when it is worth it to you, that it helps you to achieve a goal.    

Readers, other suggestions for tools you Introverts have used to act in a more extroverted way?

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8 responses to “Tips for Introverts to excel in a world that values interaction

  1. It’s important to note that the principal difference between true introverts and extroverts is the willingness to express an opinion (or any thought) without sufficient time to consider all the options. THe old saw is that if you ask an Introvert their opinion on an issue he or she will respons: “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it,” while the Extrovert witll respond: “I don’t know, I haven’t talked about it.” Introverts like to work things out in their minds before sharing their thoughts and Extroverts need to think out loud.

    The key, as Karen and others have pointed out, is to be prepared and be competant. I am a “Capital E” Extrovert, but I have a very introverted colleague who gives some of the best presentations I’ve seen because of his level of competence and in depth knowledge of the area. Introverts need to be prepared and extroverts don’t care! SPeaking as an Extrovert: Introverts make fewer mistakes, at least out loud!

  2. Hi Karen: Great stuff! I think, also, when it comes to ‘preparation’, if there is a shortage of time, one can simply mentally prepare by seeing oneself in action in one’s mind’s eye. One can write some things out – even by hand – perhaps notes regarding what you would like to say. Then just sort of meditate, if you will, and silently read what you have written – and see yourself verbally/orally making those points – in a meeting, as part of a presentation, etc.

    Your points about preparation are important for everyone – not just introverts! 🙂

  3. All of this is spot on. I will add that when I get most uncomfortable is when I get asked a question that I haven’t already thought through prior to getting asked. This goes to preparation to minimize the number of times this happens, but you can’t prepare for everything. Nobody likes it when someone is constantly hedging, but sometimes I need to do just that. I think market researchers do too much of this. When it does happen though, I am not afraid to start out by saying something like ‘haven’t thought through this completely, but here are my top of mind thoughts’. It makes me more comfortable in providing my input and if I’m wrong, I don’t lose as much credibility.

  4. Interesting topic Karen. I just thumbed through the Quiet book at the airport on my way to PMRG a week ago, and obviously it got my attention since I tend to be introverted myself. It noted that many of the best minds in history (Einstein, etc.) were introverts. Made me feel better about myself. 🙂

    At settings like conferences you notice when people are extroverts that they have no trouble jumping into and out of various conversations. Wish I had that sort of verbal confidence at times. I do tend to want to think more about my comments before I say them outloud, versus others whom I notice simply blurt out whatever they are thinking – as Mick noted. I’d guess that a lot of analytical people like myself are more comfortable not being the center of the room.

    The tips you outlined were spot-on: preparation and practice. I find that presenting is not a problem as long as I know my topic well (e.g., for research projects where I did the analysis).

    A former colleague who was constantly speaking and presenting once admitted being introverted, which perhaps you’d never guess from the outside. I know that this person practiced constantly and prepared to the Nth degree – which allowed them to develop into an excellent speaker and presenter.

    Personally, I try to push myself into situations where I need to present, and I also push myself to meet new people, reaching out and saying hello to strangers at meetings (e.g., PMRG, etc.). I think that speaking and presenting it is a skill you can learn regardless of your introvertedness, as you suggested by joining a speaking club, etc.

    Thinking about your topic, I found another blog (not even sure who this person is, but the points are valid nonetheless), with some good comments: “Top 10 Myths about Introverts”

    http://owlcityblog.com/2011/06/27/10-myths-about-introverts/

  5. Here’s a comment from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:
    “This is really interesting. My sister (an MD) is an extreme introvert and would so appreciate this.
    She is amazing talking to 500 people about medical procedures – funny, flip, in the moment, etc.
    In a conference room of 8, she is pained. As soon as she formulates the question she wants to ask or the point she wants to make, the group has passed through three other topics and she is SO frustrated. And the funny thing is that she is such a public figure – teacher, runs rounds of fellows, gives lectures around the world, interviews for jobs, etc. And one on one, she is good, particularly if she is teacher or the person is a patient. Fascinating topic to write about and one that is so relevant to our field.”

  6. I just finished the book finally, and I’d like to add one thing – she makes the point that an introvert should work to act like an extrovert only when they truly care about the topic. If not, they shouldn’t work to stretch – they should find something else to care about.

  7. Pingback: Introversion and Market Research | karenjtibbals·

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