Creative Commons License photo credit: she always was the softest thing

Lisa Petrelli understands building on the strengths of introversion, and she also understands networking. She used her own introversion as the foundation for a successful run to the CEO’s chair and authored The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership. Rather than viewing introversion as a barrier to networking, she found ways to leverage it.

She gives good advice in An Introvert’s Guide to Networking, and I want to give a little tweak to that advice for speakers.

Among her excellent advice is this:

Generally speaking, business events — and particularly networking events that require engaging with groups — are demanding for introverts. An antidote to this, I learned, is to seek out conversations with one individual at a time. When I approach events this way I have more productive conversations and form better business relationships — and I’m less drained by the experience.

I think she’s right about networking events. This is a good place to distinguish between how we use introversion/extroversion in everyday language and how psychologists use the term. Introverted doesn’t mean “shy.” It means someone who gets their energy recharged by being alone with their thoughts, and who prefers to form their thoughts before speaking. Extroverts recharge by getting around other people, and form their thoughts by speaking.

Introverts might conclude from this advice that speaking professionally isn’t a good idea. It seems antithetical to “one individual at a time” and having challenges engaging with groups.

But my experience has been that some of the best speakers are introverted. They (and I, since I’m an introvert myself) are more comfortable on stage presenting a conversation they’ve planned for. The most nerve-wracking part of such events for us introverts is the socializing before and after the speech.

So in addition to Petrelli’s advice (did I mention I think it’s excellent?), I would make these suggestions for introverts who are considering speaking for whatever reason:

  1. Go ahead and do it! Introverts experience no more stage fright than do extroverts. In fact, once we get past the stage that is really fear of the unknown, we probably experience less stage fright (although extroverts may be better at channeling the adrenaline into delivery).
  2. Take advantage of your introversion to strengthen your speaking. Introverts draw their energy from solitude and the inner world of ideas. Use that to form your ideas into expression and test the expression solidly. You’ll take confidence in your preparation, and your audiences will benefit.
  3. Don’t skip the socializing before and after your speech. Those times are really as much a part of your presentation as the stage time. Connect with audience members to help them relate to you and therefore remember your ideas. Have one conversation at a time, though–Petrelli’s networking advice comes into play strongly in this situation as well. Your conversations may be brief, but make each one significant.
  4. Get some alone time before and after the event. Introverts can be as social and outgoing as anyone else, but will be exhausted by it. Don’t ignore the audience before or after the event, of course, but carve out a half hour, if you can, to gather your thoughts before joining them, and be sure to allow wind-down time after you’ve shaken that last hand.
  5. The solitude that comes with travel and being alone in a hotel room challenges extroverts. Introverted speakers can thrive under these conditions. It’s part of the speaking career anyway–put it to work for you.

Everyone can build on whatever strengths they have without having to try to change their basic nature. Introverts have some tremendous advantages as speakers. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to make use of those advantages.

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