Some of the world's best public speakers would consider themselves to be introverts. Yet, one of the things I've noticed over the years, is that people are often too quick to connect where they fit on the Extroversion-Introversion (E/I) scale with their ability to communicate.
A harmful assumption is made; one that says public speaking is a medium best suited for extroverts and those that have the 'gift of the gab.' It couldn't be further from the truth.
To those for whom this assumption resonates, I'm glad you don't have the gift of the gab... there are too many speaking on big stages that do. Confident in their demeanour, wasteful with their words. It was the frustration of sitting at thought leadership conferences watching those who speak well but lack substance that resulted in me becoming a public speaking coach.
At the heart of this is a misconception and that is where this article is going to start.
What is the difference between introversion and extroversion?
Too many people mistake being introverted with not being 'sociable' which is closer to shyness - something very few people openly admit to being. Shyness is a fear of social judgement - something that is rife amongst introverts and extroverts when they present.
Imagine you're giving a presentation and you read your audience's neutral expression as one of disapproval, then mistake a neutral expression for one of disapproval mid-presentation then might you have a degree of shyness (welcome to the club!)
Where you fit on the extroversion-introversion scale is down to how your brain reacts to outside stimuli. An introvert's brain reacts much more to stimuli than an extrovert's. This means that if an introvert enters a high stimulation environment (e.g. a party full of their favourite people), after a while their nervous systems are sent into overdrive which results in them feeling drained. This happens regardless of whether or not they want to be there/how much they are enjoying themselves.
Similarly, if an extrovert enters a low stimulation environment, they are more prone to boredom and become sluggish and twitchy because their nervous systems are craving more stimulation. That's not to say that extroverts don't welcome some quiet time.
The point is, public speaking is for everyone and the quiet leadership movement is building.
Why should introverts consider stepping into thought leadership?
TLDR because they are needed...
Too often there is a disconnect between what a presenter talks about and what the audience wants to hear. The result? Frustrated audiences that would rather be listening to someone else.
Generally speaking, introverts are incredibly empathetic and their ability to connect with their audiences on a deeper level is a superpower. Not only that, it's a skill that is highly sought after in the events industry; now so more than ever. The conferences that will thrive post-pandemic are the ones that can find the speakers who have put real thought into the messages that they share on stage.
I should also note at this point that energy is equally important. Highly energetic, passionate presenting is great; sometimes. Conference curators don't want all their speakers to bounce off the walls with excitement, which should be good news for those of you who are worried that to become a thought leader you need to become someone you're not.
The introverts that have successfully made the transition from Founder to Thought Leader are the ones who have worked out how to harness what they've already got so that presenting isn't something that saps the life and energy from their soul. Done right - it becomes a point of differentiation and that means amongst a day's programme of 20 speakers - your message is more likely to be remembered. Very satisfying!
3 questions to help introverts foster a thought leadership mindset
Regardless of where on the spectrum you believe your communication style falls, to give yourself the best chance of nailing any presentation, there are three things you need clarity on before you start.
So if you're thinking about stepping into the world of thought leadership, asking yourself the following 3 questions would be time well spent (we spend two weeks distilling these three questions into 3 sentences on my programme).
1. What do I want to stand for as a leader?*
2. What is the change I am trying to achieve?
3. What makes my perspective on this subject unique?
The reason these questions are so important is because done right, thought leadership is not about stroking your ego (something that is very easy to forget with all the self-promotion we see on social media platforms these days). If you're going to step on a stage, you've got to make it count.
Keeping these questions front of mind will keep you grounded. And they'll help you make the right decisions for your thought leadership journey... what stages you're happy to speak on, who you want to speak to, how you're going to use the talk recording when it is published online etc.
In short, thought leadership is an opportunity to serve. Even in a world of deafening noise, some of today's most impactful leaders would consider themselves to be introverts; Jacinda Arden, Marcus Rashford, Alicia Garza, Greta Thunberg, Elon Musk to name a few. They're proving that you don't need to speak the loudest to be heard. We need more of that.
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