Why introverts can be great public speakers - and why some extroverts are scared of public speaking!
People often assume that extroverts have an advantage in public speaking. Intuitively it sounds logical. Extroverts love the limelight while introverts shun it!
But my experience coaching people with public speaking anxiety, suggests something different. For a start, I don’t believe there is any clear relationship between personality type and public speaking confidence.
Only a small percentage of my clients are extreme introverts. And some are extroverts. They love to talk — until they have to get up in front of an audience! Chatty, bubbly people can become hugely self-conscious as soon as they have our full attention!
Similarly, I don’t believe there is a relationship between personality type and public speaking ability.
Tony Robbins is an outstanding speaker and an extrovert. Susan Cain, an introvert, who wrote Quiet — the power of the introvert in a world that won’t stop talking, has one of the most popular TED talks of all time — viewed over 25 million times. Interestingly, she once had a crippling fear of public speaking but is now a highly accomplished speaker.
While personality type does not determine public speaking confidence or ability, I think that extroverts and introverts have different public speaking strengths — and face different challenges.
Extroverts are energised by being around other people and often enjoy the spotlight. Some extroverts appear to have the ‘gift of the gab’. They are great story-tellers and find it easy to project warmth and enthusiasm. These attributes can help them to connect with an audience quickly and easily.
But it is not always plain sailing for the extrovert. Their outward demeanor can mask a lack of confidence. I have observed that extroverts are more likely to try to ‘wing’ a presentation. They sometimes ramble because they have not prepared properly.
Their forceful personalities can be polarising — and they can come across as self-promoting. And because people expect extroverts to be natural speakers, they are under more pressure to perform. My more outgoing clients tell me that their colleagues would be shocked if they knew how much my client hated public speaking!
Many introverts don’t talk a lot, but what they say is carefully considered. I have seen this particularly in leaders who are introverts. Because they only speak when they have something important to say, people tend to listen attentively. Introverts usually prepare well, and they tend to be economical with words, getting to the point quickly.
Introverts are often better listeners and are likely to be more attuned to the audience’s needs. For this reason, they may be perceived as more genuine or sincere.
Introverted people are not necessarily shy. They simply don’t have the same appetite and need for social interactions as an extrovert and so are unlikely to be the life and soul of a party. But public speaking may suit them because they don’t have to compete for attention. They have a captive audience without having to push themselves into the limelight.
Of course, there are also challenges for the introvert. Many introverts hate being the centre of attention and do not enjoy public speaking. Story-telling may not come naturally. And introverts often have a heightened sense of being judged or worrying about what others think of them.
I recognise that being an introvert or an extrovert is only one aspect of someone’s personality. For example, I have said that introverts are more likely to prepare, but they can also be great procrastinators!
My point is that good public speakers come in all shapes and sizes. If you are an introvert, don’t let your personality type hold you back — it does not have to! And if you are a nervous extrovert, don’t put more pressure on yourself by worrying about people’s expectations.
Focus instead on the style of public speaking that fits your personality type. I am an introvert by nature. I consider myself to be a direct and empathetic speaker. It is easy for me to project gravitas and calm. But I have to take care that I don’t come across too serious.
If you are an extrovert, people are probably drawn to your energy, and you should take advantage of this. Practice getting to the point but don’t tone yourself down too much. Tell stories, have fun, fire people up and make the most of the attributes that people find engaging.
Article written by Catherine Syme
Updated and revised February 2021
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