It’s a common misunderstanding in business that introverts don’t like being around people. Many of us do enjoy the company of others, and some introverted people even enjoy being on stage. The reason introverts seem to be reclusive is that we need time in our own world to recharge our energy and to sort our thoughts out at our own pace. We look inward for our energy rather than outward.
The business world seems made for extroverts – the loud, bold ones who speak while they’re thinking. Their focus is on the outer world, visible results and measurable actions. It’s natural for them to reach out to others because others are in the present moment. Business for introverts is a constant struggle with being in the present instead of naturally moving to the past and future and everywhere in between.
Why Introverts Struggle in Business Settings
The misunderstanding of introverts has put us into a square-peg round-hole world where extraversion is rewarded and introverts are told they have to fundamentally change who they are to be successful. Here are some concepts and tips to help introverts be successful in business meetings.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Preparing for a Meeting:
An introvert’s power lies in our internal world. It takes a little more effort to bring our thoughts and ideas to the outside world. Since “introverts” and “public speaking” are two words that don’t naturally go together, it takes extra effort to make that happen.
Introverts are often better writers than speakers. Take the extra time to write down what you want to cover so you have a place. I’m not saying you should write a script and follow it to the letter, I mean have an outline with specific points that you want to make or directions you want to go. Business for introverts involves a lot of internal planning anyway, so it makes sense to plan how you’ll be leading a meeting.
Presentation skills for introverts are a learned art, not a talent, and learning some basic techniques might very well change how you view the whole “introverts and public speaking” struggle. Like any skill, it takes practice to refine but it will happen.
Every interaction you have with audience members influences how you’re perceived. While you may want to sit in your car, pretending to go over your notes, you’ll come across as unapproachable, inaccessible and aloof—and this will inhibit the relationships you could be building with the audience members. Always show up early and, as you’re setting up, talk to the people who trickle in. Ask questions and mingle. This will increase your comfort level when you start your talk. After the presentation, stick around. Chat with people, answer questions, be sociable. Creating a great experience for the audience starts well before your presentation and continues after it ends.
Introverts excel at a quiet reflection, so use that strength to plan the meeting you would like to lead. Think about what topics you want to cover, and how much meeting time each topic deserves. That’s your agenda! Email it to participants in advance, and print up copies to distribute at the beginning of the meeting. Referring to (and sticking to) this agenda will give you authority, and the confidence that comes from having a solid game plan.
Starting a Meeting:
The moment you step into your meeting space, you have to own it. Your demeanor sets the tone for the whole meeting. When you walk in like you mean business, people will pick up on that confidence even if you don’t feel it. Once you’ve entered and you’re ready to start, take a deep breath and just do it. Here’s where having a prepared opening and knowing what you’re going to say in advance is important. Practice your opening with that confident walk and you’ve set the standard for how the meeting is going to go.
You don’t have to start your meeting off flashy, but you should be firm and clear. Let everyone know that you plan to stick to the meeting agenda, and delegate time-keeping to someone who will help you move the meeting along. When people see that well-planned, disciplined meetings are more useful and satisfying than a free-for-all, they will support your approach. This blog post has many other tips for running effective meetings.
Facilitating a Meeting:
Once you’ve got the meeting going, it can be hard to keep your nerves from throwing you off course. Take a few moments while someone else is speaking to inhale deeply, hold for a few seconds, then slowly let it out. Do that a few times and you’ll be surprised how it regulates your body’s nervous reactions. Breathe while you’re speaking as well. It’s a natural tendency to take shorter and shallower breaths as we get nervous, but fight that impulse. Slow down when you’re presenting and make a conscious effort to pause, breath, and refocus. Practicing your presentation or points ahead of time will give you a feel for when to breath.
You’d rather keep working and NOT attend a meeting or, even worse, run a meeting! But – here are ways to gain buy-in for meetings you facilitate: 1) Start/end on time. Seems obvious but it’s an often abused rule which will kill your traction index. 2) Prepare an agenda and get support for contentious issues ahead of time. 3) Empower your team with specific and sincere praise when applicable during your meeting.
General Tips about Nervousness:
Everyone gets nervous before an important event, even CEOs who have years of meetings to their credit. Being nervous usually means one of two things; you’re feeling unprepared or you want whatever you’re nervous about to go well. Assuming that you’re well prepared, chances are that you want things to succeed. Nervousness is, at its core, both natural and good when you know how to use it. Accepting that being nervous is normal and learning how to control and use your nerves is one of the crucial presentation skills for introverts.
If you’re struggling with finding enjoyment speaking in front of a group, think about and embrace the benefits and possibilities you receive in this role. What are the rewards and opportunities you receive by serving the audience as well as building your skills and confidence? Make a list, and I guarantee the rewards and possibilities will outweigh the discomfort at the moment, especially if you want and need to grow your business via speaking.
Here are a few suggestions to help with your mindset shift:
You get to share your message with a captive audience.
You get to stand out from all the other people who avoid speaking.
You get to learn about yourself as a person, and face your personal challenges
You get to connect with people and build relationships.
You get to work on your skills every time you’re on the stage or in the conference room.
You get to help people move forward and take action.
You get to learn about audience dynamics
You get to gain experience in different venues
You get to express your ideas, change minds and make an impact.
You get to learn from your mistakes
Public speaking anxiety comes from your fight-flight-or-freeze response, which comes from a primitive part of your brain. That’s why you should never take nervousness — including physical symptoms or weird, self-critical thoughts — seriously. Think of them as unpleasant but random events that mean nothing. You can’t control these symptoms, but you can manage them by staying focused on your preparation and your audience. [Note: If you are in the 10% or so of the population who has a phobia, versus just fear, read this post for suggestions.]
A public speaking myth: It’s hard to give a speech. Not true. The reality: It’s hard to start and it’s hard to shut up. A few tips on the bookends of your speech that we find helpful for our clients – especially if you’re introverted: 1) Begin by thanking the introducer/meeting planner thereby taking the attention away from you for the first crucial seconds. 2) Practice your beginning and ending out loud. 3) State a clear purpose statement and ROI for your audience upfront and a call to action as you conclude.
Business for introverts may seem more difficult than for extroverts, but the reality is that it just takes a different skill set for introverts to use their abilities. Prepare your meeting plan beforehand and practice what you’re going to say so that when the nerves hit you have some automated memory to keep you going until you get yourself gathered together again. And after you’re done, plan yourself some introvert time to process and recharge.