For two decades I have taught public speaking, watching people surpass their self-imposed limits is always a buzz. And personally I am never happier than when in front of a few hundred with a flipchart and a pen. It's better than golf.
That makes me an extrovert right?
Maybe, but my MBTI shades to introversion and much of what Susan Cain says in "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" resonates. I have been reading Quiet from behind the couch wearing a loud t shirt, checking my email and listening to 99 Fabulous Pop Classics on Magic TV. The introvert in me craves time alone writing, the extrovert my iPhone and Madonna's Vogue at moderate volume on the big telly. Let your body move to the music. According to Cain I am an ambivert. I've been called worse: it could be time to come out.
What Cain says on public speaking resonates with what I have said to extroverts and introverts on what she acknowledges to be our greatest fear. It was also one of hers. She also gives us some possible reasons for our brain being reluctant to get us out and strut our funky stuff, my favourite is that being stripped bare and super-visible, one in front of many, in prehistoric times, was likely to result in you being dinner, rather than getting a hefty fee for speaking at a dinner.
To paraphrase Cain, extroverts are maybe more likely to enjoy public speaking than introverts. Note the maybe. And note I never said likely to be better. There are plenty introverts who are terrific speakers and a fair few extroverts who think they are excellent speakers, despite evidence to the contrary. The more interesting point is not about enjoyment, it's that Cain reckons introverts need to know more than extroverts where they are headed when public speaking, because the latter are better able to extemporise. It is all about arousal levels in both the run-up and the moment. Absolutely: for years in group sessions I have been saying that if your arousal levels are too low you are unlikely to care enough when preparing, or be unable to give it a bit of welly when delivering; too high and remaining conscious and continent might be the sum of your ambition, with your mind a blank canvas. Neither will make you memorable in a good way.
In group training sessions it is always entertaining to see an extrovert, who just knows he is going to be good, crashing and burning. This is useful not for the intense pleasure of watching a young buck- it is usually a young man- talking like a teenager after their first double-vodka and Red Bull, though you would need a heart of stone not to crack a smile.
The lesson is that winging it is dangerous and often ends in failure. Extroverts are more likely to fail in this way: by embracing the fear in the run-up and taking it all too lightly, being stimulated by the anticipation of the event for sure but having low arousal levels, finding out very late on (on the podium?) that they are not ready. Arousal levels at this point can spike, by the way.
Introverts are much less likely to do this. If they get the chance their heightened arousal levels mean they prepare, and do so to within an inch of their lives: every 'i' dotted and 't' crossed and a tightly wound script to match their tightly bound amygdala. But not always, too much arousal in anticipation can lead to avoidance in the run up and no preparation. Or a technically laden narrative with more bullets than the Gun fight at the OK Corral. Much as the golfers at this week's Open need to be up for it but not over-awed, it's about getting the arousal levels just right.
Do you think pro golfers practise? Prepare for that first tee? Public speaking 'off the cuff' is a horror to an introvert and they are less likely to shine than extroverts in the extemporaneous exercises at the beginning of the day. (Or when they are asked to speak at the last minute.) The answer, introverts, is simple. Prepare, but do it sensibly, without worrying over every word. Spend time considering what you need to focus on, think creatively about how you might say it, practise, deliver, amend, practise again. Have notes that work for you: notes you can read! Then go out there and knock 'em dead. Trust yourself that when you have done that all will be well. (Oh, and speak a bit louder. Seriously. LOUDER!)
And you extroverts? Think preparation is only for the rest of us? Think again. Whenever someone delivers well and makes us all laugh late afternoon I compliment them on their ability to engage us. Making the emotional connection, being able to get that audience reaction at the dregs of the day, is a gift. But be careful of that ability, because if you can "wing it", speak "off the cuff", apparently make it up as you go along there is a chance you will be unprepared one in front of many with nothing of note to say. And you will be found out. (Oh, and slow down a bit. Seriously, slower and more measured.)
So no matter who you are preparation, preparation and preparation leads to better delivery... and a more enjoyable dinner all round. The real question is how good do you want to be?
Being an introvert, extrovert or ambivert matters less than knowing yourself, your arousal levels and making both the run-up to the big gig, as well when you are doing your stuff, work for you.
Don’t miss out on weekly updates from our blog to motivate and inspire you to become a Rainmaker. Subscribe now!
about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.