In colloquial parlance I’m an extravert. I have no difficulty working in groups, with people, in crowds or on stage. Heck, my job requires me to stand on stage in front of groups of strangers and talk to them. A lot.
But in terms of the work of Carl Jung I’m an Introvert (practically of the scale I’m so sure of it). That is to say, I get me mental energy – and prefer to spend that same energy – in the world inside my own head. I recharge my batteries by withdrawing from the world. Sometimes that’s literally, by going off on my own somewhere and other times it can only be metaphorical if I’ve got to spend time in a crowded building.
There are times when I get off stage and yearn for the quiet of my car to drive off to my hotel so I can ‘decompress’. I come off stage exhausted and yearning for some time to just let. the. world. slow… down… I need a cup of tea and a shower (though not at the same time, obviously! ;) )
So why do I do it? Why would I willingly do something that’s so emotionally hard it can make me physically react like that? Is there an advantage to being an introvert on stage that makes up for not ‘liking’ to be there?
I think there is. And I think it’s this.
I don’t care about my audience.
Well obviously that’s not true, I care about them a lot, but you know what I mean: I’m not beholden to them for my mental energy. But there is one specific way in which I don’t care about them, in which I’m ‘immune’ to them. And it’s this…
I’m more interested in my ideas than in my audience. My energy on stage is independent of them. I can give the same level of performance for four people as for 14, 40 or four hundred. I know, I’ve done them all. The actual performance isn’t the same, obviously because of the different logistics, but the energy levels are – because the energy comes from inside my head. I don’t feed from my audience – and that gives me a huge advantage as a speaker…
Another (perhaps less obvious) advantage, is that it means I don’t (even subconsciously) hesitate about saying it like it is: if the logic and evidence is on my side, I’m not inclined to worry too much about the ‘politics’ of what I’m about to say. You pay for an expert, so you get an expert, not an expert-hedged-around-with-ifs-and-buts. Obviously I’ll be polite (hey, it’s not your fault you’re wrong, that’s what pay me for!) and I’ll check out any new facts you bring to me, but the chances of that, frankly, are slim! ;)
So what can we take away from this? How do you use the introvert’s-advantage?
Well firstly, don’t walk away from the opportunity to make your point – to make your presentation – just because you’re not naturally inclined to be the centre of attention. Remember that your audience aren’t the most important thing… your ideas are. What you’ve got to say is more important than anything else.
Secondly, if you’re an introvert, ignore all the (well-meaning but stupid) advice about how to rev yourself up and get ready to perform. Instead, find yourself a quite space to get your head straight before you’re on stage. Go to the toilet and sit quietly in the stall if that’s what takes! ;) Or take a short walk outside.
Whatever it takes!
As a personal aside, I’ve even been known to take someone with me to liaise with the venue so that I can have that all-important time to myself before I start a big presentation.
Thirdly, remember that – if you’re an introvert – you should consider finding your ‘performance mask’. What’s a performance mask? It’s a persona, it’s a person, a reality that’s both you and not you – but ‘channels’ all the things you need to be on stage. Think of it like this – as soon as Bruce Wayne puts on the mask, he ‘becomes’ Batman. The mask has a life of its own – a performance mask, if you like. Now obviously, Bruce Wayne isn’t exactly the shy retiring type but the principle remains: the mask has it’s own life.
Fourth and finally… You might find it easier to put on this mask (it’s a metaphorical mask, I’m not suggesting that all introverts dress up to make presentations looking like a superhero!) if you have a routine before you start your presentation. I use a checklist to make sure my logistics are all taken care of and the process of going through that checklist is a ritual of it’s own for me now – but your ritual should be your own.