I grew up unsure of myself - unsure of how to enter conversation, what to say, how to respond to questions, and unsure of what I thought. This mix of unsurety kept me at arm's length from relationship development until I was in my mid-late teens. At that point, Beth Huffman, the teacher who made the biggest difference in my life, encouraged me to take her speech and then her drama classes. Only because I already admired her as my English teacher, I signed up. Then my eyes were open to what it feels like to step in front of audiences - anxious. Really anxious. Later I learned how to move the anxiety into enthusiasm.
But first I realized there were certain things about myself, the introvert, that seeks the enthusiasm of the audience.
Even the Introvert Seeks Enthusiasm
1. One of the ways we introverts seek enthusiasm is accepting the challenge of living through the moment and realizing later we have survived it.
Many things in my life have led me to believe it isn't good enough to hold myself back from a test-
- being riveted on the edge of my seat while watching a scary movie (at the time, Alfred Hitchcock's flicks) and not being afraid of screaming
- climbing a fence at 7 years old to enter the pasture where a bull was grazing even when my sister and cousins told me not to and calmly returning to scurry back over the fence when the bull lowered its head while looking my way
- standing up in speech class to deliver a 1minute improvisational speech (without stopping) on a topic of the audience's choice
- getting out of my seat to address with conviction the school board and superintendent during contract negotiations
2. Another trait of introverts is the need to get our thoughts in order and then seek feedback. If the feedback is good, we are affirmed in continuing to share our thoughts. If the feedback is constructive and gives us tips in improvement, we will modify, adjust and further develop our thinking until it's clear and meaningful to listeners.
I am a speaking coach as well as a interpersonal/intrapersonal communication coach. What motivated me to pursue this is the experiences I had early in life while speaking and performing to audiences. I have a few natural abilities - my ability to get real, my ability to pause and my desire to connect. The difficulties I have struggled with include crafting my message for clarity, for influence and for strong endings. These things have taken me years to develop. What this means is I have failed, failed, failed so often in front of all the wrong audiences, yet my willingness to survive, paired with my desire to get it right has motivated me to continue moving forward in public speaking.
3. Most importantly, the motivation that brings me to the podium, is the introvert's love of group acceptance. Yes, this sounds so contrary to the nature of the introvert. In my years of theatre involvement I discovered the best performers to be the introverts. They were open to directing, to seeking the process of how to manage their emotions, of how to handle the anxiety, and at the end feel such excitement with what they accomplished when audiences laughed, cried, applauded and gave standing ovations.
I get this. Although I don't seek the crowds socially, I stay in after long days of work, and I prefer to recharge my fuel sources with introspection and calming environments. I do enjoy the focused time when many people are appreciative of my message. I love the head nodding, the wheels-turning looks of thoughtful reflection, the questions - even when they seem opposing (usually, it's someone checking in with their perspective and seeking guidance with how to compare it to my new one). I like the mingling afterward - how my message applies personally to them as individuals, what steps they are now going to take from the ones I suggested.
Extroverts appear to be the folks best suited for group presentation and performance. That's simply because we haven't considered what introverts bring to the audience - compassion, thoughtful focus and the desire to give meaning.
Today as I work with lawyers, I choose to help the introverts in the group move from anxiety to enthusiasm. To help them see why it's so important they share with groups and from this awareness, develop the relaxation needed while public speaking. At those moments, they as individuals suddenly see the path they need to take on the public speaking labyrinthe. They step into the experience with their heads high, their focus engaged and the desire to see it through to the end, because at the end is affirmation of the path they chose.
For me, I cannot imagine my life without audiences. Whether I step into the spotlight 1, 2, 3 or 4 times a month or more, my life's purpose is served in meaningful, gentle ways when I take the stage. Sometimes full of laughter, sometimes with handling the most difficult, challenging circumstances. Without these times, my strengths of getting real, pausing and really connecting aren't used. How are you like me?