My friend Mark Storrs sent me a note saying how much he identified with the post about an Introvert living in an Extraverted world. Mark has years of experience in learning & development and communications and is currently a Human Resources Business Partner for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan so I was very interested in his thoughts. I asked him to send me a story and the following is what he shared with me. He said “I witnessed a technical lead providing a project update to the executive team, and I watched how nervous he was, how his leader was coaching and supporting him.” I think it’s a great story.
“You’re doing a great job working on the project. I’d like you to present a strategy and status update to the executive team.”
We’ve all been there. Writing code for a new application your company is working on. Supporting a major project behind the scenes. Perhaps even informally leading a small team on that project. Then the unthinkable happens… you get recognized for your work, and your boss wants you to take what is often seen as the next logical step – visibility with leadership. But you’re an introvert and you don’t see visibility as the next step. That’s somebody else’s job. You’re perfectly happy in your behind-the-scenes individual contributor role.
[Oh no, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that! You can’t make me!!]
“No, that’s not necessary. But I’ll be glad to write something up for you, and you can present.”
“No really. I want you to give the update to the project sponsors.”
And there you are. You’re stuck. You can’t get out of it. You have to present. Now comes the stress…
[How detailed do I have to be?]
[What should I wear? I don’t want to be too casual, but I don’t want it to look like I’m trying too hard.]
[Can I use notes and talk from them? Or do I have to memorize it all?]
[But if I memorize it, I’ll sound like a robot!]
[It’s 3am and my presentation is in 6 hours! I’m not ready!]
[I haven’t had any sleep. Surely they’ll see bags under my eyes.]
[Must get to sleep… wait! What if I oversleep???!!!]
“Good morning. I want to give you a status update on Project X…”
[They hate me already.]
[And they deserve to hate me. I’m a fraud. I shouldn’t be up here.]
[I wonder if I sound too rehearsed? Be natural…be natural.]
[I can feel the sweat. I wonder if they can see me sweating?]
[The VP is checking her phone – she’s bored! I’m such a fraud!]
“And that concludes my update. Any questions?”
[Please, dear Lord, don’t let there be any questions!!]
[This awkward silence is deafening! It must be 30 minutes now!]
[Whew, I’m glad that was over. I bombed! Well the good thing is I won’t have to do that again.]
And that’s how it is for an introvert who’s taking those first steps in an extroverted world. A terrifying experience! But with these type of presentations being part of the next step up the corporate ladder, just what is an introvert to do?
So many times, we think we have to change our personalities to do something new like this. But that’s just not realistic. An extreme introvert is simply not going to just change and be bubbly and outgoing simply because there’s a change in job responsibilities. It’s just not going to happen. The trick is to not focus on changing yourself, but to think of yourself as an actor. That’s right – you’re an actor playing a role! You’re an introvert playing the role of an extrovert!
Think about it. Actors embrace different characters, put on different personalities. And that’s just what you’re doing here. You’re embracing the role of a presenter, giving an update about the project that you’re an expert on.
And just like actors, you have to practice at it to get good. An actor doesn’t just start out on Broadway or in a blockbuster film. They have to hone their craft. They go to acting classes, participate in different workshops focusing on various aspects of acting, learn from other actors, etc. They have to get comfortable with acting.
It’s the same for an introvert who finds him/herself in the strange new world of extroverts. You go to class… Study up on personality styles, read up on meeting facilitation techniques, learn how to use your introverted nature as a strength in developing your own presentation style. Watch other presenters, see how they make eye contact, work the room, engage all participants. Ask others to be your practice audience, give the presentation to them and then absorb their feedback like an actor does with his acting coach.
Your acting career starts out slow, with small presentations. You’ll be nervous, you may even fumble a little. And that’s OK. Because like an actor, you learn from those early experiences, you develop your own “acting” style, and you get better. One presentation at a time.
Over time you find yourself getting more and more comfortable in this new world of extroverts. You may even get to a point where you fool some into thinking you’re one of them. But deep down you know you’re not.
You’re just an actor.
Mark may not know it but a large portion of stand-up comedian performers identify with the Introverted side of the scale. And they’re really good! Introverts can be very entertaining, even in an extraverted world.