Is “Persuasive Introvert” an oxymoron?

Or are we doomed to be low-key shadows on the periphery?

Actually, the writer who contacted me on LinkedIn asked, “Is it common for introverts to lack talent in persuasion?” The question arose because, after a presentation for a job interviewer, she was told that her background was good, but she didn’t sound confident or passionate about what she wanted her audience to know. This is a dilemma introverts face repeatedly. During the recession, when I was doing training for numerous job training groups, the members who were last hired tended to be the introverts, who were often told they didn’t sound enthusiastic or passionate enough about the prospective job. Similarly, introverts who were working often found they didn’t get a promotion for the same reason.

It’s obviously not genetic, but most training, such as in business skills, is directed towards extroverts, whose brains process thoughts more rapidly (but not as deeply).

Introvert brains take in more stimulation in a given situation and process it more deeply before producing a response. In a fast-paced culture such as ours, this neurological brain lag results in introverts getting used to feeling left behind and, as a consequence, a little insecure. In fact, we often get left out of conversations for much of our lives because of that slower response time so we don’t get much practice raising our voices or using them powerfully. When we finally do get a chance to get a word in, our lack of practice makes us feel and sound insecure. Here’s one of the exercises I do with my clients who want to appear and sound more powerful, but before you do it, ask yourself, “Am I willing to commit as much as ten minutes every day to sounding more confident?” Pick a piece of poetry or a song that is very meaningful to you, preferably one that raises your energy level. Stand in a Power Pose: Stand up, with your feet apart, shoulders relaxed, feeling a string attached to the top of your head, pulling your whole body up. Speak the words of the piece you have selected s l o w l y, with emphasis. Emphasize the points you feel are most important by slowing down and lowering the tone of your voice. Avoid letting your voice drop at the end of each sentence or phrase (sounds dreary). While you are speaking, imagine:

  • To whom are you speaking? Picture someone friendly and supportive to you, who wants to hear your message.
  • Where is the listener? Imagine your listener at different distances from you; project your voice to reach that person.
Pause every now and then, if necessary, to regain good posture and breathe.  As you do this exercise every day, pay more attention to singers and speakers who attract you. Watch how and when they emphasize words, speak up or slow down.  It may feel exhausting at first, but just as with any exercise, it gets easier and even exhilarating the more you practice. You will feel rewarded when you find yourself speaking and your listeners are leaning forward eagerly to hear what you have to say.  It’s particularly important to warm up by doing this exercise any day you expect to be participating in a group conversation, having a job interview, or giving a presentation.  And remember the story of the New Yorker’s reply to the tourist who asked how you get to Carnegie Hall, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Other things that get in the way of good introvert communication include self-criticism and perfectionism, but this exercise is a good way to start.