Calling all introverts

Some people enjoy being in the spotlight and/or are gifted orators. This post is not for them.

I listened to a book on tape last year called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking“, by Susan Cain. It was a nice, quick read – or rather, listen – that reaffirmed what I already know about myself, and perhaps it would have been really helpful if I had come across it years ago.

As you might imagine, I was surprised to discover that the author gave a TED talk on the topic of her book. My first reaction was, “That’s got to be hard for an introvert!” Apparently that was Cain’s first reaction as well, but she prepped long and hard, starting by signing up for Toastmasters:

A self-avowed introvert rises to the challenge of giving a TED talk

Public speaking is a skill like any other: some people take to it more readily than others, but with motivation and practice it really does get easier (trust me). As Cain would probably argue, the introvert who has mastered public speaking is like a superhero with two super-powers — and as I would argue, there is no better time than grad school to acquire a new super-power. So, the next time you have an opportunity to sign up to give a talk about your research (or a lecture), think twice before passing on it. And check out Toastmasters.


About Silvia Bunge

I'm a tenured faculty member, and the head graduate advisor in my department.
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2 Responses to Calling all introverts

  1. Mike Pacer says:

    I’m not certain that there is a necessary conflict between being an introvert and enjoying the spotlight. As someone who (at least at one point) was an introvert and actor at the same time, I’ve seen lots of different people take the stage.

    One might be very willing to say something publicly and thereby garner attention, but at the same time be uncomfortable in rooms full of people they don’t know.

    And vice versa, some of the most extroverted people I know experience the worst stage fright.

    My intuition is that introvert/extrovert idea would benefit from a deeper consideration of the role of the environment in altering behavior. I believe there’s a correlation overall, but I want to point out the problem of context specific personality traits and how they might bear on the issue. If context were distributed in the right way, we could end up with a Simpson’s paradox where it seems like the most introverted people are the ones most likely to enjoy being in the spotlight (if most people were introverted and most people were put in the right context to enjoy being in the spotlight, even if extroverts would always enjoy themselves more in the spotlight conditional on the context).

    Also — its likely that introversion/extroversion in addition to depending on context, would also be better described as a scalar than as a categorical distinction…(as would enjoying being in the spotlight), which suggests all the more that your suggestion to give talks early and often (so you can learn the contexts you most enjoy being in the spotlight now, and widen them going forward) is brilliant advice. Its much easier to know what local changes will be useful when continuity (and smoothness) is the case, and then its just a matter of having plenty of opportunities to better learn and then navigate the space of possible spotlight experiences.


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