Every Introvert Has a Story: A Guest Post by Beth Buelow
It was a beautiful spring day in 2011. The Introvert Entrepreneur had been launched about nine months before. I’d spent the morning giving a presentation for a Rotary Club in the Seattle area. It had gone well, with positive feedback at the end and several people hanging around afterwards to chat a bit. Immediately after, I headed to meet my business coach for my monthly session.
He asked how things went.
“Fine,” I said, “I think it went well. They were a good audience.” He prodded me for a bit more info, and after hemming and hawing for a while, I admitted that while it was okay, something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was making a personal connection with the audience. He and I quickly flipped through the printout of my slides. We both agreed that I checked all the boxes in terms of solid content, good visuals and nice information flow. But he immediately could tell what was wrong.
“It looks like your content is showing up, but you’re not.”
He was absolutely right. There was little to no vulnerability in the content. I didn’t reveal much about my personal journey or challenges. I didn’t share what inspired or scared me. It was mostly surface stuff. Good, informative stuff. But still very surface.
Since then, I’ve tried to find ways to tell more of my story as a way to provide context and connection. It’s not always easy. Why? Introverts by nature are often private people, even if we’re social or talkative. Sure, we’ll talk, just not about ourselves! Coaching clients will come to me with similar questions, whether it’s a presentation, a prospect conversation, or introducing themselves at networking events: how much of myself do I need to share? What if my story isn’t that interesting? What if people judge me? What if what I share repels instead of attracts them?
Don’t you just feel the anxiety and pressure as you read those questions! (And introverts note: extroverts might feel that same pressure.) There are two tensions at play: how we perceive ourselves and our stories, and how we feel (fear?!) others may perceive us. Both are an internal challenge: we get stuck thinking about the terrible things that might happen if we open up and let people really see and know us.
Let’s examine a few of these challenges and consider steps you can take to look them straight in the eye.
“I’m an introvert, so I’m terrible at networking/sales/parties/etc.” Remember what introversion is: you gain energy from solitude and drain energy in social settings. Your “I need to recharge” default setting is solitude and quiet. But since introversion has been collapsed with shyness and anxiety for so long, we can absorb that story and believe it’s true for us if we demonstrate even the slightest bit of nerves in social situations.
Here’s the thing: almost everyone gets nervous! Everyone wants to make a good impression. They want to make meaningful connections. And most introverts (and some extroverts) find it exhausting, even if they have a good time or are successful.
You are not alone. The people who get comfortable with those activities have often identified the skills they need, worked on those skills, and practiced. There’s a cosmetics ad from few years back that says, “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline.” It’s safe to assume that most people you see that are savvy networkers, salespeople, and socialites have had help from “Maybelline”!
“How much do I need to share?” It’s the Age of TMI: people revealing their lives, warts and all, on social media, websites, and in presentations. We also are told that everything we share reflects our personal brand. How do you decide what’s appropriate, yet authentic?
Here are five tips to consider as you determine what to share:
You want to demonstrate empathy with your audience by sharing common experiences. Reveal what will stimulate a “you get me” response.
You have lessons learned that can be shared and turned back around towards your audience so that they can learn from your wins and losses.
The story is one that demonstrates your genuine humility and humanity.
You are modeling transparency and vulnerability while providing context for your actions and choices. (This goes back to my opening story. Why did I start The Introvert Entrepreneur? What pain did I experience that led me to want to support others?)
For the sake of credibility and authenticity, you share in the spirit of owning your truth. Whatever truth you’re asking others to embrace, you have to embrace in yourself.
What if my story isn’t that interesting? What if people judge me? This is an internal loop that might be playing if you feel your introversion is holding you back, especially around extroverts. It’s what held me back from sharing in my presentations… this feeling that my life was quiet and plain vanilla compared to everyone else’s. I had no dramatic story, no life-altering incident that brought me to a certain point. But that doesn’t mean I’m boring, uninteresting, or don’t have a story to share. We ALL have a story. It might be made of a few big pivot points, or it might take place over hundreds of small fork-in-the-road moments.
Take time to reflect on your path – your jobs, relationships, schools, hobbies, travels, volunteering – and find the ones that have influenced your current message. For instance, my background as a classical musician informs how I approach public speaking and team work. Because it’s my story and it unfolded over decades, I’m so close to it that I can forget that my experience is unusual! No one’s life is boring, and it’s not a competition. People hunger for real, honest connection. If someone judges your story as “not dramatic enough,” that’s their issue. And if it’s YOU that’s making that judgement, work to let it go. (If you want a tool to mine your life for stories, try Judy Carter’s “The Message of You.”)
What if what I share repels instead of attracts them? Not to be flippant, but so what if it does? Chances are, this inner story is unfounded. If you show up and you’re real, you’ll attract someone’s interest. They may resonate with what you share, or they may not feel a connection. Either outcome is okay. In fact, you want to be clear enough in your story that someone either feels a resonance or a dissonance. Communicating honestly and from your truth will inevitably lead to a reaction from someone, and you want that. You want them to feel a clear “yes” or “no.” Being too generic (i.e., not vulnerable) will lead to indifference, which is worse than rejection.
The Bottom-Line: Use your introvert superpowers of introspection and listening to figure out what is important for people to know about you. What do you want people to think or feel after interacting with you? Take the time you need to think about your major influencers and get clear about how they provide context for your choices. Then, be ready to tell those stories to others as you need to. By taking time to prepare, you’re honoring your need to process internally and in advance. That means you’ll be prepared when you have to talk about yourself, share your opinions or ideas, or make a new connection. You’ll also be ready when you are put on the spot, if you trust that your truth is clear and that you’re more than capable of sharing it.
Beth Buelow, PCC, is author of The Introvert Entrepreneur. She specializes in leadership and conflict coaching. Tweets at @introvertcoach