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The Introverted Public Speaker


There’s no question that former President Bill Clinton is a great public speaker. He has personal charisma that mesmerizes crowds, he speaks extemporaneously, and he persuades through both emotion and argument. I’m a certified MBTI consultant, and I think in terms of people’s personality types. President Clinton’s Myers-Briggs type is ESFP: The Performer, so he comes by his ability naturally. In fact, his type is probably what most people envision when they think of a dynamic public speaker.

Are you an introvert or an extravert? If you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you probably know. The popular wisdom states that extraverts—people who are energized by the world outside themselves—are natural speakers, while introverts—people energized by their inner world—need to work at it. But the popular wisdom isn’t correct: introverts have traits that can make them outstanding public speakers. Fellow introverts, let’s stop measuring ourselves with the extravert yardstick. Let’s capitalize on the unique strengths that made introverted speakers such as Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln legendary.

Big Talk

Introverts avoid small talk—we quail at the idea of a cocktail party with strangers and rarely strike up conversations on airplanes. But public speaking is Big Talk! If you are asked to give an address or lecture, it’s usually because you know something about it. Introverts are all about the deep dive—we are never going to volunteer to get up on stage and wing it. I was a teacher for many years, and I had no problem being in front of a classroom because I can talk about the Elizabethan sonnet or A Doll’s House for hours (yes, I am fun at parties). Today, I talk to groups about my other passion: personality type and how it can improve communication, motivation, conflict resolution, and teamwork. Introverts usually have little trouble talking about a subject they know well—see Bill Gates for example.

The Research Process

Introverts tend to enjoy research and writing—many are verbally expressive, and all like solitary work. Draw from those tendencies to develop and craft a great speech that will be valuable or inspirational to your audience.

Don’t Be Boring

Here’s what engages an audience during a speech: Pictures. Video. Humor. Stories and anecdotes. Interaction with audience members. Inspiration. Shocking facts. Passion. Calls to action.

It’s Not About Me

A big part of what makes extraverts such dynamic speakers is their personal charisma. Audiences often are more excited about the extraverted speaker than the content. Introverts can be compelling, too, but we have the chance to make our presentation more about the audience than ourselves. And that’s the way we prefer it—get us out of the spotlight!

The Countdown

Preparation is key for introverted speakers. Practice your speech ahead of time with close friends or coworkers and invite feedback. Watch speeches online to see how people effectively use movement, gestures, and timing. Check out the room setup as soon as you can. Ask people you trust to attend your session or presentation—friendly faces are great. Get plenty of sleep and water in the day leading up to the speech.

Everyone Gets Butterflies

It’s completely normal for both introverts and extraverts to experience anxiety before heading to the podium. Most speakers develop their own coping mechanisms, but don’t let the nervousness cause you to panic. It helps to know public speaking anxiety affects nearly everyone.

Like most skills, you’ll get better at public speaking the more you do it. Use your introverted strengths instead of trying to emulate your extraverted friends. And remember, even extraverts have a learning curve. Bill Clinton was almost booed off the stage in his first major speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1988!

Stephanie Carnes is a certified MBTI consultant. Interested in how personality type can help your business? Email stephanie@lmc.group.

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