Watch out for the quiet ones – Presenting the introvert

Is it possible that a self-confessed introvert could find the courage to speak for a whole 19 minutes on the highly prestigious platform of TED, and then have that very same speech viewed over 10 million times on TED and over 3 million on YouTube?

In February 2012 Susan Cain did exactly that.

As you will see from this video she walked onto the coveted stage holding a bag full of books to tell the world that in a culture where it’s the extrovert who is given all of the attention and recognition that introverts have extraordinary gifts to offer the world too.

Actually, she didn’t just say it, she demonstrated it as well, shattering the myth that the best speakers are the gregarious exhibitionists who were born to own the stage and speak.

Here is how she did it:

“So I just published a book about introversion, and it took me about seven years to write. And for me, that seven years was like total bliss, because I was reading, I was writing, I was thinking, I was researching. But now all of a sudden my job is very different, and my job is to be out here talking about it, talking about introversion. And that’s a lot harder for me, because as honored as I am to be here with all of you right now, this is not my natural milieu.”

She practiced:

“So I prepared for moments like these as best I could. I spent the last year practicing public speaking every chance I could get. And I call this my year of speaking dangerously”

At Mindful Presenter we meet people like Susan every day.

These are people who consider themselves to be introverts where speaking openly in public is not their ‘natural milieu’ but they are required to do so as part of their job.

In less than a minute (40 seconds to be exact) Ms Cain has the audience, curious, engaged, relaxed and even laughing:

“When I was nine years old I went off to summer camp for the first time. And my mother packed me a suitcase full of books, which to me seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. Because in my family, reading was the primary group activity. And this might sound antisocial to you, but for us it was really just a different way of being social. You have the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you are also free to go roaming around the adventure land inside your own mind. And I had this idea that camp was going to be just like this, but better. I had a vision of 10 girls sitting in a cabin cozily reading books in their matching nightgowns.”

Remember when you were a child, your mother or father would tell you that ‘practise makes perfect’?

Well that’s not strictly true as if you keep practising the same thing badly it will just make you perfectly bad at it.

What they really meant was that if you have the focus, courage, discipline and presence of mind to do whatever it takes to get really good at something with the right help, support and encouragement anything is be possible.

That’s when practise makes perfect.

You’d be surprised how many people we meet each week who still believe that great speakers are just lucky because they were born that way.

Whilst that may appear or even feel true for some people, we believe that the reality is that whether you’re an extrovert an introvert or just a ‘vert’ (we made that one up) most of us have to work at it as Susan Cain did.

The prerequisite to that practice though is having:

– Something important to say that will make a difference to and add value to others

– A belief that what you have to say needs to be heard

– A passion for what you believe in

– A conviction to express your passion and share your message

It seems to me that if you take the time to listen to many of the 18 minute TED Talks you will see that the vast majority tick each one of these boxes and there are very few exceptions.

Occasionally we will hear someone argue that whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert it’s much easier for the TED talkers because they get to speak about something they are really interested in and passionate about which can’t always be said for the average corporate speech.

Some argue that they are required to update the Senior Management Team on the progress of an important project, launch a new (unexciting) product or look for budget approval. Some people say they have to motivate a team at a monthly team meeting, report to the board or simply bring another team or department up to speed on an area they are responsible for.

Some have to sell, but don’t really like selling!

Whatever the topic may be in a corporate or business setting, many people believe that most of it is not the same as speaking about something you really care about as the speakers on TED get to.

Therein lies the challenge and crux of the matter.

There are hundreds of recorded TED talks on line available to watch now although not all of them will interest everyone; in fact many are very niche:

How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era 775,000 views

New thoughts on capital in the twenty-first century 583, 000 views

Big data is better data 617,000 views

Crop insurance, an idea worth seeding 373,000 views

Why people need poetry 808,000 views

The neuroscience of restorative justice 512,000 views

Personally, I’m not entirely sure that I would be interested in either hearing or speaking about crop insurance, poetry or big data (whatever that is) however, the numbers show that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are.

We believe the question isn’t whether you are an introvert or an extrovert because as Susan Cain, like many others before her, has admirably demonstrated with the right help and practice anyone can give a brilliant speech regardless.

It’s our belief that anyone can become a great speaker if they have a genuine interest in the subject they wish to speak about and are prepared to practice and do whatever it takes to deliver their speech with impact.

If you are one of the few who find yourself in the unfortunate position that as an employee you are required to speak on a subject you are not remotely interested in then our suggestion would be that you either:

Find someone who is and delegate the task


Find a new job, where you are interested in what you are required to speak about.

Once you know that you are either required to or want to speak and have a conscious desire and interest in doing so, regardless of your experience or confidence rest assured that you really can speak like Susan Cain.

Great speakers aren’t born that way (although some may be a little more gifted than others) most of us have to work at it.

If you need help presenting:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and public speaking coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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