Stop Calling Public Speaking an Extrovert Behavior - Introvert Spring
martin luther king speech

Can I share a secret pet peeve with you?

It has to do with a common misconception people have about introversion. This misconception goes beyond the usual “introversion means shy.”

Before I share what it is, I’ll tell you why this particular fallacy irks me so much. 

Like so many other misunderstandings about introversion, it gives extroverts the upper hand. 

It makes them into the courageous golden gods of the personality spectrum, while introverts shiver in their shadow.

Now that I do standup comedy on a regular basis I come face-to-face with this misconception on a regular basis. 

I used to come across it just as often when I performed as a competitive salsa dancer. Or when I would do anything that involved public speaking.

I had the chance to get a handle on why this particular misconception is so annoying and FALSE when a Forbes writer interviewed me last week.

The writer asked, “Where do you get the drive to get up on stage to speak and perform, even though you’re an introvert?”

“I believe we all come to earth with callings and gifts,” I said. “Public speaking and performing have always come naturally to me.”

“So, you developed these extroverted behaviors in service of a higher goal.”

“No,” I replied. “I don’t see public speaking and performing as extroverted behaviors. I don’t do them in service of a higher goal. Performing is the goal. I perform because it is a form of creative expression that I enjoy.”

I believe countless famous introverted actors and comedians, such as Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and Jim Carrey, would have responded similarly.

If you’re sitting there thinking, Jim Carrey, an introvert? No way!—let me share a few clues about Carrey’s introversion.

Speaking of how he spent half his time performing as a child and half his time in his room writing poetry and sketching, Carrey had this to say:

“I was not the type of kid you could say go to your room as a punishment, because my room was heaven to me. My isolation was welcome.”

jim carrey quote introvert

From a young age introverted actors like Carrey developed their natural performance abilities—not because it served some higher goal, but because they were good at it and enjoyed it.

The question still remains…

Why do people think public speaking is an “extroverted behavior”?

While introverts do tend to have unique speaking challenges, they are more applicable to conversations than public speaking.

In everyday communication, introverts tend to struggle with spontaneity and quick on the spot responses. These challenges can be avoided (for the most part) with a prepared performance.

A speech, play, or standup set is usually prewritten and memorized. Then you present your prepared material in front of a captive audience of people who are strongly discouraged from interrupting you.

Sounds like an introvert’s dream come true to me.

One might argue that there are more extroverted public speakers than introverted ones. Even so, saying that public speaking is an extroverted behavior would be like saying that writing is an introverted behavior. 

There are likely way more introverted novelists out there than extroverted ones. And yet, people don’t go around saying “oh, this must be so hard for you as an extrovert” every time an extrovert sits down to write.

Public speaking isn’t more scary for introverts

I have to be honest, it may be more challenging for introverts to be performers and speakers, but not for the reasons you might think.

We don’t find it harder to perform because it’s scarier for us. 

If that were the case we’d be talking about fear. As I’ve said many times before, fear has to do with shyness, which is NOT the same as introversion. 

Public speaking always tops lists of people’s greatest fears. Both introverts and extroverts can be afraid of public speaking, just as both personalities can be afraid of heights or clowns. 

Likewise, both introverts and extroverts can have a natural ability to express themselves through spoken word poetry, comedy, theatre, public speaking and the like.

The biggest challenge for introverted speakers and performers

What IS more challenging for introverts is the overstimulation of a performance. We may experience more energy drain and thus need a lot more recovery time after a performance than an extrovert would.

This has been my greatest barrier to performing regularly. It just plain wipes me out. But I know other introverts who can get up on stage to do standup multiple times a night, without suffering too much overstimulation.

I believe that my being highly sensitive as well as introverted makes me especially susceptible to post-show burnout. 

All this is to say that I’m tired of people labelling anything ‘courageous’ and ‘out there’ as an extroverted behavior. 

Plenty of introverts are naturally talented at activities that are neither quiet nor gentle. 

Just as extroverts can be gifted writers and painters, introverts can be badass speakers, actors, and comedians. 

Let’s let self-expression, in ALL its forms, be the wild territory that it is meant to be—a mysterious landscape belonging to no one and everyone at once.

Xo,

Michaela Chung

P.S. If you’re new to the blog, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Michaela Chung, author of The Irresistible Introvert and creator of this amazing innie community we have here. For several years, I’ve been building up a labyrinth of introvert resources that will take you on a magical journey toward more confidence, connection, and self-love. Start with this free Introvert Connection Guide.