An Introvert that Likes Public Speaking?

Having recently wrapped up my first year as a college career coach, I’ve heard this classic question more than enough times of late: “What’s the test I can take to tell me what I should do with my life?” Though usually the question appears in its abbreviated form, “So how do I take The Test?” it's sometimes also asked in a more advanced form, “I can take the MBTI in your office, right?”

The MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is an assessment that places an individual on either side of four spectrums, resulting in sixteen possible types. To save myself from butchering a summary of the types, I invite you to learn more about them here, and even take a version of “The Test” yourself.

I should note at this point that I rarely suggest any assessment to my students without a conversation about them first. It’s just too easy for someone to see their results and start imposing limits on themselves, to squeeze themselves into the box they were sorted into. On the other hand, an unexpected or misunderstood result may lead to skepticism of such tests. It’s important to understand the assessment tool in order to understand the results.

Since first taking an MBTI assessment five years ago, I’ve consistently gotten the same result: INFP. The first time I didn’t fully understand what each spectrum meant, and I remember thinking, There’s no way I can be an introvert, I’m not shy!

It’s still true today. If a professor or lecturer asks a question, you can bet my hand will shoot up like Hermione Granger’s as I wiggle in my seat anxiously waiting to be called on. I don't get too nervous about asking a passerby for directions or being the go-to person at an information booth. And when it comes to class presentations or even leading a workshop, I’ve never thought twice about going it alone. It wasn’t even until this past year that someone pointed out to me that most people find it easier to co-present.

So how on Earth could I be an introvert? Well, it comes down to what introversion and extraversion mean. First, it’s important to know that you’re not just one or the other. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum, and even at the far ends you’ll have extraverts who need a night off or introverts that enjoy a good party. Second, the E-I spectrum isn’t about being outgoing or shy, but about where you get your energy. An extravert can feel drained when spending too much time alone, and recharges when in the company of others. For an introvert it’s the opposite—though socializing may be enjoyable, it takes energy, and alone time recharges us.

When I finally learned this, it made complete sense that I tend to score really heavily on the introvert side. If I spend a whole weekend in, I’m pretty happy with life. In fact, spending my Sundays alone helps me feel energized throughout the work week. Through this lens, it makes sense that not being shy doesn’t really factor into my introversion.

So what makes public speaking so great for an introvert? When I thought back on most of my workshops or class presentations, I realized that speaking can be a pretty solitary activity. When you write and research, or create a slideshow, even devise exercises and activities, you can do all of that preparation alone. The speaking part is even quite different from socializing. When presenting, you talk mostly uninterrupted, or you take questions and engage in meaningful exchanges with an attentive group. These are much different from trying to join a multi-person conversation in a busy, noisy room like at a bar or a networking event. And finally, the follow-up is also more likely to be one-on-one, with people lining up to talk afterwards or following-up via email.

From looking at just the tasks involved, you can see that presenting involves many activities that give introverts energy, from time to dive deep into interesting ideas to having stimulating conversations. A recent gem I read on Huffington Post pointed out that introverts don't necessarily dislike small talk because it's social, but because it isn't as engaging as talking in depth about things that interest them. So when an outgoing introvert can present a workshop or Q&A on a topic they love? Ding ding ding! Public speaking and introversion can indeed be a match.

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