I’m an Introvert and I Actually Like Being in the Spotlight

IntrovertDear.com introvert spotlight love

I looked at the crowd. There were over a hundred people out there, crammed around high tables in an underground bar. It was a “speed friending” event, and the friending had been paused. My girlfriend and I were supposed to give a short plug, and it was time to go up.

The host introduced us. Well, sort of — he introduced her and forgot about me. The applause slowed. You could see the confusion: Wait, who’s this dude?

Every eye in the room burned into me.

I picked up the mic.

“And I’m the other guy,” I said, grinning. The confusion melted away. Suddenly the crowd broke out laughing, and we had their attention.

My girlfriend, who is shyer than me, gave the plug. Every few sentences I leaned into the microphone and said something funny. The crowd was on our side. It was over in two minutes, but for me, it was a high that lasted all night.

Yes, I’m an introvert who actually likes being in the spotlight.

Why Would an Introvert Want an Audience?

The high I get from performing doesn’t carry over to other “people” situations. While most introverts dread being in front of a crowd, almost any introvert can relate to the rest of my experiences — like the time I was 8 years old, had friends over, and after an hour or two quietly asked my mom, “Can we ask them to leave?”

As an adult, I’ve developed slightly more tact, but my basic temperament hasn’t changed. For example:

  • I’m the guy who convinces a few good friends to come to my house on New Year’s Eve — so I don’t have to go to a club.
  • I’m the guy who is “too busy” to meet up for drinks and a movie, when all I’m “busy” doing is reading.
  • I’m definitely the guy who sets a departure time before I arrive at an event, so I can get in, do whatever I have to do, and get out again (with at least some of my introvert battery intact).

I also do my best work alone, dread phone calls, and see absolutely no reason to hold a meeting when a couple of well-worded emails will usually do the trick.

But I see these introvert needs as completely unrelated to getting in front of an audience.

I realize that not all introverts feel this way. Many would rather face a forty-phone-call firing squad than give a single public talk. But for me, public performance is completely different than socializing.

The Difference Between Socializing and Performing

Socializing drains introverts for several reasons:

  • Social interaction demands coming up with fast responses. Introverts prefer to think before they respond, which doesn’t work well in conversation.
  • Many introverts struggle with word recall.
  • Conversation is a multi-sensory occupation. You have to read body language, interpret emotional cues, listen to the actual content of what the other person is saying, and figure out the right responses… all at the same time! In other words, it’s highly stimulating. And the truth is, it’s external stimuli — not just chatting — that drains introverts.
  • “Good” conversation garners social approval, which is supposed to trigger dopamine rewards in the brain — but for introverts, our brains just aren’t that interested. We literally get less out of most social interactions than extroverts do.
  • Many conversations are basically small talk, which introverts find pointless.

Performance is different. Whether it’s public speaking, acting, comedy, singing, or any other kind of performance, it simply doesn’t carry the same “drain factors” as socializing. For example:

  • Performing does not require fast responses. While it helps to read and respond to an audience, you’re primarily delivering something you’ve already rehearsed in detail.
  • Performing does not require ad-hoc word recall. You get to plan what you’ll say.
  • The reward is intrinsic, not extrinsic. Mostly. I mean, obviously, performers would love to hear applause at the end and hope that their performance is “good” for the audience. But a big part of the reward is the artistic satisfaction of having completed something creative — the same intrinsic reward that painters and writers feel when completing a piece in private. It’s not necessarily about social approval.

And, of course, small talk is moot in a performance (unless, of course, you’re doing a stand-up bit making fun of small talk).

The result is that some introverts live in two worlds: We run from mundane social interaction, but we’re hungry for the chance to show off our talents. Of course, we deal with stage fright just like everyone else; so do most extroverts. But to those introverts who actually love performing, the buzz of a well-delivered performance is electric. It’s well worth the jitters.

Introverts Can Be Celebrities Too

Introverts who like the spotlight are more common than you might think — common enough that more than a few of your favorite celebrities are introverts. For example, when I MC’d the book launch for The Secret Lives of Introverts, I got to introduce indie rocker jeremy messersmith, a raging introvert who completely mesmerized the crowd.

You may also have heard of a shy little introvert named Stefani Germanotta, stage name Lady freakin’ Gaga. She once said, “I generally really keep to myself and I am focused on my music… I always feel shy in the Hollywood scene.”

Or introvert heartthrobs such as Audrey Hepburn, Emma Watson, and Johnny Depp, among many others. In fact, given our ability to ignore social invites and pour everything into our art, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are even more introverts among celebrities than among the general population.

But what would attract an introvert to performing in the first place? I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that personality in general tends to be a heavy mix of nature and nurture. That certainly matches my own experience. My mom says that even at three years old, I loved “hamming it up” in front of others — perhaps an innate preference. But it was never a major part of my life until after years of being a social outsider in high school. That experience taught me that most of the time, the attention I got from a group was negative. Performance offered a rare exception: a situation where suddenly, all the social attention coming my way was positive.

For a nerd and a recovering social-phobe, that feels really good. 

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Read this: Introverts Don’t Hate People, They Hate Shallow Socializing

Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman 

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Image credit: @kevinfouillet via Twenty20


6 Comments

  • Mirador1014 says:

    Absolutely agree. I used to sing and play guitar years ago, and never felt stage fright beforehand nor drained of energy afterwards. Performing for a group was always invigorating. It DOES feel totally different from socializing. And giving a speech or lecture was the same for me. Never had the jitters before or during the presentation, whether it was pre-written or ad lib. Again, to me that was always energizing. However, if there was a Q&A afterwards, or – perish the thought – a meet and greet milling around, my battery drained in double speed. I think Andre is right – some of us were born to perform and did it from an early age. But after the performance, it’s like when Cinderella loses her glass slipper… let me outta here! Great article!

    • Winnie Greer says:

      Exactly Mirador1014! You hit the nail on the head. Everything you said is exactly my sentiments. Its a relief to have it explained by another and confirmed be even more introverts. And personally I like this tribe…

  • Brien White says:

    I enjoy being around people talking and learning new stuff from them. However I do like my quite time to read, think and contemplate thoughts and ideas. Oh by the way I have stage freight and do not like talking to groups of people. However carrying on a conversion with one or two people doesn’t bother me though. Then how would you classify me as a intervert or extrovert?

  • Catherine says:

    What? We’ll cast you out of the introverts club you freak! hehehe! 😉

  • Mimi Gregor says:

    Most people seem to confuse introversion with shyness. I am an introvert. I am NOT shy. I frequently will start conversations with strangers while standing in line or sitting at a bar. But they are not “small talk” conversations. I tend to eavesdrop, and I don’t really make any attempt to hide it. So if I hear someone talking about a pet subject of mine, or if they say something that I have an outrageously funny response to, I will butt in with my two cents. I have yet to have anyone castigate me for this. Usually we will have an animated conversation, or they will laugh at what I said, depending. Then we will each go our own ways. Like the narrator in Fight Club, I call these “single serving friends”. That seems to provide the interaction I require. If I can make people laugh, I enjoy the buzz from that for hours afterward.

  • Winnie Greer says:

    Wow! Thank you for this! I thought I was strange for being an introvert but not afraid of being in front of the video or teaching in a classroom. These types of social activities are not draining for me; they are exhilarating.Yes some of us were born to perform. I agree with Mirador1014! Whew! I always wondered….