Let’s imagine this scenario: You’re at an event for work or school, or perhaps even a social gathering you thought would be a good idea. Everything is going well. The people are great. The food is even better. You even start thinking that you might say yes to the next one.
Then, just as you’ve started to relax, someone announces: “Let’s get to know each other. Please stand up one at a time and tell us a little about yourself.”
Just like that, you regret ever leaving the house that morning. You wish, beyond all wishes, that you could go back in time and say no.
Sadly, these things happen, no matter how much we try to avoid them. They’ve happened to me, although mine was worse — “Stand up and do a dance that best represents you.” I’m not kidding — may the ground swallow me whole.
Have you ever seen the dance of the introvert? Of course not.
Why Many Introverts Hate ‘Tell Us About Yourself’
For some, this wouldn’t be a big deal. They’d simply stand up, tell the group about themselves, and sit down. They might even throw in the odd joke. You know, no big deal.
For others — introverts like you and me — it can feel as if the world is about to end. Every insecurity suddenly swims to the surface, and you become consumed by the hope that you won’t make a fool of yourself. For me, my brain shuts down, and everything that was once so easy for me to talk about is forgotten.
“Hi, I’m Christine, and I’m…” What? I’m nervous? Angry? Insecure? About to cry? “…a writer,” I blurt and hurry to take my seat. They don’t need to know more. As an introvert, I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of personal details about myself with people I hardly know.
Public speaking to me is like eat your broccoli to a child. I would love to stand up in front of a crowd and talk freely, but my body betrays me the moment I’m the center of attention. My legs shake, my hands tremble, my face turns red.
Even my lips start acting as if they’re now part of some uncontrollable dance routine. I would love to be one of those people who feels nervous but doesn’t look it.
Instead, I’m up there shaking like a Polaroid picture.
And unfortunately, due to my overactive mind, I spend half the time worrying about what I’m going to say and the other half hoping I don’t make a fool of myself. I don’t even hear a thing anyone else says.
Why is this such a big deal? Why do I worry so much? Why can’t I do a simple task that more extroverted people do with ease?
As an introvert, all that attention on me is wildly overstimulating. There’s simply something about having everyone’s eyes on you that causes many introverts to panic.
Introversion and anxiety aren’t the same thing, and not all introverts will react the way I do. Nevertheless, feeling a deep sense of dread at spontaneous public speaking is a common introvert problem.
In Quiet, Susan Cain writes that situations that involve “forced performance” — those that involve unspoken competition for the best, fastest, or most profound answer — minimize introverts. Introverts do best when they have time to think about their responses and answer meaningfully. When time constraints are imposed, introverts literally sacrifice quality.
This isn’t an ideal situation, and it’s certainly an unnecessary one. We do it to ourselves, don’t we? Well, try telling that to my mind, to my shaking hands, to my desire to be left alone.
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How to Make It Easier for Introverts
While we can’t always avoid it, it would be great to see more leaders and event organizers take introverts into consideration. Although the “stand up and tell us about yourself” model works fine for most extroverts, it’s pure torture for us introverts.
Plus, most of the time, introductions like this aren’t beneficial, and most of what is said is forgotten within minutes.
There are other ways of getting to know one another that don’t include singling people out. For example, you could allow people to introduce themselves in small groups or one-on-one rather than standing up in front of the entire room.
It also helps to give introverts something specific to talk about. That “tell us about yourself” question is so large that our minds go blank. Plus, for many introverts, it’s easier to talk about things that aren’t intensely personal. Have people name five of their favorites (a favorite restaurant, favorite movie, favorite vacation destination, etc.) or briefly share something new they recently learned.
Most people enjoy a more casual way of getting to know one another. And the more relaxed people are, the more likely they will be to return.
Introverts: What to Do When It’s Unavoidable
So, introverts, what do you do when public speaking is thrust upon you without prior warning? Do you run away? Do you hide under the table and consume an entire bottle of wine?
No, of course not (even though that’s probably exactly what you feel like doing in the moment).
You might not be able to control your situation but you can control — to a degree — the way you deal with it. There’s only one way to deal with a situation like this, and that is to keep it simple.
“Keep it simple, stupid!” K.I.S.S is an acronym devised by the U.S Navy in 1960. Other variants include, “Keep it simple, silly,” “Keep it short and simple,” and “Keep it simple and straightforward.”
Either way, the premise is the same. If you’re ever in a situation where you need to stand up in front of a crowd, just remember this phrase. Don’t complicate things by trying to come up with something interesting, unique, or funny. You’re only going to cause even more stress for yourself.
Take a deep breath, be concise, and remember that most people are more worried about what they’re going to say than what you are saying. If there’s one thing the online community has taught me, it’s that there are more anxious people out in the world than we realize.
Keep it simple and remember that you’re not alone — then maybe later reach for that bottle of wine.