Introvert Isn’t a Bad Word: My Ignite Recap

Last August, at ASAE’s Annual Meeting I gave another Ignite Presentation (I know, you’re surprised). The title of my Ignite this year was, “Introvert Isn’t a Bad Word.” This was something that took me a long time to learn. Below is the Youtube video of my Ignite talk followed by a slightly modified blog post.

I was never been much of a hand raiser growing up. In fact, most of my life I avoided raising my hand. I remember my first day of 2nd grade. I was so scared and nervous that the second the door opened, I hid behind my parents. I sat quietly in the back and prayed my teacher didn’t call on me or make me talk.

The Dark Ages
Then there was the time in 7th grade when I had to deliver a presentation in front of my art class. I barely had time to prepare and felt like my presentation was mediocre at best. I lied to the teacher and said I wasn’t ready. I ended up taking an F on the project. This wasn’t the first or last time that I’d take an F on a project rather than face the debilitating fear of speaking in front of my class.

These two instances started a period of my life that I have come to call the “Dark Ages.” Also known as the “How horrible it must be for you to be an introvert” years. During this time, I would hear things like – “Well, it’s OK that you’re an introvert” as if to imply that being an introvert somehow made me a second class citizen.

Faking It Till You Make It
Growing up, we’re under constant pressure to join sports teams, extracurricular activities, and volunteer groups. But if you sit alone at lunch, then there’s definitely something wrong with you. So I played sports, I wrote for the school paper and yearbook, and I worked as an RA in the dorms…talk about an introvert’s nightmare.

I did all of these with a fake smile and a deep breath. I kept participating in activities geared towards extroverts in hopes that it would change who I was as a person. I remember constantly thinking that something wrong with me because I didn’t enjoy most of these activities. It took me a long time to learn that being an introvert has nothing to do with being shy, it doesn’t mean introverts are anti-social, and it surely doesn’t mean introverts can’t be leaders. These are just some of the many myths you hear about introverts.

Misconceptions About Introverts
The biggest misconception about introverts is that we’re shy. In reality, shyness is the fear of negative judgment from those around us. Being an introvert simply means we need alone time to recharge, where extroverts are typically recharge through big social settings.

The myth that introverts don’t like people is far from the truth. We’re intimately selective and prefer deep meaningful conversations. We tend to flounder during huge networking events with hundreds of people we don’t know. But invite us to dinner or a happy hour and we’ll be your best friend.

Learning by listening is a trait that many introverted leaders consistently demonstrate. Introverted leaders typically listen first, think second, and speak third. Our society has always equated leaders as these “larger than life” people. Think about how we treat athletes, political leaders, CEOs of great companies. Some of our most successful leaders were introverts. Would you believe me if I told you the likes of Warren Buffet, former Vice-President Al Gore, CEO of Google Larry Page, and President Obama are all introverts?

Succeeding as an Introvert
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I realized being an introvert has its advantages. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors, who, whether they realized it or not, have Ignited My Introvert. They taught me how to utilize my introvert strengths.

The opportunity for advanced preparation is key for an introvert. Environments like discussion panels, group meetings, and brainstorming sessions are less than ideal for introverts. If I am asked to participate in one of these, I know I need to prepare my thoughts well in advance.

While my counterparts may believe that I’m anti-social or shy, I know that my people skills are best used to develop strong one-on-one relationships like we come to expect from community managers, volunteer & board relations staff, and membership departments.

Following up after meetings, phone calls, or conferences are great ways for me to harness all my strengths as an introvert. Whether it’s a follow-up email after a meeting, or a hand-written note after a conference, following-up gives me time to collect and compose my thoughts.

My mentors made me realize that there’s nothing wrong with my set of skills. This newly found self-realization allows me to succeed as an introvert. A number of times throughout my journey, I’ve had to work to overcome being misunderstood because of my quiet temperament.

As an introvert, it’s not that I don’t like to talk. I know that sometimes my written words can better convey what I am thinking. Whether in casual conversation or a formal presentation, I carefully consider the situation and reflect before responding. I can communicate verbally, but only when I have something important to say. When introverts speak up, it’s usually worth listening.

Ignite Your Introvert
We all have the ability to do something amazing; some of us just do it a little more quietly than others. Chances are we all know an introvert. Maybe it’s a friend, a colleague, a fellow volunteer, or maybe it’s the introvert within you. Whoever it is, it’s time to Ignite Your Introvert.

So here is what I want you to do. After you’re done reading, go to this website I’ve setup, and download the guide with ways that you can Ignite Your Introvert. Use this guide over the next 30 days to help the Introverts in your life shine. Give them opportunities to contribute using their strengths as introverts.

Once you’ve Ignited Your Introvert share the story of how you ignited your introvert. With your help, we can prove that Introvert isn’t a bad word.