Here's the myth: The strongest public speakers tend to be extroverts. You get on the stage at TED and other major platforms by having a big, outgoing personality. You speak with confidence because you've been talking nonstop since birth.
None of this is true. I know, because I'm one of those introverts who has been on the TED stage. Not coincidentally, one of the most popular TED talks ever is by former lawyer Susan Cain - about the power of introverts.
Being an introvert doesn't mean you're necessarily shy. It means you get energy from being alone. Too much social stimulation is draining.
This, actually, can be a public speaking superpower. Here's why.
Less likely to wing it
I remember talking to someone about an upcoming, major speech they had in a few days. How was the prep going?
"Well, I have an idea of what I want to talk about. I'm sure it will come together when I get up there."
I'm sure I made a face and stopped breathing for a few moments. For myself and other introverts I know, the idea of winging it on the spot is a nightmare scenario.
When you naturally have the gift of gab, then it is easier to assume that your best words and concepts will come to your lips when you need them. That's not always true. There are extroverts I respect who have done major public speaking gaffes and, afterwards, explained that the words "just came out". In general, introverts think before they speak, while extroverts speak to think out their ideas - and that difference can make introverts actually more adept at the public speaking experience.
I'm currently doing the first Entrepreneurship Speaking Residency at the Toledo Lucas Public Library, which means I'll be doing a series of keynotes every Wednesday this month. I am going through my normal routine of practicing and memorizing my talks until I am comfortable enough to be fully present during the events.
I am not winging it, because I can't.
Passion gets you on the stage
There are wonderful people who are a ready to grab the mic. It's the guy or gal at the wedding who immediately jumps up and does an impromptu toast to the couple. This is often our view of a good public speaker.
It may be the sign of a natural public speaker, but not necessarily a good one.
I've found good public speaking comes down to one measurement: Will this serve the audience? It could be making them laugh, it could be motivating them or it could be making them think. But it has to be for the audience.
For myself and other introverts I know, we're not going to be on the stage unless we really believe we need to give something of value. We're less likely to waste other people's time, because it is less likely to be about us.
My stomach turns upside down every time I'm about to do a keynote. For a while, it was to the point where I couldn't eat beforehand. Susan Cain has been awesomely transparent in her post-TED conversations, too, about how nervous she was before her talk. Cain's TED talk now has 25 million views (and rising).
However, what we have to say outweighs any reservation we have to getting on that stage. Introverts have an extra filtering process: Is what I have to say worth making myself that vulnerable and uncomfortable? And if it is, then whatever is being said must be pretty powerful.