Thursday, April 18, 2013

On the radio, nobody knows you're an introvert

Here's an interesting experiment: get a randomly selected group of people together to make a short radio program, record it as if live, and then listen to it played back. You might have some expectations about how it'll be. The confident, chatty, extroverted types who love to talk -- surely they'll be naturals at radio, they'll come across great. And the quiet introverted ones, who find this sort of group-work/public-speaking a form of torture -- well, you can imagine...

Recently I was on a science communication course where we did exactly this. An interesting experience in many ways, but for me the most surprising thing was just how badly that 'natural' talkative extroverted style can come across on radio (which ruthlessly shows up all those hesitations, filler words, odd interjections etc that you probably wouldn't notice in face-to-face speech). And how some of the people you'd expect to be awful at this actually sounded quite polished and professional (listening to the recording, you can't tell that they're reading a prepared speech...or that they're maybe literally shaking with fear!).

Maybe the skills and personality types that make for good radio presenters are not the ones you'd think.

Turns out I'm not the first to come to this conclusion. Several people have observed how the same thing happens with public speaking and presentations -- the usual reasoning being that if you're shy and lacking confidence about such things, you tend to prepare better.

But I think it goes a little deeper. Because as an introverted type, everything you say is a performance. Almost everything you ever say is scripted and rehearsed, even if it's only in your head in the milliseconds before you speak. That's pretty much the definition of an introvert: you think before you speak -- unlike extroverts, for whom speaking is essentially the same thing as thinking.

You probably also tend to be an observer of, always aware of how you look and sound from an outside perspective. That's probably why introverts are more likely to be shy or socially anxious. But it also means you're consciously thinking about the technical details of your speech, like pacing and intonation. This is likely why social interactions are so tiring for an introvert: but it can give you a head-start in public speaking. Those who are not naturals at social interaction also spend a lot of time observing others, analysing and mimicking (or avoiding in some cases!) the way they speak and behave.

Apparently many professional actors are self-described introverts.I don't think that's surprising at all.


Blogger Jennifer Lynn Alvarez said...

Interesting article!! I do well with my presentations, and I'm an introvert. I always thought that was strange. Your theory makes perfect sense to me!

3:25 PM  

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