By Sarah Lerche
Whether your business is in the ideation stage or heading for an IPO, chances are that you’ll have to make presentations and promote your company. For some people, that’s easy to do — but if you’re an introvert, it can be a challenge.
We turned to Beth Buelow, professional coach and author of The Introvert Entrepreneur, to find out how introverts can boost their presentation, sales and networking skills. Read on to get the scoop on her easy-to-implement tips.
Escalon: How does someone know that they’re an introvert?
Buelow: A basic way to figure out if you’re an introvert is to ask yourself how you gain and drain energy. Introverts gain energy through solitude and in low-stimulation environments; we drain energy when we’re in intense social interactions or high-stimulation environments. There are definitely social interactions we enjoy, particularly hanging out with a few friends, going to a concert or show, volunteering for a cause we care about, or even collaborating with a great team at work. It’s just that those interactions often require all of the energy we have, and when we’re done, we’re done! We have to “retreat to recharge,” so that when the time comes to be social, we can do it all over again. Our default when we’re tired is to seek solitude.
In contrast, an extrovert will gain energy from social activities and stimulation, and drain energy if they’re left alone for too long or don’t have anything or anyone with whom to bounce thoughts around. We all — even the most introverted introvert or extroverted extrovert — have both energies within us to varying degrees. We are all on a spectrum. Introverts still need people, and extroverts still need down time. The important point is to recognize which energy is dominant for you and honor it as much as possible.
If you’re shy, you may be an introvert, but not necessarily. Shyness is about social anxiety, which is different from introversion. That said, the majority of people who say they’re shy also self-identify as introverted. What would a shy extrovert look like? Someone who has a tight-knit circle of friends they depend on and see frequently, but isn’t keen on extending that circle to new people or being in social situations with lots of strangers.
Introverts also tend to be internal processors, thinking before they speak and only speaking once a thought is fully formed. Extroverts tend to be verbal processors, identifying with the idea of “I don’t know what I think until I say it.”
Escalon: Are there any ways that introverts can exercise their presentation muscle so they can make sales pitches without draining themselves?
Buelow: First is to recognize that you’re going to be expending a lot of outward energy during the presentation, and to take steps to restore and conserve your energy prior to a presentation. Don’t schedule anything else that day if you can, or at least keep the day light. Work ahead so you’re not up until 2:00 a.m. the night before putting on the finishing touches. Get a good night’s sleep and leave plenty of time so you can walk into the room calm, cool and collected.
Since we introverts tend to live in our heads, it’s important that you don’t just create the presentation and think through your pitch. It’s critical to practice it aloud. That might seem like a “duh!” piece of advice, but it’s something we can easily forget to do! It doesn’t matter if you’re alone or have a few trusted colleagues or friends as your audience. You’ll hear sentences that could be made stronger when they’re vocalized much better than just reading or thinking them. Give yourself enough prep time that you can do a calm run-through once or twice a day for a few days before the pitch meeting.
In addition to the verbal practicing, take time to do some visualization. Go through the entire day, from waking up, having breakfast, getting ready, driving to the meeting, setting up your information, shaking the hands of the investors, delivering your pitch, answering their questions, and leaving. It’s a mental dress rehearsal that can trick your brain a bit into believing on the actual pitch day, “I’ve already done this and it went well.”
And while there’s a lot on the line, remember to relax. Breathe. Remember you’re a human being looking to partner with other human beings. Let your excitement and belief in your business come through and invite them to share it.
What tips do you have for entrepreneurs who have trouble putting themselves out there in trying to build their businesses?
Buelow: In my experience, it’s easier to put yourself out there if you flip that idea and think of it as putting your idea and solution out there. If you have a service or product that solves a problem or makes someone’s life easier or more enjoyable, don’t you have a responsibility to share it with them? That’s how I see it. I’m seeking visibility for my idea, not for me. I’m the messenger, not the message. It’s also beneficial to see networking and marketing as relationship building, not selling. Release pressure on yourself — if you’re feeling it — that every interaction is a possible sale. See them as a series of conversations and opportunities to educate others on what you have to offer. With each conversation, you’re also learning what they need. And if you can’t fill that need, it’s very satisfying to refer them to another source.
If I’m hesitant to put myself out there, it’s probably based in fear of rejection. And it’s true; we will have our idea rejected, probably many times, even by the very people we think would most benefit from it. What we’re looking for is resonance, and we won’t find that if we don’t show up. If we don’t show up, we’re essentially creating a pre-emptive “no” from our potential customers. We’re saying “no” for them! By showing up, we’re letting them decide if there’s resonance, instead of us deciding for them.
One of the easiest ways to overcome the stress of visibility is to be super clear on your ideal customer. It’s one way to cut through the market noise, and it tends to pull people to you, which means you’re doing less pushing. You’ll still have to show up consistently, but it takes less energy to do so when you know exactly who you’re talking to and how you can help them.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to show up everywhere. Resist the bright shiny object syndrome or advice from people that you must be on this or that platform or that it’s essential that you do any particular thing. Consider where your market hangs out, how they prefer to engage, and where you can show up most consistently and powerfully. Focus on showing up fully in a few places, rather than trying to have a half-baked presence everywhere.
Escalon: Can introversion be overcome?
Buelow: I don’t see introversion inherently as something to overcome or as a liability. It’s a trait one can choose to recognize, accept and then honor. Introverted tendencies can be great strengths: Our preference for introspection means projects are thought through and contingencies considered. We’re often good listeners and have healthy curiosity. We can work independently and often have little urge to be in the spotlight. And when we are in the spotlight, we tend to be collaborative in our leadership and put the company and team before our own ego. We learn to work with our introversion by being aware of our strengths and how they show up and affect our work and relationships. Acceptance of our energy empowers us to then be able to share our preferences with others so they can work with us, rather than against us.
Resource: Click here for an infographic that can help you remember the tips on how introverted entrepreneurs can thrive.