I have a confession to make; I am, in fact… an introvert. I’ve tried hiding it for many years but now it is time to come clean. According to the Myers Briggs test, my personality type is INFP or, ‘The Mediator’. Not only does this make me the least exciting super hero ever, it also means that I’m a diplomat and an introvert.
On the face of it, it might seem like a career in PR isn’t the best choice of career but I know a great many introverted communicators. So here is a guide for all my fellow innies on coping in this industry.
To anyone who isn’t an introvert, what I’m about to write is going to seem crazy, but I guarantee that I am not the only one. Of all the conversations that I initiate, I forward plan around 80% of them. Not just work conversations, all of them.
The reason is simple, if I don’t do that, my mind gets too tangled up in what I want to say until one of two things happens: 1) I mess up what I’m trying to say so it makes no sense or just sounds dumb. 2) By the time I’ve got the wording right in my head, the conversation has moved on.
Forward planning conversations means that the risk of either of these happening is significantly reduced. It also means that I have ready-made conversation topics up my sleeve, lessening the danger of an introvert’s worst nightmare – the awkward silence.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t affect my ability to think on my feet. If a journalist calls needing something right away, I can deal with that. I’ve even managed to give the occasional ad hoc media interview if the topic is something I know particularly well. Planning helps a lot. Plan everything.
Without wanting to come over all Ab Fab, I tend to find that if you’re happy with the way you look, you feel more confident, making it easier to relax. As an introvert you always have an irrational fear of being an outsider, feeling under- or over-dressed just adds to that. Embrace it.
There is no need to be ashamed of being an introvert. Shakespeare was one, so was Stephen Hawking. A main personality trait of introverts is that we prefer to listen than talk, which is pretty vital when it comes to building any kind of media relationship. We also like to focus our attention on a few valuable people, making our relationships with journalists – and clients – genuine.
Introverts can also make intuitive communicators; a good command of language and the ability to use symbolism effectively make us highly competent storytellers. Take stock of all the things that make you a good communicator and use them to your advantage.
One of my greatest workplace fears is being in a meeting with nothing to say. It doesn’t happen often, but on my first day at Torque I was part of a two hour conference call in which I didn’t have a word to contribute. No one expected me to – it was my first day, a new topic and an unfamiliar company, yet throughout I was wracked with the urge to fain an illness or cut free the telephone receiver so that I didn’t have to endure my own silence any longer.
The good thing about introverts is that we tend to only speak when there is something to say. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t tempting to just say something, anything, so that you know you have contributed. Resist the temptation.
We are great listeners; we take on board what is being said, process it, and then take action. Use this to your advantage.
Process what is being said and make a considered point later on. And remember, one of the most worthy things you can do in any conversation is ask questions.
It’s fine to be quiet or to listen, but as a PR, you won’t get away with standing around at an event with your back to the wall. Sometimes, the best way of getting involved is by taking a deep breath and throwing yourself into a situation. Relax, plan your method of attack and just get yourself out there. What’s the worst that can happen? The more industry events, media briefings and press launches you go on, the easier it will become.
I find the best way to cope with my previous advice is to take breaks. Find a reason to take five minutes out so that you can find somewhere quiet, relax, regroup and psych yourself up for the next round. If you don’t do this, you’ll start flagging and you won’t give it your best shot when it matters.