I picture myself at the old Algonquin Roundtable with pundits from my circle, and we’re discussing how introverts can promote themselves to Jo(e) Extrovert -- who, incidentally, is busy working the room. Here’s what the pundits say:
• Listen. “Too many people misunderstand what the other person is saying,” says Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines. “Speak slowly, have your points, go over them and listen to what the other person says. It’s not just listening to his voice. Watch his body language. If somebody shuts down, you’ll see it on her face. If she’s looking at her BlackBerry or if she interrupts you 16 times, you’ve lost her. You can say things like, ‘Maybe I ought to come back another time. You’re obviously busy, busy, busy.’” Black concludes: “So communication is critical; it’s the sum of the parts -- and it’s not just verbal.”
• Interrupt. I once heard an introvert say that she just wanted to get a pause in edgewise. While it might seem ironic to suggest that you interrupt right after I suggested that you listen, sometimes interrupting is appropriate, and even necessary. Michele Wucker, executive director of the World Policy Institute, tells how she handles her live appearances on national TV as an introvert: “The hardest thing was to learn to interrupt. You’re expected to do it, and it’s entertainment. I just decided that I was going to do it. I kept trying, and then all of a sudden it happened. I really started to enjoy my debates with Pat Buchanan when I could say, ‘Wow! I got the last word in today.’”
• Jump back in when you’ve been interrupted. Extroverts like to talk, and they might even fill in your every pause. It may be a challenge to wedge in a word when talking to Jo(e) Extrovert. You can sit quietly at a meeting with a room full of extroverts, or you can choose to make yourself visible. “You really have to sometimes be firm and point out nicely when someone interrupts you. Smile and say, ‘Why don’t you let me finish this thought, and then you can go?’ Or, ‘I think it’s my turn,’” says Kathleen Waldron, PhD, president of Baruch College, and an outgoing introvert. She adds that using a little humor can go a long way.
• Share what you’re thinking. People can’t see your mind at work, and you won’t get credit for your thoughts if they remain in your head. “Introverts don’t share all that they have available. Just spit it out. I often want to know more. Help me understand what you’re thinking,” says Michael Braunstein, ASA, MAAA, a very extroverted actuary at Aetna Inc. I met Braunstein at a big regional conference of actuaries, where he worked the room as if he were driving a fast convertible and somehow picking up more passengers at every turn.
• Give external signals. “As an extrovert, I look outward for cues about how to connect effectively with each person I meet,” says Elizabeth Guilday, cofounder of the Professional Certificate in Coaching Program at NYU and president of Indigo Resources, Inc. “Making a connection is important to me. So I’m especially attentive to demonstrating that I understand you, and I look for signals that you understand me. If I get a clear signal, then you’ve satisfied my extrovert’s need.”
• Show your face. While it may tax you to socialize too much, it’s important to get out there and be seen. Be smart and strategic about how and where you spend your time. “You don’t have to be the loudest talker and the greatest joke teller. Instead, you’re the person who’s always around and who provides information and contacts,” says Shoya Zichy, the extroverted author (with Ann Bidou) of Career Match. Make an appearance, talk to a few key people, and then go home.
• Position yourself as an expert. Figure out how to make your knowledge invaluable to others. Get known as the “go-to” person for your area of expertise. Harness your introverted strengths, and write or deliver presentations on what you know that others don’t to increase your visibility. “Say you’re an expert in ferrets,” says Howard Greenstein, social media strategist and president of the Harbrooke Group consultancy. “If you publish a ferret article a week for 52 weeks, before you know it, you’re going to come up a lot higher when someone types ‘ferret’ into a search engine than if you just have a site that says, ‘The Ferret Expert.’”
• Succeed by filling existing needs. “The first way to succeed is to produce and do a lot of things for yourself and hope that some of that will be applicable to others’ lives,” says one of my clients, the award-winning artist, film director and teacher Michael Somoroff. “The second way, which is my way, is to search others’ needs and create projects that are solutions to their desires. This ensures a certain kind of success because the projects have a place in the world, since people already want them.” Somoroff’s advice stems from the successes of his own kaleidoscopic career: he’s a sought-after lecturer on art and spirituality, his works are at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and together with Barnett Newman, he is the only artist who was invited to install a work at the renowned Rothko Chapel in Houston. He’s also one of the most successful commercial film directors in the world.
• Become an insider. You don’t have to be a braggart to promote yourself effectively. “In my experiences in both TV news and acting, two very competitive fields, it’s not only the bold self-promoter who gets ahead,” says actor and longtime TV anchor Brad Holbrook. “At first, those people who are more reluctant to draw attention to themselves often end up in roles that are less ‘glamorous,’ like being a writer or producer in TV news. But once you’re inside the realm, a lot of the imagined intimidation can fall away. So that if you’re really interested in taking on a more ‘out there’ job -- reporter or actor, say -- it might not seem so unimaginable.”
• Get other people to spread your ideas. “Self-promotion is a misnomer,” says marketing guru and internationally bestselling author Seth Godin. “We’ve entered an era in which what you really want is ‘other-people promotion.’ The people who have the most impact aren’t the ones who are promoting themselves. They’re the ones that other people are promoting. Chuck Close is a famous artist who doesn’t jump up and down on the stage -- he’s in a wheelchair. People talk about him and his work is promoted heavily.” Godin adds: “But not by Chuck Close. So the opportunity is to not use your introversion as an excuse. It’s to say: ‘If I really did remarkable work that changed the status quo in a scary big way, people would talk about me.’ And that is your obligation.”
The tricky part is that you can never really be sure who is an extrovert and who is an introvert -- especially among more polished, senior-level types -- unless they tell you. However, just being attuned to the differences between introverts and extroverts and paying attention to your conversation partner’s cues will give you a jumpstart.
[Nancy Ancowitz is a business communication coach specializing in career advancement and presentation skills. She is the creator of the popular Self-Promotion for Introverts® workshop, which she offers at New York University.]
Copyright 2010 by Nancy Ancowitz from Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead. Published by McGraw-Hill.
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