Although I characterise most of my work as ‘storytelling’ it is, in many respects, a form of sales training – soft sales training. Many of my clients are technically schooled professionals who are thrust into situations where they must persuade and influence others, and they don’t find it easy. Giving them a better story to tell, and the ability to tell it well when it matters, helps them on their way.
They mostly sit in the introvert half of the traditional extrovert-introvert scale and, at the beginning, the very word ‘sales’ fills many of them with dread!
Author and academic Susan Cain has some interesting things to say about this in her excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. As the title suggests, she presents a strong case in favour of introverts and argues that the bulk of personal development and business literature has seen introversion as a condition requiring a cure.
It got me thinking that perhaps I’ve been part of this mass conspiracy and need to mend my ways!
As always, the truth appears to be more nuanced. Cain rightly points out the value in quiet reflection, listening and the ability to concentrate on a single task – some of the many common characteristics of introverts. However, she devotes a chapter to those times when it might be useful to behave in a more extroverted way.
I remember listening some years ago to a talk by Dan Pink where he argued that the best salespeople are neither introverts nor extroverts, but ambiverts – those able to adapt their behaviour according to the situation.
On a similar theme, Cain introduces us to Professor Brian Little, a Cambridge-based academic who appears to undergo a metamorphosis as he steps into the lecture theatre. A shy man whose perfect day would involve reading, writing and hours of solitude, he comes to life in front of his students and has a phenomenal reputation as a public speaker.
This has implications for the so-called person-situation debate; two contrasting schools of thought whereby you’re either permanently imprisoned in your personality type OR you’re perfectly able to adapt and therefore have several ‘selves’ depending on the situation.
According the personality school the shy professor ought to feel uncomfortable at best on the stage, but he seems to relish these occasions. He’s in full flow.
Little explains his remarkable transformation in terms of Free Trait Theory; an introvert can behave in a more extroverted way when they’re pursuing what he describes as a “core personal project”.
For the professor, his passion is to see his students grow. It’s the mission that lights him up.
Thus, it’s easier for shy folk to venture out of their shell when they’re talking about something they feel strongly about. Their vocal delivery and body language shifts when they move on to a topic that’s close to their heart.
This is why it makes sense to connect with your message on a more personal level. If you’re presenting cold facts it can come across as dry and detached. You’re speaking from the head, not the heart. You’re appealing only to the rational part of your audience’s brains, and that may leave them informed but unmoved.
Conversely, when you package those facts into a more human story, sharing your thoughts, feelings and observations with people, you become more connected with your message. Make it personal rather than factual. If you’re telling people how to present effectively, instead of listing a load of do’s and don’ts tell us what it was like to deliver your first pitch, and how you learned from your experiences and those of others.
A self-confessed introvert, Cain herself shares the experience of attending a Tony Robbins seminar, describing the event through the eyes of someone venturing far beyond her zone of comfort.
My overall message is this – if you’re more towards the introvert than the extrovert end of the spectrum, if you don’t consider yourself a natural salesperson but you’re looking to be more effective as an influencer, there is hope! Dial into the strength of feeling you have for your topic. Think of it as a resource, a super-fuel you can draw upon to help you in situations where you have to win people over.
That fuel will drive your performance, making you more animated when you’re presenting, networking, being interviewed or otherwise selling yourself to others.