Updated: Oct 3, 2020
9 Ways to Break Through
Have you ever frozen up in public? Scrambled for the right words in a meeting? Forgotten everything you were going to say in the blink of an eye? It's frustrating, to say the least...literally!
You have suffered from what I call Introvert's Paralysis. This is the sudden blankness or void that overcomes you at the exact wrong time.
What is Introvert's Paralysis?
Imagine yourself at a meeting table with twelve others. The leader is going around the table asking for a brief introduction from everyone...name, role, years in the company, and then the tricky one - one unique thing about you no one else would know. Your turn is coming as the wave moves around the room and you are scrambling to think of something to share...
You are at a cocktail reception with hundreds of strangers. You are determined to blend in, or perhaps you are told to do so as part of your job. So you approach a table of four and all eyes focus on you. It is your chance to speak...
You are giving a presentation at work (or church or some other organization). You are introduced and approach the middle of the stage. And your mind goes blank...
Who Suffers from Introvert's Paralysis?
Well, introvert's are the obvious and most common victim. Shy people also may deal with this phenomenon. Not everyone suffers from Introvert's Paralysis, but if you are both shy and an introvert as I am, this devil may rear its ugly head at the most inopportune moments.
Why do we get this?
This disabling issue can be a form of social anxiety but it can be especially common with introverts. We get "in our heads" a lot. We build up these events in our minds from the moment the event is on our meticulous calendar. This anxiety swirling in our reflections often directs us to lean on another common strength...preparation. But are we preparing in the right way?
What are we doing wrong?
Our inclination is actually to over-prepare. We write out our speech, add PowerPoint slides, and hold curled note cards in our hands. We review what we will say when it is our turn for an introduction, often to the word. I know, I did this for years in my corporate job and in my awkward social life. But we are building up a wall that is hard to scale.
Where did this wall come from?
This paralysis is due to a build-up of tension and apprehension. It's like your stomach tightening with every click-click-click as your rollercoaster climbs to the peak before the inevitable plunge. Once you reach the top, the tension goes away. You may not love the rollercoaster, but you are likely to release your pent up energy with a piercing shriek. You may even love the ride and will surely be proud you took the chance. It's the same with this paralysis. Once you break through the initial wall, the conversation will go smoother and your confidence and pride will grow.
How do I break through this wall and overcome my paralysis?
Know yourself: It sounds simple but so important to know what your strengths and values are. Forget about your gaps and lean on your strengths. Do you like to learn? Are you thoughtful and empathetic? Are you creative? Are you curious? Are you a planner? Each of these can help in preparing for difficult events. Take a quick Personalized Introvert Superpower Quiz here.
Be authentic: This can be a tough one, especially as an introvert surrounded by the extroverted social norm. But pretending to be someone else is transparent and painful. Be yourself and you will attract interest from those who like the real you.
Question: Ask yourself in advance if you truly want and need to be at this event. Often we let our blind ambition and determination to push ourselves get the better of us. It is definitely good to stretch, but it's best to find a happy medium closer to your comfort zone.
Relax: Take a deep breath. Life will go on after the meeting, cocktail, or party. You are not likely the focus of all the attendees, so don't put undue pressure on yourself. Plan some alone time afterward.
Envision success: Instead of focusing on the anxiety or all the things that could go wrong, envision a successful event. You can do this well in advance of something, or in the moments leading up to your introduction at the table. Support yourself with Positive Self Talk. Remind yourself you are interesting, curious, and capable. These words help, and they will drown out the negative thoughts that often take over.
Start early: I've always found if I speak early in a meeting or show up early to a party and introduce myself to the few already there, my cluttered mind is distracted and the butterflies disappear.
Prepare your List of Four: as a general exercise, these four lists are wall-breakers! Put them together, keep them handy, bring them with you, update them periodically:
Interesting points about you: unique trips, hobbies, talents, passions, dreams.
Current event topics: scan the news for interesting topics ranging from weather, sports, space program, or history. Avoid politics and religion.
Work items: depending on the audience, you can inject your elevator speech of what you do, three projects you are working on, the biggest challenges in your job, or information you are seeking from your counterpart.
Questions for strangers: know your audience. Ask about their hobbies or trips. Rather than ask "what do you do?", ask "what projects they are working on, what attracted them to their job, or what the biggest challenge is in their job?" Asking questions shows interest in others and also gives you a bit of time to prepare for your next line. You are never wholly responsible for maintaining the conversation. Finding a common topic will quickly relieve any nerves and you'll be off and running.
Review your List of Four or speech outline: Be prepared by reviewing your presentation or speech outline or your List of Four, but don't write your speech out and don't try to memorize it. You are much better off knowing the subject and letting it flow than trying to remember each line and stalling when you can't.
Bring a cheat sheet: before a social event or conference, I often jot down items from one or more of my List of Four on a business card or index card and put it in my pocket. If I feel overwhelmed and hence forgetful, I can duck into a corner or restroom and quickly review my list before returning to the foray with a renewed approach.
With a bit of forethought and authenticity, we can shed our introvert's paralysis and shift our approach at these social and work events from victim to victor!