Hiding in Plain Site: The Storyteller as an Introvert

By Slash Coleman

From the Series: Finding Your Business Comfort Zone

My friend owns a comedy club where she occasionally performs. One night, thinking I’d be a “shoe-in” for funny, she pulled me on stage as part of her act. Had she known that I’m an extroverted-introvert she probably would have reconsidered.

What does it mean to be an extroverted-introvert? Consider this. If you watch me perform on stage, you’d likely consider me confident, passionate, and articulate. Yet, pull me up on stage as myself and the extrovert completely disappears. I clam up, sweat profusely, and sometimes stutter.

This dichotomy is something I’ve struggled with through the years. Like many storytellers, I’m considered borderline on the Myers Briggs test – an extroverted-introvert. As such, typical business strategies don’t work for me. Considering that introverts make up 25-40% of the general population and 60% of the gifted population, (Jonathan Rauch, Atlantic.com) chances are, you fall into the same category as I do – someone who leans a bit toward the introverted side.

As such, there are distinct differences in the social situations where I thrive and the social situations where I’d rather run in a hole and hide.

Author, Chuck Palahniuk references this challenge by writing, “You spend time alone, building this lovely world…You let the phone ring. The emails pile up. You stay in your story world…..If your story sells well enough, you get to go on a book tour. Do interviews. Really be with people. A lot of people. People until you’re sick of people. Until you crave the idea of escaping…”

How do we balance the alone time used to create our work with the social time we need to spend promoting it?

The key to this balance is in defining your business comfort zone. It’s important to find a way to individualize a business strategy so it works for you. Obviously, some tasks related to the business of storytelling will make you feel more comfortable than others.

For example, most formal networking environments give me anxiety because I panic when it comes to making small talk – I second guess myself, censor my ideas, and feel self-conscious. I’ve heard from others that this insecurity can make me seem unsocial and pretentious. Yikes!

Since realizing this, I’ve developed strategies to re-shape the idea of business networking so it works for me. My love affair with Twitter is a great example. From the comfort of my laptop, I can now begin a one-on-one conversation, pace it slowly and have it end in a meaningful meeting.

If you’re feeling a sense of hesitation toward a business task, it’s a sure sign that you need to find a way to push it towards your business comfort zone. Remember, you get to choose how you accomplish a business task. Find the place within the task that will help you stand in your business comfort zone and give yourself permission to tell the world about your work in a way that feels most comfortable to you.

About Slash

Slash Coleman is a professional storyteller best known for his award winning PBS special, “The Neon Man and Me.” A regular contributor to Storytelling Magazine and a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts, Slash recently participated in the 2011 teller-in-residence program at the International Storytelling Center. For more great business advice related to storytellers and his acclaimed marketing classes which have ben featured on NPR and most recently at the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference.

Contact Slash

Website: www.slashcoleman.com

21 thoughts on “Hiding in Plain Site: The Storyteller as an Introvert”

  1. Sometimes I feel like talking and sometimes I don’t. Some groups I feel comfortable with and some I don’t.
    I am not the same on and off the the job. Faces are often recogonizable to me but the names are hiding in someplace I can’t seem to reach them. THis is so embarrasing. Who would have thought that at this age and being quite comfortable on stage I would be reading books on the art of conversation?

  2. Mij, I am burdened with an additional condition that sabotages me whenever I see 2 people I know in public and have to introduce them. I can not remember the 2 names – even when one of these persons is someone like my sister or nephew. It is extremely embarrassing.

  3. This introvert-extrovert thing isn’t just storytellers– I’ve been performing at and hosting poetry events for over a year now, and it still is not easy: neither the networking nor the behind-the-mic– I still get sick to my stomach before most performances. (Although most never know this from hearing me read, and once I’m up there, I could go on reading forever!) Years ago I took the Myers-Briggs and was also right on the E-I border.

    Despite my inner introvert, who would most times rather stay home than go out and make small talk with potential colleagues, going out there and getting heard has become a large part of what I do. These days, writers of all stripes almost have to be their own PR liaisons and marketing gurus if they want their voices to carry over all the rest of the herd. (Despite the generality that so many writers are introverts at heart.)

    So I think this phenomenon of the extroverted-introvert might be more widespread than most people would think. Thanks for sharing this, Slash.

  4. Ok, I just looked at the Myers Briggs Test. It is extremely difficult for me to answer the questions with any kind of definite answer one way or the other. I react to situations differently. I am or I should say, I thought I was an introvert. In most of the scenarios, I identify with both sides. Mmm, so, I don’t know how to answer the questions. I need to be extroverted for what I try to accompLish, but, as an artist, I need no one – LOL ♥

  5. Ah man, I hear you. As a performer, I struggle with how to promote a project in which I’m involved with the same fervor with which I can promote a fellow artist’s project. I’d love to hear more of your ideas about standing inside my business comfort zone!

  6. I work with this challenge too. When I am teaching or speaking about my work in a public forum, or when I am one-on-one, I do fine, but in a roomful of strangers, I feel shy and reserved and have trouble getting going until I find a person to have a “real” conversation with. I also have trouble recognizing faces, much less remembering names – a bizarre affliction for a visual artist, but there it is! I dislike superficial small talk but love intimacy and real connection – that’s my main dichotomy.

  7. I could write a novel about this subject. I think everything begins and ends though with a simple phrase: “Don’t make assumptions”. I started performing at the age of 9 & have moved in & out of theater alternatively loving it, & being disgusted with the politics of it. I act, I paint, I write. At the age of 17, I told a friend that I’d rather be a famous writer than a famous actor. He asked me why. My answer was “the grocery store”. If you’re a famous writer, you can still go to the grocery store, and probably no one will recognize you. If you’re a famous actor, you can’t. It seemed and seems like a big price to pay for everyone knowing your “face” and consequently projecting their expectations upon you. Personal history has only proven my gut feeling that writer vs. actor was what works best for me. One of my best friends is the funniest person I know. Now I know many stand-up comics, who are very funny. She is funnier than all of them and she has never had any desire at all to do stand-up and tell jokes. Interestingly, all my comic friends know her well now, and, if they were being honest, most of them would say “Yeah, she is funnier than I am on any given night”. She would rather write. My younger brother is an introvert. He has also acted in many plays and plays instruments and sung in many popular bands. But to get to know him off-stage? Horse of a different color. He is an introvert. Dated a very funny actor. He was also an artist and a writer and a musician. EXTREMELY shy. I’ll go so far to say he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Socially awkward. We’ve all met performers who “can’t get off stage” and have a “constant mask”. Then we’ve also all met performers who are “on” when they are “on stage” and are shy, not much to share, when they are off. I don’t think performers are much different than the general population with one exception – they crave attention. Just because you crave attention though, doesn’t mean you want “the world’s” adulation when you are off stage. As a species we tend to think in very binary terms. I don’t think performing as a profession is an extrovert vs. introvert thing. Look at Michael Jackson. Perfect example of a consummate performer who was at heart an introvert. We make assumptions that performers are extroverts. No. Performers are people and run the gamut of extroversion vs. introversion.

  8. When the idea of networking comes up I often start to sweat and I become paranoid about my lack of conversation skills. Yet as a performer I thrive on working with others and collaboration–could you go into a little more detail perhaps of a more confident or positive mind set that would help me with this problem?

  9. Very nice! Based on your description, I would say you are very much a classic introvert, and not “on the line.”

    Introversion does not mean “I don’t like talking.” I’m an introvert too, but can be very social and outgoing.

    It has everything to do with where you get your energy. The test for introversion is: After you perform, speak, go to party, are you energized or drained? Do you need to retreat afterwards so that you can recharge? If so, that’s introversion.

    However, if after the performance or party you feel recharged and ready to go seize the day, that’s extraversion.

    Here’s a nice article that spells out the differences: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.asp

  10. The first time I ever saw you– you were on stage and I was in the audience. When we met after the show I was shocked both by how shy you are in person and how similar your nose is to my husband’s. You two also went to highschool together and had crushes on each other’s sisters. So what’s the correlation? Anyway, as an extroverted writer I envy you introverts; you get a lot of writing done without crawling out of your skin. I’d say that’s a good problem to have.

  11. I just finsihed reading a memoir by Roseanne Cash, and she discusses the challenges of creating art that is meant to be shared in a very public way, and yet wanting badly to maintain a very private life. Thanks for your blog post, Slash!

  12. I recall this night vividly! I really thought you’d be a shoe in when we called you on stage. Wow! You transformed in front of my eyes to Super Introvert! It was a very interesting moment to say the least. Although, being in the world of improv and comedy I’ve seen performers morph from shy guy to comedian, or comedian to shy guy frequently.

    I must admit I too, believe it or not, have moments very similar. I clam up, can not connect, and just want to run for the door. I’ve learned how to balance my networking and business so I have less of these moments, but sometimes, it creeps up on me and before you now it, I’ve grabbed my purse and am out the door. It’s a kind of funny thing, and by funny I actually mean funny peculiar, and not funny ha ha.

    Thanks for shedding a little light on the some times quirky behaviors of the introvert-extrovert.

  13. Hi Slash,

    Very interesting discussion. I completely understand the need to find your comfort zone in many things. For example, my girlfriend (who is not a performer but attends every single networking event with me) is a total introvert and is very uncomfortable in crowded environments. We have a new trick–every 30 minutes, she takes a break–goes outside, to the restroom, takes a walk. Anything to reduce the stimuli for a few minutes. This has helped us in social settings where, as I’ve learned, shaking hands and making small talk may ultimately lead to a new fan, a ticket buyer, a visit to my website, or a strategic alliance.

  14. What an interesting topic. I remember being close to the line in the Meyer Briggs test too…an extroverted introvert. I just learned a new word from wikipedia – “ambiversion”. It says: “Ambiversion is a term used to describe people who fall more or less directly in the middle and exhibit tendencies of both groups. An ambivert is normally comfortable with groups and enjoys social interaction, but also relishes time alone and away from the crowd.”

  15. Slash, this is great food for thought – thank you. I actually am more a classic extrovert. I’m so much happier performing live than being recorded; I love all kinds of face-to-face interaction and don’t mind being put on the spot for improvising, but I still don’t like to promote my work to people – just something that feels really uncomfortable about saying, ‘hey, look at me and listen to my songs!’ – even without being a natural introvert. I know it hurts me that I don’t do this the way some of my fellow musicians do – something I need to work on! Thanks for offering some potential solutions to the challenge.

  16. Thanks Slash for this article. Makes me reflect and that is good. Reading through all the comments i stumble over the labels ” introvert, extrovert”, i rather don´t like to lable myself nor others…I have the impression we are talking here more about listening. listening to myself, to others, to the stories. When i am together with people i am shy in a sense of held back, because i love to listen and watch. That feeds my imagination, the stories, the voice-work. And working all alone in my studio i am not cut off people, i always feel connected to the word, the audience. it is just easier to “hear and touch” the spirit of a story when there is no distraction from outside. And when i listened enough, then i have something to share on stage….

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