Richard John: Way of the introvert

If you’re putting on a conference, there’s a good chance that you’ll have thought that some of your line up of speakers could do with some help. But have you ever wondered why ‘presentation skills’ training may not make a difference? My mate Richard Tierney, is an industry veteran who has recently launched a consultancy called the Introverted Presenter, and reckons he has the answer.

His credentials are impressive. He started as a theatre techie, rose to become an event producer, then retrained at the Royal College of Art in television production, worked as a video and TV producer for a decade and then studied at the London Business School, which led to the development of his creative coaching company. It equates to a staggering 30 years of coaching presenters from over 60 of the Fortune 100 companies. He has worked in more than 30 countries, and has coached everywhere from an Indonesian deserted Island to Buckingham Palace.

Introverted Presenter is also the title of his forthcoming book, and he explains why he feels the world needed another book on presenting.

“Here’s the scenario. An accomplished presenter – let’s call him Roy – gives a great presentation at the company’s annual conference. Mary, a salesperson in the audience, admires his stage presence and wants to emulate him. She searches online and, guess what?, Roy has written a ‘How to’ book sharing his personal secrets and tips for presenting. So Mary buys it. Late into the night she studies Roy’s secrets, and put all he says into practice, and guess what? It does not work.

The reason is very simple: Roy is an extrovert. From an early age Roy has been the star of the show, he’s always the one who volunteers to be in the nativity play, speech day, University debating society, and company meeting. That’s why he’s a presenter and speaker – he was born to do it. No matter how often Mary reads the book, she’s missing a vital part. Mary is an introvert and yet will still dread getting up to speak no matter how many books written by extroverts like Roy she reads.”

Richard’s view is that most professional presenters are great on stage because they are extroverts. They love the spotlight. However, here’s a surprise; the majority of clients, presenters and meeting planners, are introverts.   

So the presentation coaching and message planning services out there are aimed at the wrong personality type.

Cod psychology

Now, here’s a spoonful of cod-psychology; the terms ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ were first popularised by Carl Jung, and many of the popular ‘personality profiling’ questionnaires make use of the concept, including those by Eysenck’s, the Cattell’s 16 personality factors, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Jung and the gang suggest that everyone has both an extroverted and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other. Typically, extroverts are seen to be gregarious, assertive, and interested in seeking out external stimulus. Introverts, in contrast, are seen as introspective, quiet and less sociable. And of course, these are behaviours that are highly visible on stage.

Richard also points out that introversion/extroversion is measured in terms of a scale or spectrum, and around seven out of ten people fall in the middle ranges, known as ‘ambiversion’. That means only around 15 per cent of the population at either end can be considered genuinely introverted or extroverted. He’s also keen to point out that: “We introverts are known to have slightly higher IQs than you lot”. Still, other researchers have pointed out that more extroverted people tend to report higher levels of happiness than introverts.


Jung stated that introverts acknowledge more readily their psychological needs and problems, whereas extroverts tend to be oblivious to them because they focus more on the outer world.

However, extroversion is socially preferable in Western culture and can make introverts feel more self-conscious. Other studies have found that extroverts tend to report higher levels of self-esteem than introverts.

So far, so good; it’s obvious an extroverted trainer may struggle to change the performance of an introverted delegate. Richard’s success stems from the fact that he is a classical introvert, and his starting point is to use some of the popular questionnaires to identify the degree of introversion within his clients. As he explains: “It’s about leading the reader through the terror to a place of comfort and acceptance. Mary will never be a stand-up comedienne, but she can come to present carefully prepared material her audience will connect with, and she can enjoy doing it.”

For some reason Mr Tierney believes that your beloved columnist is an extrovert, just because it takes a stick with a hook at the end to get me off the stage. But he points out that the majority of people find such a situation totally alien.

 “This started out as a presentation coaching service, and with some clients that’s where it stops,” says Tierney. “But with others I go into deeper questions about their business and the messages they wish to get across. Introverts don’t think about this, they just want to keep their heads down and get on with their lives. And because I’m an introvert I can relate to that.”

After three decades in the events industry Tierney describes his new role as “the most rewarding work I have ever done. It can be transformational. Using all my experience in the events business yet not being a vendor is a great liberation for me. Seeing my client’s actually enjoying standing up and speaking, with their audience having clarity, is a great joy. But you extroverts probably don’t understand what all the fuss is about.”

Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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