Today (yes, right now!) I’m presenting a small group discussion at Fitbloggin’, a conference for fitness bloggers that is being held in Savannah, Georgia. I’m elated to be meeting some of the bloggers that I have looked up to for the past year and half, people I follow on Twitter and Instagram but have never seen in real life. Not only do I get to meet them, but I also get to hear them speak about their journeys and gain some wisdom from their experiences.
If you weren’t able to join me, or if you attended my morning session, here is the summary of what I discussed with the group and a bit of a guide to blogging as an introvert.
My Introvert Story
In 2006, while working for a large commercial insurance group, my work team was given the Myers-Briggs personality test. After answering what felt like 750 questions like “You are never late for appointments – TRUE OR FALSE,” I was called to a meeting with all of my fellow team members to receive my results. First, the test interpreter asked us all to line one another up against the wall on a scale of “the most introverted to the most extroverted.” We could place ourselves, but our team members could move us if they thought we were wrong. I knew going in to this exercise that I was an introvert. More over, I felt intuitively that I was the most introverted person on my team. I placed myself at the far end of the line. Team mate after team mate told me to move and I shook my head and smiled, trying to mask the inner horror I was feeling at this exercise. Everyone shouted reasons for why I should move – “But you’re so nice!” or “You’re so friendly!” Because introverts are not nice? not so friendly? My horror grew. When the interpreter revealed the results, I was right. Of approximately 25 team members, I was, by far, the most introverted. My team mates seemed surprised. I felt like I wanted to crawl under the conference table and clutch my test results to my chest.
Common Misconceptions About the Introvert
First, what exactly is an introvert? Aren’t they reclusive? Shy? Unfriendly? No, no and no. The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first coined by psychiatrist Carl Jung and over the years, their meanings have come to have negative vs. positive tones. An extrovert is often viewed as the more positive of the two personality styles, but unfairly so. Perhaps you have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test at a job or in a psychology course. You may already know exactly where you fall on the introvert-extrovert continuum, but if you don’t you can take a quick quiz to get a clear picture.
My favorite introvert definition of sorts comes from author Susan Cain. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (a must read), Cain describes the introvert by saying: “They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.” In today’s culture of quick, introverts may be seen as moving at a snail’s pace. In today’s culture of constant interaction, we may be seen as recluses. But I encourage you to flip that perspective and to start to see the power in being an introvert. Which leads me to….
Benefits of Being an Introvert
Examine the cover of any popular self-help style magazine and I’m willing to bet that you will find an articles on “unplugging” or “disconnecting.” While the age of information is a beautiful thing, Americans (ok, not just Americans) are becoming bogged down in our connections. Smart phones give us notifications of texts, emails, Tweets, Facebook comments, Instagram likes, blog comments and even the old-fashioned voice mail. Managing these interactions can be a full-time job and can actually lead us to feeling DISCONNECTED from our true selves. And here is a perfect example of the power of the introvert – we are experts at disconnection. We need, in fact, we thrive, on the ability to step away from it all. We need daily time to ourselves – peaceful, quiet time. Reading a book, writing in journals, walking quietly in nature. We are perfectly fine with turning down an invitation to a social event in order to nurture ourselves at home. Unplugging just seems to be part of our nature – a bonus as far as I’m concerned.
- The ability to build strong friendships and connections. You listen well and you focus your energy on the person in front of you, making you a great friend.
- The ability to be a strong leader. Because you think carefully before making decisions, they are often grounded in experience and may, therefore, be more likely to work well the first time.
- The ability to be largely self-sufficient. We tend to find value in our own work and don’t always require the affirmation of “the crowd” to move forward.
Why the Introvert is Drawn to Blogging
So, why am I writing at this very moment? Because I prefer written communication over speaking. Yes, I’m a teacher, so I know that doesn’t really seem to make sense. But, even with my students, I sometimes feel awkward speaking in front of them and stumble over words and try to find the perfect way to say what I mean. Writing, especially here on the blog, gives me a chance to edit, add things, delete, to carefully consider what I’m saying and how I want to say it. And, to be brutally honest, I also get to hide a bit. My readers might be from down the road or in Australia (still amazing to me!), but they’re not in front of me. I was never meant to be a waitress – the face to face interactions were too much for me – but I was a pretty good call center representative because I could put someone on hold, find the exact way to say what I needed to and then deliver it well. Since I did that about 200 times a day, I got pretty good at it and eventually could skip the putting on hold thing all together. No one wants a waitress that walks away mid-order and then returns with the “right words.”
Blogging gives the introvert an opportunity to engage on their own terms. We’re not at a night club, trying to make small talk and feeling awful if we “fail.” We’re at home, writing and interacting with readers as we see fit. When we need time to ourselves, we can simply close the laptop or turn off the phone. It’s an ideal way for us to reach out and find balance with our need to turn inward.
How to Engage Your Readers Without Being Drained
The “why” of blogging is often very personal. Some of us started blogging as a means of documenting a significant event in our life (like me – on a journey to my first marathon). Some write to find a community or share hope – I’m thinking of a friend who writes about her family’s life with her son who is on the autism spectrum. Others blog as a full-time business, earning money while being able to stay at home with children or traveling the world and reviewing hotels, races and adventures. No matter the reason, if you want your blog to grow or if you want to keep readers coming back, you will have to consider how to interact, and possibly how to set limits for yourself as an introvert. Here are my practical suggestions:
- Set aside an allotted amount of time and commit to it. This might mean 10 minutes of responding to blog comments, an hour to join a Twitter chat (one of my favorite means of engaging from home!) or 20 minutes to write and schedule an upcoming post. Yes, writing still counts as engaging your reader!
- Write and share at least one blog post that you wrote as if no one was going to read it. I’m serious. I wrote a post a few months ago that seemed to hit home for a number of my readers and I wrote it expecting most of them to roll their eyes. There’s a great saying that we should all dance like no one is watching. I want you to write, at least once, like no one is reading. Surprise yourself and your readers. You never know what might happen or who you might connect with because of it.
- Read other blogs and comment on them. You can find like minded bloggers with a simple Twitter search or read the recommendations your blog host may share. WordPress has a list for me that I occasionally dip in to and enjoy. Again, consider scheduling an amount of time to do this daily or weekly, depending on the goals of your blogging efforts.
- Consider keeping one of your social media outlets private. Yep, I know this might seem like blogging blasphemy, but I advocate for an outlet where you don’t feel as if you need to “engage.” My Facebook account is my private example. I don’t have a dedicated blog page and most of my friends are people I have met in real life. I leave Twitter & Instagram for reader interactions.
- End your blog post with a leading question. This technique is a favorite of mine. It’s painless for me, and, I hope, my possibly introverted reader. On a recent post about a particularly vivid dream I had, I simply asked if other readers had had similar experiences.
- Consider investing in a social media hack app. Tweetbot is my favorite example. I recently coughed up the $4.99 in order to have the ability to clear certain things out of my feed, manage my posts and create lists of people I want to see at one time, rather than be overwhelmed by the stream of Tweets from the 700 or so users that I follow.
Strategies for Real-Life Interactions
As terrifying as it might sound, at some point in time you might have the chance to interact with your readers or with fellow bloggers IN REAL LIFE. Perhaps at a conference about blogging? (wink, wink) I have a great group of local bloggers who meet to discuss blogging and all things Cleveland. I truly enjoy reading their blogs and following their personal journeys. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have anxiety each time I attended an event arranged by the group. I like the events where we “do something,” i.e. volunteer at the local food bank or see an exhibit at the art museum, so I often choose to go to those over the meet ups for dinner or drinks. I’ve accepted that feeling this way is part of who I am, but I’m also trying to push myself to expand my horizons. Here are some of my practical strategies for IRL interactions as an introvert:
- Arrive a few minutes late. Yes, yes, yes, I know that timeliness is important, but I’m giving you permission to come in a little after the scheduled start time. In my experience, nothing is more awkward than the first few minutes that you stand around with a host or hostess and try to make small talk and then try a little more after everyone else arrives. It might be enough to turn you off to the entire event. So, allow your introverted self a few extra minutes.
- Look around the room. Zero in on a person who is the opposite of you. Do they seem at ease with small talk? What are they doing with their hands? Their eyes? And now, fake it ’til you make it. Spend a few minutes stepping outside of yourself and engage with a new person with your role model in mind. See how it works for you and consider trying it again if you need to.
- Come up with a canned response about what you blog about. This is your elevator response – the one you can give in the amount of time it takes you to be on an elevator with a stranger. Practice this response at home. In the car. In the shower. Make variations as you need to, but be able to tell people, confidently, about why and what you write.
- Come up with a list of questions you can ask others. Introverts are awesome listeners, but sometimes we don’t know how to get the party started. If you want to engage with someone, you need an ice breaker. I’m not a natural at small talk (see story above), but I like to ask people about where they’re from, what they write about, if they’ve eaten at any new restaurants lately and what they thought.
- Have an exit strategy. Endless social engagement can be exhausting for introverts, so it helps me to know that at some point in time I will leave and go home to decompress. If you feel uncomfortable with just saying goodnight, prepare a line for your exit as well. “It was great seeing you all! Take care!” or something of that nature will do.
- Be honest! You never know if your crowd is full of introverts – are they all writers like you? Then odds are that some, if not most, of them might be struggling. Don’t be afraid to tell people who you are. Don’t apologize for it either!
I’m going to repeat my last sentence one more time. Do not apologize for who you are. Introvert, extrovert, somewhere in between, you have a unique voice and a unique perspective that you bring to blogging. Stay true to it and honor your personality and your readers will stay right with you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well? Do you have a great story about being an introvert? I’d love to hear it.