Since the publication of Susan Cain’s 2012 bestselling book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” introverts have become downright popular.
People who used to be stereotyped as quintessential shy, socially awkward personality types have now become a force to be reckoned with, albeit in their quieter, less outgoing style.
Thousands of articles have been written over the past few years extolling the traits and benefits of introversion, explaining how the more solitary and reflective types among us (myself included) can thrive in business and leadership, in school settings, as parents and even in dating. (If you’re curious, BuzzFeed has more than a dozen quizzes available to test just how introverted you might be.)
Who are the introverts? Cain defines them as people having a preference for “a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment.” They typically listen more often than they speak and are generally less tolerant of risk. Small talk can be a nightmare for many introverts because it lacks depth or any real connection. Introverts value having a smaller number of close relationships over many casual ones. Finally, they want their work to be meaningful.
So, in a field such as public relations—one that, by definition, relates to the public—is there room for the introverted personality type?
It’s easier to imagine a classic extrovert—with a naturally outgoing and social personality—in a PR role. They are the folks who typically have no issues working a crowded room or trade show booth, making cold calls to strangers and easily building rapport on behalf of their clients. Make no mistake—extroverts are a crucial part of a PR team. However, I would argue there are few career choices better suited to an introvert than public relations.
See how these common introvert traits can be applied to PR:
Listening and thinking before you speak. Journalists work under tight deadlines and need answers and information quickly. That’s the nature of our business. But all too often people prioritize reacting quickly, or loudly, or first, rather than reacting thoughtfully. Speaking and working too fast is how careless mistakes are made, and in PR those mistakes can end up on the evening news. Consider that in the vast, vast majority of situations, one should always take time to pause and think critically.
Embracing the calm. This is key in crisis situations or when patience is running thin. The last thing a stressful situation needs is a sense of panic and anxiety. Because many introverts are more subdued and less reactive, they can bring a sense of calm to a crisis.
Many years ago during a performance review a manager described me as “the office hostage negotiator” because I was able to defuse tense or challenging situations and keep my teams focused on their immediate priorities rather than panicking and letting a crisis situation spin out of control. It’s only recently I realized that this accolade was due largely to my being an introvert.
Choosing quality over quantity. One of the worst practices in PR is the “spray and pray” mentality toward media outreach. This is when an organization blasts out a press release or email pitch to the widest variety of media possible, hoping that someone, anyone, will bite and cover its news. I suppose the logic here is that the more people your message reaches, the better—but are those people actually reading your news? Do they care at all?
Introverts tend to prefer having close relationships with a few people rather than dozens and dozens of casual connections. I would argue that having close, long-term relationships with your clients, your news sources and your influencers is vastly more effective than casually “pinging” thousands of contacts every week.
Being prepared. For introverts, preparation is everything. It ensures we’re able to speak thoughtfully and offer something meaningful to the dialogue.
In PR, preparation is also crucial—it’s the main differentiator that ensures a client nails an important interview or speech, and that your account teams are well informed about activities, budgets and priorities. I personally find speaking off the cuff to be tremendously stressful because it means I often don’t have time to adequately research what I’m saying, prepare my key points and think carefully about my argument.
Explore potential issues and questions in advance to ensure you have the right materials and resources for the task at hand. The more prepared you and your client are, the stronger the end result will be.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. Or socially awkward. Or an asocial hermit. But it does mean that you value time alone to regroup and re-energize. It also means that you more often listen before speaking, particularly in a large or unfamiliar setting. This thoughtful, arguably more personal approach will serve introverts well in an industry like public relations—and make them a valuable part of any PR team.
Are you an introvert working in PR? What do you like most (and least!) about it? What are your biggest challenges?