It’s early on a Wednesday morning and even though I would like to sleep longer, I have already begun to prepare for the day. I got up long before dawn to prepare for a weekly task that I could never have imagined myself doing during my shy days: hosting a radio talk show at the University of Winnipeg.
In many ways, I am the stereotypical Introvert. I’m reserved. I dislike telephone calls and prefer to let others do the talking yet somehow, against the odds, I have come to enjoy the weekly interviews and the banter with my co-host. Even knowing that I potentially have an audience of 10,000 people hanging on my words fails to deter me from continuing with this volunteer work.
So I started to wonder, despite the stereotype of radio personalities as larger-than-life, does being an Introvert actually help my radio work?
Here’s what I found.
I’m an awesome public speaker
Actually, most Introverts tend to be good public speakers. According to Susan Cain in Quiet: The Hidden Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Introverts tend to do well with addressing audiences, likely because we plan ahead and think through what we are going to say. Sure, we find small talk difficult -- and I definitely struggle with the banter that comes between segments of the radio show -- but presenting a prepared speech is often well within the abilities of Introverts.
The studio is like a one-on-one
It’s pretty well established that Introverts prefer speaking with people one-on-one rather than in large groups. Even though the radio potentially reaches thousands of people at once, the on-air studio gives the illusion of privacy; with no visible audience, it is easy to imagine that any mistakes or quirky remarks that I make will go unheard.
When I was younger, I always hated answering the phone at home because it often meant talking to strangers. Now, I talk to strangers all the time, but generally one or two at a time in a controlled environment. Even when I go out with a recorder to get comments from the public, the limitations of the microphone mean that I can approach only one or two people at a time.
This keeps things quiet and intimate -- and that’s an environment which the interviewees themselves seem to prefer.
Another of the hosts once said that I seem to be able to get more responses from the people we’re interviewing than other radio volunteers do. I like to think that my introverted, non-threatening nature is part of the reason for this.
In a studio, you can listen. Really listen.
Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she had heard my show on the radio, and she commented that I really seemed to be listening to my guest and responding to what the person had said. This ability to listen is essential in radio work, especially if I want my guests to enjoy the experience.
One of the reasons why Introverts often make good employers is that they tend to have the ability to listen and to think things through before they act. I have found my preference for listening rather than speaking very useful in keeping interviews on track and interesting. Being able to respond to what my guests have said is important, not just to make them feel appreciated, but also to learn from them and to take the conversation to places that I might not have anticipated. Really listening is one way that I can prepare for the unexpected on the show.
Improvising is a skill you can learn
Generally, Introverts tend not to be the best at dealing with the “thrill of the unexpected.” We’re much less stimulated by risk or gambling than Extraverts tend to be. Yet, hosting a show where guests may or may not turn up; where there is generally no technician onsite to help if the equipment fails; where last-minute changes are the norm, means that risk is part of every show. Scary, right? But I am becoming more adept at improvising.
I remember one time when I had arranged a ten-minute interview with then-Governor General of Canada, David Johnston. He was coming to launch a book that he had written, and I had pre-arranged an interview, also writing out a list of seven or eight questions that I wanted to ask.
But the Governor General’s plane was delayed, and my longer interview was pre-empted to allow him to begin his public event as soon as he arrived. In the end, I had about two minutes to ask one question after the event had finished, which necessitated some quick mental readjustment to the situation.
Fortunately, most of the other people had already gone by then, and I could conduct my brief interview in relative peace. For an Introvert who likes order and the chance to plan ahead, the episode was somewhat stressful, though interesting. It showed me that improvising is a skill like any other. It can be learned.
It’s all part of the learning experience
When I think about my experiences as a radio host, I tend to have a few different reactions. One is to be amazed that I, the person whose ideal evening would involve quiet time spent alone, would be comfortable talking on the radio. Another is to realize that yes, I have many of the qualities that can lead to success in public media. Yet another is to wonder why I didn’t think of radio sooner, when I could have considered making a career of it! Still, I’m learning more and more each week, and something more might come of it in the future.
An Introvert as a radio host? Why not?