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Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts – A Speech Analysis
Susan Cain delivered a TED Talk called “The Power of Introverts”. It makes a case that while much of Western society favours the extrovert, introverted people contribute a lot to the world. This well supported talk explains that contribution and makes a call to action. See the video of the talk on TED.com.
Here is my breakdown of the speech. The things that are great about the speech are:
- Steady confident delivery with clear voice and pacing
- Mixture of evidence to support ideas (anecdotes, examples)
- Good soundbites dropped in
- Clear call to action
- A metaphor that unfolds throughout the talk
The areas that could be improved include:
- A tendency to qualify statements
- Repetitive gestures
The things that are great about the speech are:
Steady confident delivery:
Susan is well prepared and delivers a very confident talk with a clear voice and pacing that is comfortable to follow along with.
Illustrated the problem of introverts with anecdote:
Opening anecdote about going to camp.
1:00-1:30 Camp cheer example got a good laugh. Message behind anecdote: Being quiet and introverted needs to be changed
14:00 Grandfather anecdote
15:30 Published book. 7 years.
05:00 Examples of how our environment does not support introversion
Schools designed for extroverts. Classroom has pods of desks. Lots of group work – even in maths, creative writing. At work. Open plan offices. Leaders more likely to be extroverts.
Good soundbites dropped in:
3:30 when it comes to creativity and leadership we need introverts doing what they do best
07:00 Examples of introverted leaders. Everyone is a mix of introvert / extroverts.
10:30 There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.
11:20 US favours man of action over man of contemplation
13:10 Let introverts be themselves
1:00-1:30 Camp cheer example got a good laugh
15:55 Talking about introversion
Clear call to action:
Susan concludes the speech with a clear call to action
16:45 Three calls to action
- Stop the constant group work
- Go to the wilderness
- Take a look at what’s inside your suitcase
A metaphor that unfolds throughout the talk:
It was only at the conclusion that I really got the metaphor of the suitcase and it’s a good one. The idea of showing other people what’s inside your suitcase can be interpreted as sharing with others your passions and deep-seated motivations which may not be obvious from the outside.
Prior to this I wondered whether the suitcase prop was impactful:
First minute of talk, Susan was holding the bag packed for camp. My impression at this stage was that it didn’t add much impact or value.
13:30 Call back to suitcase. Takes out three books. Which transitions to story of her grandfather. I felt that this was low impact again.
It was only in the conclusion did I see the idea that Susan was driving with the suitcase prop. Be conscious when using props, always ask yourself “Is this the best way to illustrate this idea?” “Is this the most memorable way to express the idea?”
Areas that could have been improved:
A tendency to qualify statements:
When you have a point of view, you need to support it in a way that sways the audience to your view. I found the repeated qualification of statements to lessen the impact.
07:30 I actually love extroverts. Some of my best friends are extroverts.
I find the “some of my best friends” phrase to be a particularly poor choice of words. The history of this phrase is often found in divisive discrimination cases around race, religion and sexuality. See it’s background here.
While I don’t think Susan made this connection consciously, the frequent usage of the phrase as a defence to discrimination takes away from her impact at this point in the speech. As a former corporate lawyer, I would expect her to be aware of its connotations. I believe that there is no need for Susan to say that she loves extroverts because I don’t believe anyone was thinking she was out to attack extroverts. She is simply making a case for introversion to be given its space and this does not need to be qualified.
Warwick’s coaching tip: When you are presenting your ideas to influence people, focus most of your energy on making your case and supplementing your message and point of view. If you deliver in a sincere and confident manner, there is no need to argue the other side too. However, in your preparation and research stage, it is prudent to learn as much as you can about different opinions and perspectives so you can consider them while formulating your own message.
04:45 Susan tends to use the same gesture over and over even when it’s not linked to the message. Gestures are best used when they add impact to a message or idea you are expressing. Most of the time speakers have a favorite gesture they tend to overuse, it starts to become an issue when the gestures distracts the audience from the message being delivered. Interestingly, this type of over-gesture is something I often see with extroverted speakers!
This is a well built presentation that makes a case and supports it with a range of evidence. While a couple of areas disrupted its flow, the overall metaphor of the suitcase was good. I would rate this a 7 out of 10.
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