My Talk at Ignite Chicago

On June 11, I spoke at Ignite Chicago about “How Wallflowers Make Great Rockstars.” Here is what I wrote. Video coming soon!

My name is Keidra Chaney, and I’m a walking contradiction. I am an introvert who loves to perform in front of crowds. Tonight I am going to talk about the secret power of being an introverted performer.

Growing up I never considered myself a people person, and I have grown up preferring the company of books and being in my own head than holding court in a group of people.

I grew up as “the quiet one” in a family with a lawyer mom known for commanding a crowd and an older sister who always felt comfortable expressing herself creatively: singing, on the debate team, you name it. On the other hand, in high school, I was voted quietest person in school. By the entire school. Think about that, I was literally SO quiet, people noticed. How do you notice someone who’s not saying anything? They noticed me.

Even now I’m painfully awkward at small talk. It takes me approximately one and a half glasses of wine to actually feel comfortable at a party full of strangers, and even then I’ll probably just mutter hello to one person and then just run off to the bathroom to “fix my hair.”

But, I’m also in a rock band. I play bass and I am the lead singer band called Sole Heiress. And I love doing it. Performing music is one of the great joys of my life. I work in social media, which is known as the career of choice for relentlessly perky types who love a crowd. So when I tell people that don’t know me very well that I am an introvert, some tend to not believe me. “Oh no!” they say. “You have lots of friends, you speak in public, you scream on stage. You can’t be.”

But no, I am an introvert, and it’s not a dirty word or even a condition that needs to be overcome. Introverts can be great public speakers and sales people, inspiring leaders, and commanding performers. They just need a bit more time in their head.

In many interviews, Beyonce has referenced that she created a performance persona, Sasha Fierce, to balance out her more reserved real life personality. “I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage, this alter ego that I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am.”

And she’s not the only one. In fact, I’m of the belief that sometimes the more reserved and quiet among us actually make fantastic performers, sometimes even rockstars, it’s about knowing how to bring the best out of them.

Author Susan Cain wrote a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and she talks about some of the elements of introverted thinking that are actually a strength when it comes to performance, whether it’s doing a presentation at work or playing music in front of a crowd.

The singer Kate Bush once said: “I really like the idea of my work speaking for me, not *me* speaking for me.” And that’s introverts in a nutshell, we love ideas, we love our own ideas.

Introverted performers like Trent Reznor of NIN tend to spend a lot of time developing their creative ideas on their own before putting their message out into the world or even the people they collaborate with. For introverts, being able to externalize our work and focus on making it the very best it can be puts us at ease, because it’s not about us. It’s about the message, the work.

So when working with us introverts, knowing that we have the time and space to think about what an audience is going to get out of our work before we share it helps us to perform better, we are committed to getting out there and killing it, we just need a little extra time in our heads to figure out how, like rapper Frank Ocean who spend twice as much material in his diary than he records.

I know that process helped me. Being someone who was never super demonstrative growing up, Learning to play an instrument as an adult in my late 20s and to write my own songs taught me to hone and channel my creativity and self-expression by having that time to develop an idea – like a song- fully before i share it.

So take a moment, think about the wallflowers in your life or at your job and what makes them shine. Introverts aren’t always super chatty, unless we’re passionate about a topic. When passion is on our side, we usually can’t shut up.

And while we’re not always the best at thinking on the fly or in brainstorming sessions (please don’t pressure an introvert to brainstorm, it is a special kind of hell.) when introverts have the time and headspace to plan and prepare our thoughts we usually knock it out of the park because we have the opportunity to develop what’s in our heads and carefully choose the best way to present it.

A lot of so-called wallflowers are actually dying to share their great ideas, take center stage and wow the crowd. But in a lot of work and social environments, speaking first and clarifying later is rewarded, meaning introverts, who mostly do the opposite, can be left to the sidelines.

But the more we understand the strengths of introverted thinking, that introversion can be a strength, I think we will see more quiet rockstars emerge in business, in life, and beyond, showing their value and their power, and changing the world.


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