Introversion is an undervalued characteristic that is often overlooked in our extroverted society. In Susan Cain’s TED talk, “The Power of Introverts,” the acclaimed writer and lecturer informs the audience how extroverted styles of thought in the workplace and the classroom are overtaking our institutions and suppressing the creative thinking of many introverts. Cain’s central argument is that introverts should maintain their abilities to think creatively, brainstorm in their own quiet ways, and not succumb to socially accepted, extroverted methods of working. To express her claim, Cain, who identifies as an introvert, uses a series of personal anecdotes and rhetorical moves to share her own stories of introversion and connect with introverted audience members.
Cain is also able to connect with extroverted audience members and uses this connection to prompt extroverts to abide by her claims. Carefully implemented tactics, including sharing her own experiences, allow her to effectively establish connections with both parties. In addition to conveying an extroverted persona on stage, Cain uses her respectful, direct, and laid-back personality to increase her persuasiveness. These rhetorical strategies shape her ethos, make her a trustworthy speaker, and motivate the audience to start accepting introverted thought processes.
Cain notes that extroverts are generally seen by those in authority as favorable students and employees, as they work better in the social settings their teachers and employers place them in. Introverts are often dismissed in these roles due to their reserved nature and the fact that they typically work better in isolation. Cain believes that this baseless estrangement threatens the social and economic standing of fellow introverts. This perceived alienation of members of Cain’s social group alarm the speaker, prompted her to give this speech and to write numerous books about the need to preserve introverted styles of thought. These books are titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids. In her speech, and in her books, Cain stresses that introverts are just as efficient, if not more so, than extroverts, if given an appropriate environment.
Throughout her speech, Cain uses personal anecdotes and audience-based appeals to show how someone as introverted as herself can succumb to extroverted pressures.
More importantly, she includes these appeals to connect on a deeper level with the introverts in her audience, because those audience members can identify with Cain’s personality, her viewpoints, and the societal struggles that she has endured. Cain discusses her perceptions of camp as a young child and her vision “of ten girls sitting in a cabin, cozily reading books in their matching nightgowns” (Cain). To her dismay, camp turned out to be an extrovert festival with rowdy cheers and constant socialization. Cain’s example directly appeals to many introverts who have, at some point in their lives, found discomfort in large social gatherings. In the process, she evokes empathy and humor from all members of her audience.. She also generates not just recognition but a sense of relief from her introverted audience members, showing that they are not alone in their desire to seek quiet settings.
Cain invokes her own past emotional reactions not only to connect with her audience members, but to reveal how she experienced living as an introvert in environments geared toward extroversion. Subsequently, she uses this portrayal to show how even someone as introverted as herself can thrive in the presence of extroversion.
Influenced by the desire to fit in and to prove to herself that she could achieve success in an inherently public field, Cain discusses how she came to be a lawyer. As a young adult, Cain “was always going off to crowded bars, when in reality [she] would have preferred to just have a nice dinner with friends” (Cain). In that sentence, Cain intimately reveals how her career choice and her personal decisions went against almost everything she envisioned herself becoming as an introvert. Cain uses her own life’s example to reinforce the notion that extroverted styles of thought are pressuring throngs of introverts to wander unhealthily out of their social comfort zone. Cain trusts that the introverts in her audience will recognize similar sacrifices that they themselves have made or will have to make in order to make a living and achieve their goals.
In addition to using her own childhood experiences to relate to the introverts in her audience, Cain incorporates analogies about extroversion into her argument to connect with extroverted audience members . For example, to show the loquacious nature of her summer camp, Cain states “camp was more like a keg party without any alcohol” (Cain n.p.). By relating her past experiences to a keg party - an event that one would most likely find many extroverts at - she is able to appeal to her outgoing audience members.
Additionally, the humor conveyed by a statement that amusingly compares youth camp to a rowdy adult celebration further gains the attention of her audience, especially extroverted members.
As a complementary tactic to the one described in the previous paragraph, Cain is able to take on the persona of an extrovert throughout her speech. During her talk, Cain remains passionate and confident. Her tone is soft, yet convincing, and her stage presence is unwavering. Her body language is relaxed, even in front of a large audience. Although Cain is a soft-spoken and presumably shy introvert, she demands to be heard. Through her laid-back stage presence, and her calm and collected character, Cain convinces her audience that, even as an introvert, she can behave similarly to a stereotypical extrovert in front of a large group of people. When extroverted audience members take note of the personality of this self-proclaimed introvert, some of them may recognize that they are not all that different from introverts. This realization may compel some extroverts to identify and even empathize with Cain’s claims.
Furthermore, Cain’s portrayal of herself as an introvert who, if circumstances require, can adopt extroverted tendencies may inspire introverts to stick up for what they believe in and become more outgoing. Introverts are generally quieter than extroverts and sometimes find it harder to make their voices heard, even if a few may wish to speak up more often. By taking on the role of an extrovert through her tone and presence, Cain conveys to introverts that extroversion can be an important mode of delivery that is useful for persuasion. Therefore, she hopes to convince introverts that extroversion is not a completely negative characteristic, that extroverts are not awful people, and that introverts can use extroversion to make their voices heard.
Cain notes on numerous occasions throughout her speech that our world is wasting the talents and capabilities of introverts. Cain remarks, “the vast majority of teachers [believe] the ideal student is an extrovert as opposed to an introvert” (Cain). Here, the speaker directly challenges teachers for favoring extroverts solely based on their outgoing nature. She also notes that “when it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions” (Cain). With this comment, Cain addresses specific groups, comprised primarily of teachers and employers who may favor extroversion and contribute to the erosion of introverted styles of thought. Through specific, non-malicious, and direct assertions targeted at the audience, some of whom undoubtedly hold perceptions Cain wishes to change, she evokes a call to action among those who favor extroversion to allow introverts to succeed while willingly seeking solitude. In doing so, Cain also urges extroverts to base their perception of introverts on factors other than their soft-spoken nature and their reluctance to work in groups. She expresses a hope that extroverts will begin to judge introverts not by how they interact with others, but by their work ethics, their passion, their creativity, and their success.
Cain simultaneously motivates introverts to stick up for themselves and to embrace their reserved mannerisms. Cain’s ethical and respectful requests effectively prompt these two different groups into taking steps to make sure that extroverts and introverts may thrive.
To improve her credibility among potential naysayers, Cain stresses numerous times that she does not oppose extroverted styles of thought and that she does not dislike extroverts. After giving numerous examples of why introverts make better leaders and thinkers, she humorously affirms, “I think at this point it’s important for me to say that I actually love extroverts. I always like to say [that] some of my best friends are extroverts, including my beloved husband” (Cain). Once again, in invoking her own situation, Cain proves to her audience, through her respectful nature, that she values and understands the strengths of both groups.
Numerous times throughout her speech, Cain calls attention to the fact that many modernized classrooms and workplaces cater to extroverts by encouraging students and employees to work together more frequently. Cain points out that, although this idea is extremely favorable for extroverts, who obtain their energy from outside sources, this style of work may not be the most effective way for introverted, self-energizing students to complete tasks. Cain’s direct and respectful confrontation of those in the high ranks of education and the workplace who stifle introverted tendencies compels extroverts to alter their perception of introverts and prompts introverts to stick up for themselves. Cain succinctly and successfully concludes her talk with a proposal: “the key to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us” (Cain). With those words, Cain achieves for her speech what she strives to achieve for introverts: an understanding and respect.