Tricks To Command a Room When You’re Not a Natural Born Leader

How can you win over your peers when you’re not the most charismatic woman in the place? Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, shares her tips on captivating an audience even when it doesn’t come naturally

by Laura Sinberg
flower standing out from rest
Photograph: Chris DeRidder/Shutterstock.com

Believe In Your Message
Commanding a room comes, more than anything else, from having an inner sense of conviction about what you’re saying, says Cain. Take some time to sit by yourself and think about what you truly believe before you go in the room to make your points. “What matters is what you really feel and think,” says Cain. “That is going to communicate itself no matter what else you do.”

Think Before You Sit
Ask yourself where you feel most comfortable when you walk into the room. If you’re at ease on the sidelines, stay there. Cain gives the example of Robert Rubin, secretary of the treasury during the Clinton administration. “He was quite clearly an introvert, you can tell from his memoirs,” she says. “And he talks about how, in politics, at the White House, people always jockeyed to sit in the power position in the center of the table, because they thought that was how they would command the room. But he was more comfortable on the side of the table. He felt like he could speak up there, from that perspective, and say, ‘Mr. President, here is my idea.’ I think that’s a great lesson for introverts—they don’t necessarily need the traditional means of power to communicate their point.”

Don’t Consider Yourself an Underdog
While introverts may find themselves being dismissed at first because they don’t speak up very much, over time they gain credibility because people learn that when they do speak, it’s worth listening.  “I hear this all the time—corporate leaders who don’t speak so much, but then when they do, everyone listens,” says Cain.

On the flip side, Cain says, extroverts often lose credibility over time because people’s expectations of them have been overinflated. “They’ve been so charismatic in the beginning, so people think they can do anything but then wind up disappointed when they are just normal,” Cain says.

Charisma Is Not a Requirement
It is possible to be introverted and charismatic. Cain points to President Obama and Emma Watson as examples. But not all introverts are. “What’s important to remember about charisma is we place a lot of value on it, but it’s really just one way of commanding a room,” says Cain. The key is to take steps to make yourself effective without the benefit of charisma if you don’t have it.

Know In Advance How You’ll React to Your Situation
Some people aren’t predisposed to introversion or extroversion. Instead, these ambiverts can move back and forth between either side. “You have to know whether the room you are trying to command is a situation that will put you into your introvert mode, and then you use those strategies, or one that will put you into extrovert mode,” says Cain. Preparation is important. “Have conviction in what you are saying, know where to place yourself in the room, ask questions and make sure you formulate your ideas before you speak.”

Next: Tell a Story Like a Pro

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