When I joined the speech and debate team on the first day of high school, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I, like many other introverts, balked at the thought of standing up at a podium in front of a large group of people and expressing myself and my arguments. However, I had been pestered by a neighbor, who was part of the team, to join. She said I would be good at it because of my quiet analytical thinking and even promised it would help me “come out of my shell” like it did her. Well, she was a debater, so I was convinced in no time and cautiously joined the speech and debate team. Being part of a team was uncomfortable for me, but the actual tournaments were solo-performance based, which was a hidden blessing.

There is a common misconception that good debaters or speakers have to be fiery, talkative, confrontational, extroverted, etc. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a good speaker has to be well-read and willing to do extensive research. They have to be calculating and thoughtful, creative and sharp. It’s no coincidence that many of the past and present best actors, writers, and leaders have been extremely private and introverted. I hoped to use my introversion as my secret weapon. And it worked! I soon began to advance to elimination rounds at tournaments. In rounds, I was just as persuasive and confident as anyone else, and I knew exactly how to respond to my opponent’s attacks. I won entire tournaments. I even won the top speaker award at multiple tournaments! An introvert—top speaker! The irony!

However, as I still strive for personal success in speech and debate, I remain unchanged. I’m still that quiet boy who sits alone at tournaments, and that surprises many people as if such a debater is not supposed to exist. In a way, I think I’m becoming more introverted as my time with the team continues. The funny thing is that as I became more confident in my speaking ability, I began to feel less pressure to try to be more extroverted in social interactions or school. It’s as if all my years of being taunted by kids and criticized by adults for being too quiet have been swept away. I didn’t forget them. I’m just at peace with them—free to be my introverted self without feeling guilty about what other people think or being insecure about my abilities.

Unfortunately, there is a culture of extroversion that surrounds speech, debate, drama, and other similar activities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but it breaks my heart when I see other introverts join these activities for a few days and then quit because they fear the dominant extroverted personalities around them or what people will think of them.

I definitely have had my share of comments made to me about my involvement in the activity. Just this year, one of my friends had said that I would make a good president after I got a good grade on a test. It was a completely light-hearted statement and just something nice that kids say to each other when someone does something impressive. But then I was shocked when I heard someone else say, “Don’t you have to talk to be president?” That comment just hit home for me, and I’m sure for many other introverts as well. I didn’t reply, of course, but the answer is simple: I might be quiet, but I am not incapable. An introvert can talk. An introvert can lead. An introvert can persuade. An introvert can be passionate. An introvert can be anything they want to be.

There is no designated turf in school, in extracurricular activities, or in the workplace for only certain people. Introverts are business leaders, lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers, and, yes, even presidents. The sooner we realize that, the better we will be as a society. And to all the introverts out there, never fear anything you want to do because introversion is a strength, not a weakness.

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  • Curtis Martin

    My ninth grade English teacher was a state champion debate coach. He assigned a 5 minute speech. I was so terrified I ran away from home. I eventually did the speech. I survived. In my 40s I was invited to co-pastor a small community church. I discovered that I was really good at public speaking, but I never got over my fear of being an MC. Weird, huh. I’ve retired from the lay pastor job, but people are still surprised to hear that I’m an introvert. I usually sit quietly in the background observing the rowdy extroverts. I’ve finally become comfortable with my introversion. I no longer feel shame at being quiet or pressured into being more outgoing. I’m comfortable with who I am.

  • Ray Doraymefa

    In high school I joined the speech team. I did best on Original Oratory (speeches I prepared) and
    Memorized Public Address” (prepared ahead of time by others, like John Hancock). I did worst at Impromptu. Exactly as predicted for an introvert. I wish I had understood more then.
    … It was funny. I was far from being the star that you, Alex, undoubtedly have become, but unexpectedly I did eventually earn enough “points” to earn a “Letter” in speech. I could have bought one of those big letters to put on a sweater and attach the pin (a little metal gavel) that I got for “lettering”, but I thought it was corny and shallowly attention-seeking. Years later, I mentioned to my Lady that I had lettered in SPEECH in high school, at which time she, followed by me, laughed uncontrollably for what seemed like… 6-8 weeks. Why do we think that orators can’t be “Big Man on Campus”? 🙂

  • Michael Lapointe

    Just because you’re ‘quiet’ doesn’t mean you have to believe extroverted stereotypes. What is funny is how bewildered or confused society gets when you break traditional cultural perceptions.