8 Reasons Why Introverts Rule the Interactive Age

After spending the 20th century in relative silence, introverts are poised to rule the Interactive Age.

Social media has changed the way we communicate. The extroverted approach to communication in the 20th century—one-size-fits-all programming, in-your-face advertising, and dictatorial monologues—has been replaced by a more thoughtful and empathetic discourse that involves listening to the ideas of others, engaging in dialogue, offering comments and opinions, and sharing interesting content.

And no one is better prepared for this communication revolution than introverts. Here are the eight reasons why introverts will rule the Interactive Age:

Lessons from Zombie Boy: Heart-tugging campaigns--like beauty--are often only skin deep.

"Baby Jesus, please make Zombie Boy pretty like the rest of us so we can accept him as he should be, no matter what it does to his acting career."  After every outdoor recess my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Yaroschuk, would make us boys wash our hands in the boys’ room and then march single-file past her desk to show her that we got the job done right.

I, unfortunately, had inherited a mild skin condition that would flare up at the most inopportune times—like just before opening day of the 1969 Outdoor Recess Season.

This condition manifested itself as a crescent of very dry skin that ran from the base of my index fingers to the first knuckle of my thumbs. When that skin got dirty—which was always since it was attached to the hands of a nine-year-old boy—it stayed dirty. I couldn’t wash it away no matter how hard I scrubbed.

Mrs. Yaroschuk, even more unfortunately, did not know about this condition and demanded to know why I refused to wash my hands. When I tried to explain sotto voce—since, at this point, we had captured the collective attention of the entire class—she declared to the class that I was lying.

Then, in the middle of hand-inspection time, she grabbed my arm and dragged me into the boys’ room so she could “get that dirt off your hands myself, believe you me!”

She did try, I’ll give her that. But after about two or three minutes of rubbing my hands under hot tap water with coarse brown paper towels slathered in industrial-strength liquid soap, it dawned on her that I was telling the truth.

Today there are a number of products on the market that would prevent such humiliations (mine and Mrs. Yaroschuk’s). And one of those products—Dermablend—is currently taking its turn as an Internet darling with a contrived video campaign called “The Camo Confession,” created by Agence Tuxedo, an ad agency in Montreal.

The premise is clever: A beautiful person sits before a camera, tells you something wonderful about herself, and then makes her “confession” by wiping the Dermablend foundation from her face and revealing a striking skin condition. It’s fascinating, really, when you see that these “normal” people are actually suffering from rather extreme skin conditions caused by things like lupus, severe acne, and vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes the loss of skin color in patches.

The reveal, and each person’s story, makes a powerful case for why some people feel strongly that they need to use Dermablend when they’re out in public, and why—were it not for our reactions—they really wouldn’t have to.

Real feel-good stuff … until you meet Rico. Rico, you see, suffers from … well, let’s let him tell his story.

“Many people would say that I’m different just because of my skin, but I don’t feel that way. In many ways, I’m just the same as anyone else. I am accepted by a lot of people who are … who are different, and in the same position as I am.

“No matter what you’re faced with in life, always feel proud of who you are, for what you are and not to let others’ judgments get in your way. Today, I feel proud. I did what I had to do. And look at me now.”

Yes, Rico is suffering from … tattoos. Hideous, debilitating tattoos that he presumably paid people to etch over his entire body. But did he let that self-inflicted affliction slow him down? Quite the contrary! Rick “Rico” Genest, aka Zombie Boy, is a DJ, an actor, and a model … not in spite of his skin condition, but because of it.

God bless him.

According to Agence Tuxedo, “Above all, you wear a Tuxedo to make an impression.” Well, guys, the impression I hget from that video is Rico in a tuxedo T-shirt, because it says, “I want to be pitiable, but I’m here to party.”


How to Survive Stage-Floor Brain Lock

Brain lock during public speaking If you took any delight in movie director Michael Bay’s recent key-note meltdown you’ve probably never experienced the pain and humiliation of stage-floor brain lock.

Brain lock is a rare and debilitating disorder that occurs when one’s train of thought is completely derailed by an unexpected turn in the tracks, usually in middle of a speech. It is not to be confused with the awkward moment of silence that follows a teleprompter malfunction, clinically known as the Obama-mum phenomenon.

In fact, rather than being rendered speechless by a lack of an original thought, brain-lock sufferers are actually bombarded by countless thoughts shoving and bouncing off each other in a futile effort to become the first words out of the mouth. In Bay’s case, this neurological logjam set off a system-wide alarm that triggered, among many other reactions, the deployment of the automated “charm offensive” and a mustering of the crew on the fight-or-flight deck.

Ordinarily, these two self-preservation systems aren’t activated simultaneously. (There’s actually a locking mechanism built into newer brains that makes this virtually impossible.) But in those rare instances that it does happen, the dissonance between these two very different survival mechanisms actually affects the host body. Once this happens, recovery is extremely unlikely and total, system-wide humiliation is almost a certainty.

You can actually see it happen to Bay. His charm offensive is immediately hampered by a voice tremor, involuntary deep breathing, and a rapidly drying mouth. Meanwhile his flight off the stage is literally thrown into a tail spin as the back—in a selfless effort to save the face—struggles to turn itself to the audience while the legs remain locked facing the audience, hell bent on completing the charm offensive.

Ultimately Bay’s head literally dragged his body off the stage, while his automated charm offensive repeated “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” in a monotone not unlike that of the dying HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was not pretty.

How do I know he went through all this? Because it happened to me.

Just as I was finishing up speech recently, I realized I was coming in for a landing way ahead of schedule. Like Michael Bay, I tried to ad lib some charming dialogue to chew up the clock, but my voice had other plans.

Meanwhile, my brain had gone into full escape mode, desperately shaking the door knobs of every possible escape route. (Do I fake a seizure as I have occasionally asked my daughters to do to get us out of church? Can I set off the fire alarm without anyone noticing? How about a coughing fit?)

By then it was too late; my body was starting to deconstruct. Like clockwork, blood rushed to my face to signal to the other primates in the room that I was, indeed, quite embarrassed. This rush of blood pushed every rational thought out of my head and every drop of saliva out of my mouth, sending most of it to my armpits where it poured out as flop sweat. Sensing that we were in full-blown flight mode, my bladder was about to release its cargo when I was finally able to get myself back the pilot’s seat.

And it was then that I learned the cure to this horrible situation: I stopped everything, took off my jacket, loosened my tie, started rolling up my sleeves and said to the audience, “Sorry folks, but I just started having a panic attack. Let me tell you why …”

And they listened, and they nodded, and they silently thanked God it was me and not them. It’s interesting to note that my brush with reputational death actually brought us closer to each other. While it certainly wasn’t my best speech, a lot of people came up to me, grasped my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “I enjoyed your presentation,” while their eyes were saying, “Damn, I thought we lost you there, boy. Good to have you back.”

So tuck this helpful tip in your back pocket. But remember: as with any effective prophylactic, you only want to use it once.


The Taste of Kent

"Move along, folks. No one can see here." Item: The former police officer who pepper-sprayed students during an Occupy protest at the University of California, Davis is appealing for worker's compensation, claiming he suffered psychiatric injury from the 2011 confrontation. …

Online videos of [Officer John Pike] and another officer casually dousing demonstrators with pepper spray went viral, sparking outrage at UC Davis leaders. The images became a rallying symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

--  Huffington Post, July 26, 2013

Nothing helps a story more than an iconic visual—that photo or video clip that distills your complex narrative into one inspiring, defining visual.

  • The lone man who stopped a column of Chinese tanks armed with nothing more than two shopping bags symbolized the courage of the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.
  • "Native American" Iron Eyes Cody (played by Italian American actor Expera Oscar de Corti) launched the environmental movement of the early 1970's with a single tear.
  • More realistically, the anguish of the 1960's anti-war movement was captured by the Pulitzer-winning photo of the Kent State student who had just been gunned down by a National Guardsman.

Last year, the Occupy Wall Street movement was having a heck of a time capturing its multifaceted temper tantrum in a single complaint, let alone an iconic image--until fate stepped in  to lend a hand.

Meet Lt. John Pike, a.k.a. Sgt. Pepper. Little did Pike know when he was lacing up his boots that morning that by day's end he was going to be the star of the meme heard 'round the world.

Apparently, when the protesters refused to "respect his authoritah," Pike's pique got the better of him, and he began pepper-spraying them like weeds.

The video and photo spread across the globe in seconds. Minutes later, memes of the photo were popping up all over the Internet. There were even memes of memes. (You have to check this out.) In a mere 24 hours, the National TV had warmed up and the Red and Blue Networks were spinning the story ... out of control, in some cases.

FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly described pepper spray to "a food product, essentially," inspiring her own meme-thology. Meanwhile, closeted one-percenter Michael Moore, on MSNBC, compared the pepper spray incident to the defiant act of the tank man in Tiananmen Square.

Whether you believe the students were inconvenienced by a condiment or assaulted by an AK-Jalapeno, Moore was right about one thing: this was "an iconic moment in this Occupy Wall Street movement."

The lesson: Iconic images aren't just for protests anymore. The competition for the nation's limited mental bandwidth is fierce. If you want to reach their hearts and minds, you've gotta catch their eyes.

Dove Bomb

"I sure hope people don't think I'm gilding the lily." We asked a cynical old bastard to describe the viral video Real Dove Beauty Sketches to our forensic artist.

"What can you tell me about the video, sir?”

“This video was the biggest crock of sh— the biggest load of malarkey I’ve seen since Kony 2012.”

“How’s that?”

“People think they’re watching a video that celebrates a woman’s inner beauty. But the real message of the video is ‘you’re not as physically unattractive as you think you are, so just go on out there and keep being as physically beautiful as you can be.’”

“I’m going to need some more details.”

“Cool, I took notes. Take this one gal. When she’s looking at the two portraits of herself, she says ‘Chloe’s perception was so, so clearly different. Her picture looked like somebody I thought I would want to talk to and be friends with … like a happy, light, much younger, much brighter person.’

“So if I follow her logic, she is more inclined to ‘talk to’ and ‘be friends with’ someone who appears ‘much younger, much brighter.’ Wow. She’s not just judging the book by its cover. She’s taking age into account, too.

“Now, I’m the first to admit that it’s possible that I twisted the meaning of her words in my typically cynical way. So I watched the video again and took more notes. The blond in the turtle neck says, and I quote: ‘I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children. It impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.’

“Your ‘natural beauty’ affects ‘how we treat our children’? Paging Steve Buscemi, Child Protective Services on line one.

“Look, this thing was a setup from the start. All of the women in it were physically attractive. The artist was in on the joke, and the piece was produced and edited explicitly to tweak our tear glands. What amazes me is that millions of people fell for it.”

“So what lessons can we learn from this experience?”

“Good question. First, gimmicks sell. As manipulative as it was, the premise of the ‘unbiased’ forensic artist was brilliant. Second, amateur-looking video is hot—even slick, expensive ‘amateur’ videos like this one. It makes the viewer feel closer to the action. And third … perception is reality.”


Gillibrand's Ire: How passion and conviction can turn your video story into art

branded3 YouTube is the Lee Strasberg of social media platforms. It will force you to become a more convincing, more passionate storyteller, or it will wash you out of the game. Because when it comes to video, passionate conviction gets shared; dispassionate convention gets shelved.

Take the infectiously viral video of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) upbraiding, down dressing, and generally sidelining the judge advocate general of the Air Force, Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, for refusing to answer her question about whether “justice was done” when one Air Force jet-fighter officer unilaterally overturned the rape conviction of another Air Force jet-fighter officer.

After being convicted of aggravated sexual assault, Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in the brig. But rather than go to jail, he went back to work when his boss, Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, declared the conviction null and void. Sen. Gillibrand, as you can imagine, was less than amused.

But you will be amused by her grilling of Harding on this issue. And, once again, you will learn another important lesson in captivating storytelling at someone else' expense: To tell a remarkable story in the YouTube age, it pays to be passionate.


Ground control's a major yawn.

"Perhaps you should try using active verbs." If you’ve got bad news to report and you don’t want the story to get legs, put it out on a Friday afternoon.

But if your story absolutely, positively should never see the light of day, give it to NASA’s PR department. These communication dementors could suck the soul out of any tale--from the diapered-astronaut-attempted-murder caper to the Russian meteor brushback pitch.

NASA held a news conference this week to tell the world that the Rover found evidence that Mars could have supported life eons ago—that there is a very real possibility that life once existed on freakin’ Mars!

Here’s how Space.com heralded this extraordinary news: “Wow! Ancient Mars Could Have Supported Primitive Life, NASA Says”

Here’s NASA’s headline: “NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars”

We’re not suggesting that NASA has to go full-Onion on us (though that would be pretty cool). But after flying through space for eight-and-a-half months and spending more than $2.5 billion of our Christmas Club savings on gas, snacks and trinkets that you don't need and you're just going to lose, we thought you might be a little more excited about finding what you went up there looking for.

Ah well. Once again, it's time for us to profit from another flack’s mistake.

NASA’s PR department, thinking with their slide rules again, presented this Mars-shattering news without the slightest thought of their audience which, as we've learned by now, is a Bozo no-no. Your audience--and their individual and collective reactions--must color your story and how you tell it. Every word, every phrase, every gesture.

To paraphrase Bananarama, “It ain’t what you say it’s the way that you say it.”

That's what gets results.




Dancing with the Bards

"I know what you're thinking and I swear to God my hand just slipped." The art of storytelling is often presented as a series of steps one must take to get from the beginning of a tale to the end, as if performing the Hesitation Waltz.

“Open, two, three … plot, two, three … turn, two, three … twist, two, three …”

Master the steps and you’ve mastered storytelling. Except you haven’t.

Great storytelling, like great dancing, is an art that requires an almost spiritual connection with your partner, the audience. You can master the moves, but unless you can interpret and adjust to the subtle—sometimes nearly imperceptible—reactions of your audience to your story, you’re not a storyteller. You’re an iPod.

Naturally empathetic people, or empaths, are particularly good at reading their audience, as if they were born with exquisitely tuned radar. On the other end of the spectrum are sociopaths, whose radars were never properly installed. Most people fall somewhere in between.

If you’re not a naturally empathetic person, there are steps to take to better read your audience. Transformation Academy founder Rita Rocker wrote a terrific synopsis of the warning signs that you’re losing your audience.

But if you are a naturally empathetic person, or if you want to see what it feels like to be one, check out this video about new technology that lets anyone “find the visible in the invisible.”

New software technology developed by researchers at MIT can detect the almost imperceptible changes in the color and movement in the pixels of videos of people, allowing us to see activity we couldn’t otherwise see—like blood pulsating in a newborn baby’s head.

This “big world of small motions,” as they describe it, throws off information that can be extremely helpful to doctors, much the same way audiences throw of information that is vital to storytellers.

It can be a bit much, as you can imagine, picking up subtle physical cues that tell you much more about someone's genuine state of mind than they want you to know. It can be exhausting, really. But it is an invaluable trait that has helped--and created--brilliant storytellers for generations.




Anger: The Quicker Picker Upper

“Ya think that’s funny, spilling coffee all over my counter? Get that Jim-Carrey looking so-and-so outta my diner and don’t come back till you’ve learned some manners!” I can’t touch yucky things with my bare hands, not in the kitchen anyway. I’m fine outdoors; I'll flip over a dead squirrel to look for maggots. But in the kitchen, I need a paper towel to pick up a used paper towel.

And that’s why I am furious at Joe Smith.

Joe Smith wants us all to use fewer paper towels. Last year he gave a TED talk on how to dry your hands with just one paper towel. More than one million people watched it. Now every single time I grab a paper towel, I am reminded that 1.2 million people saw Joe Smith dry his hands on TED (TED! for the love of God) and I can’t even get my kids to watch a 20-second clip of me on Crossfire.

Occasionally, I am able to blot out my envy of Joe’s success with happy thoughts of Tiny “Tiptoe Through the Tulips" Tim who, among many other peculiarities, would use a whole roll of paper towels to dry off after bathing. This guy was a diesel-powered earth-mover in the paper-towel forest. These thoughts of Tiny Tim help, but I don’t think of him nearly as often which, it turns out, is completely normal.

Negative emotions make your stories more memorable

According to Psychology Today, “People ruminate about events that induce strong negative emotions five times as long as they do about events that induce strong positive ones.”

A Case Western University study, cryptically entitled Bad Is Stronger than Good, says “The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events … Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.”

There’s a reason for this, of course. These negative emotions—fear, anger, sadness, envy—generally require some sort of action on our part to rid ourselves of them. Negative emotions, fear foremost among them, have literally kept our species alive.

So if you want to tell a memorable story, you’re going to have to mess with people’s chi. You don’t have to be a jerk about it. In fact, you should almost always give your audience a chance to work their way out of the negative emotions you've put on them, as storyteller Michael Margolis explains.

But you need to inflict the pain at some point if you want your story to be memorable.