In the club I was a part of in college, I was a speaker. Which meant that I had to speak into a mic, on a stage, in front of an audience. I should confess: I loved it.
People who know that about me usually don’t believe me when I say I have social anxiety. They can’t comprehend how a person with no stage fright can be scared of talking to people.
Well, today, let me explain how that is very much possible.
A stage is a very impersonal forum. The audience is usually a non-participant. I’m not talking to the audience as much at them. Now, every good public speaker will tell you that these are all signs of a very bad speaker. And in a way, that’s true.
See, that’s the difference between speaking and giving a speech. When you speak, like an orator does, you’re drawing the audience in with your words, involving them even without their assistance. A normal public speaker however, or a “performance” speaker if you will (like me), goes on stage, vomits out what they’ve got to say- a pre-prepared and practiced jumble of words and gets the hell out of there. The audience listens, maybe because they like your voice or because you’ve effused enough drama into your performance that it’s kept them awake; but, they’re not involved. And all the while, you get to pretend that you have your shit perfectly together.
This privacy to pretend, which is amply available when you’re at a distance from the people and on an elevated level to boot goes out of the window when it’s a small group and the audience can touch you if they stretch out their hands. Did I ever tell you how that very thought flushes out a fresh bout of sweat down my back?
So, in a small group, without the clever lighting and rather an intimate atmosphere, the anxiety kicks in. Because here, it’s not going to be a speech. It’s going to be, whether you like it or not, a talk. And it’s going to feel interactive just because you’re all so close together.
The same thing happens in a conversational setting. But, worse. Because here, the gate definitely opens both ways. It’s not just a feeling of interactiveness you’re dealing with, the situation is actually interactive. It’s a question-answer, statement-rejoinder equation. So, the teeniest weeniest iota of privacy that you’ve have jealously guarded during that group session, that’s gone. Way gone. Out-of-your-hands-and-under-the-wheels-of-a-bus gone.
Well, you can imagine what happens next. There’s sweat involved and tachycardia. A little bit of cortisol, a lot of adrenaline and a lot lot-er of anxiety.
What I do in such cases is, I adhere to the buddy system. I only go to places where I have a friend along. If I have to go to a social setting alone, I don’t go. Books are great in that aspect. They make for great buddies.
The other thing I do is keep my antenna out for someone who reads. Then, I latch on them like lint. We talk about the books we read, books we are reading, books we want to read. Somehow, that’s one topic which soothes me. So, I suggest you find an interest that you can talk about and then, hope that a person who wants to talk about it will find you.
But, many times, none of these options are available. In such a situation, all I can say is take a deep breath, let it out…now paste that smile on to your face and pretend like everything’s hunky-dory. The thing is, I believe that if I tell myself enough times that I’ll be OK, that I can push through, then it will be OK and I will push through.
Until I can run away at least.