Guest post by Gary Berenbroick
I have a twin sister. It seems like we came from the same egg and split. We are polar opposites. She is talkative, energetic and social. I am quiet, lethargic and withdrawn. She had many friends when we were growing up, I had very few. Her wedding party had sixteen women in it. At least twelve of them were friends of hers from our youth. My wedding party had six men. Of those six, two were friends of my wife and three were family.
I’m not a very social person. I don’t feel comfortable in parties, networking events, in restaurants or anywhere there are large groups of people. However, I have very little problem addressing large groups of people. There is a slightly elevated level of anxiety but not much more than what I experience day to day.
How could that be?
When someone stands up to speak publicly, the crowd noise begins to fade. Usually within the first sixty seconds it drops to a barely noticeable level. I get overwhelmed by too much unpredictable noise. When I’m addressing a group, regardless of the size, I only have to tolerate my voice and occasional responses from the crowd.
Gary 1, Crowd 0
Generally, if I’m addressing a group of people it is because I have some level of experience or knowledge that the crowd doesn’t. There is a slight boost in self confidence from that but that’s not the whole story. The audience is there to receive information from me. There’s less anxiety stemming from the that person doesn’t want to talk to me dialogue.
So…how’s the weather been treating you?
Most attempts to initiate a conversation with an individual are halted by one thought. I don’t know what to say. I have no idea, I freeze and anything that comes into my mind is quickly dismissed. Having a specific topic to discuss reduces that anxiety to I don’t know how I’ll say it. That usually isn’t a problem because it will most likely be a topic I have some command of and have spoken about often.
I am incapable of reading a script to an audience while still being engaged with them. It takes me time to orient and reorient to things so going back and forth from looking at a script to looking at the crowd will leave me lost and stuttering. So, scripts are out. I can do outlines. There are less interruptions and gaps.
I also have conditioned phrases that I use to explain things. You will notice them because I will speed up when they start. I use the exact same words to describe certain things over and over again. This reduces the frequency of my lengthy trips to my outline.
A Face in the Crowd
In private conversation, it’s difficult for me to read people. I don’t know when they understand, when they’ve lost interest or when they want me to shut up. When I have a large crowd in front of me, I look for the most physically expressive people. They are the ones I use to gauge the audience’s reactions. They will nod in agreement, shrug their shoulders in disagreement and slide their heads forward when confused. I quickly seek out people I can rely on and rotate around the room as I speak.
If not, I get stuck sometimes. I go into an infinite loop, describing the same thing over and over in different ways because I don’t think I’ve gotten my point across. I have a mechanism in place to indentify that now so I can shut it off in the absence of these wonderfully helpful people.
It’s like talking to my dog
Since it is a presentation, not a conversation the audience is limited in their involvement. I have more control and predictability because are limited variables. Questions asked during the presentation can be answered, postponed or left unanswered. Rarely would there be any malicious heckling and heavily contentious discussions can be tabled for a different setting. It is a highly predictable situation with low risk of embarrassment or abuse.
At a party or networking event people can approach me from all directions. That means I’m constantly looking in different directions. Even if I wound up in a conversation, it will be hard to follow. When addressing a group there’s less motion and a larger amount of empty space around me.
I can’t think of a way of wrapping this up so I’m out of here.
About the author
from Josh: Gary doesn’t give himself enough credit by half. I’m proud to know him and to call myself his friend. If you’d like to go tell him he is great, visit him at Kettlebells4U where he offers kettlebell classes in Paoli, PA.