Wednesday I watched the Today Show while I worked out. I heard Tamron Hall - the smart, talented, and beautiful co-host - talk about how awkward she feels at parties. She’s shy. She dreads the small-talk that parties and other social events require.
It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s actually a common issue for many people who make their living being the focal point of attention; on-air personalities, teachers, actors, and singers, for instance. These people are fine on stage, or in front of a classroom, microphone, or camera but, put in a situation where they have to interact spontaneously in a large group, they lose their footing. (If I’m talking about you, keep reading.)
There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first reason has to do with roles. People who make their living as a focal point for attention are doing a job. They’re presenting something they know - a song, a script, a schtick - for a certain amount of time, and to people who are observing their own roles. The boundary between the two is the edge of the stage, or camera lens, or a row of desks. People adhere to their roles whether on a movie set, a concert stage, or in a nightclub.
When Tamron Hall is a guest at a party, she probably views it as a social free-for-all. (There are probably a lot of singers an voice teachers who can relate to her.) Nobody has a role, there are no teleprompters or sets, and people are everywhere. For someone who’s comfortable with roles and boundaries, parties seem like mayhem. But there’s nothing you can do about that; it’s the nature of the beast.
The other reason Tamron Hall doesn’t - and possibly you don’t - like parties is because of fear. The person who is shy fears mistakes or social gaffs. She’s afraid she won’t know what to talk about, or will say something stupid. Her fear is all about her, and about being unsure of expectations, and about thinking other people care far more than they do.
If you’re like Tamron I’m not going to try to talk you out of your fears. First of all, that would take therapy, not a blog post. Second, there’s nothing wrong with being that way. That’s how you are.
I would, however, like to offer you a suggestion that might help you if you have crowd anxiety. I want to give you a cheap, but reliable, trick that you can use when you find yourself suffering from the expectation to socialize:
That’s it. Two words, easy as pie, works every time. Everybody’s favorite topic is themselves. So interview everyone you talk to. Ask questions, listen actively, ask more questions, maybe share an experience or thought that’s relevant to what the other person is sharing, and then listen some more.
I promise you this works. I use it all the time. It’s very seldom that somebody I’m talking with turns the conversation around to talk about me. So seldom as to be almost never. And since they’re doing all the talking I don’t have to come up with something to say. I’m good with that. You would be too, right?