It’s a strange thing, but as someone who stands in front of large groups of people on a regular basis I find that I’m far more comfortable delivering a message than listening to it. I’d always rather be the trainer than the delegate, for instance. Actually, that’s not strictly true. In smaller, safe environments I’m fine. I have no difficulty being part of a group all there for the same purpose and as such, have no difficulty contributing to both the discussion and team tasks.
No … it’s the bigger occasions … the conference break-out events and the lecture hall experiences … the training sessions where I might be one of any number from ten to thirty. The events that I run, in fact, in one of my current positions. I’d go so far as to say that they bring me out in a cold sweat.
So what is this all about?
Voices from the other side
It’s a fear of being asked to speak from the floor. I know this, but I can’t explain it. The idea of asking a question, or answering a question, or being the one to feed the team activity back to the rest of the delegates renders me helpless. And I say this as a regular funeral/wedding celebrant and educational trainer.
Although I have no (current) explanation for this situation, I do know one thing. I do know that it shows that public speaking isn’t just about being up there at the front. It’s about speaking publicly. It’s about preparing to let your voice be heard … putting yourself out there …
And that brings me to another question. Am I just naturally shy? Or do I decide to be shy under certain conditions? I used to think I was shy and so becoming a confident trainer and speaker was a bit of a surprise, but despite these shifts, that old fear of ‘speaking out’ in a large group has never gone away. I’ve sat in lecture theatres listening to others’ (seemingly) confident contributions to the subject at hand and have burned with indignation at some of the stuff with which I’ve disagreed … and yet never joined in. Once, at a ‘post-performance’ theatre Q&A session I wanted to crawl under my seat with embarrassment at the lack of questions from the audience. And I was one of that silent majority. Would it have been more embarrassing for me to actually put my hand up and ask the question that I really wanted to ask and still, three years later, have no answer to?
I may have written somewhere here before that it isn’t unusual for stage performers to struggle socially off-stage. That it’s the performance that brings them out of themselves … Perhaps what I’m describing above isn’t a million miles away from this. It’s certainly something to know that I can stand in front of a group, or even a crowd, of people and deliver confidently. That fact alone has helped to increase my own self-confidence. But why I can’t speak publicly from the other side of the lectern is beyond me.
Now you know what I mean by voices from the other side – I wonder if you have experienced this, please comment below and let us know.