Monday, December 19, 2005

Introverted Monkeytard

Not to trivialize horrible diseases, but, sometimes it seems as though being an introvert is like having something incurable and smelly. I've seen people (extroverts, of course) actually pause and then, after a moment of thinking about what it must be like to be introverted, convulse slightly. The same type of convulse I'd expect to make if I watched a child slowly pull a long wet slug-noodle out of their nostril and then eat it.

THAT'S what it must be like to be shy... huh... imagine.

So, what does a maximum intorvert do in life (besides spell introvert wrong)? I stand in front of groups of strangers for about 12 hours a week and lecture to them.

Public speaking.

"Then you must NOT be an introvert!"

Mustn't I?

When I am forced into social situations I find myself becoming incredibly interested in digital hygiene... my cuticles are beginning to grow over my finger tips (not really, but you can imagine). I am relieved to be left to myself and will simply become autistic. The more social pressure there is to interact, the more autistic I appear.

My students generally peg me as an extroverted party-person. Until the horror that is graduation and they corner me into forced civil exchanges with their parents. It isn't that I don't ever smile, but WOW... my fear of making idle chit-chat coupled with a complete inability to come up with comments related to anything OTHER than the weather puts me into perma-grin mode which begins to hurt my smiler muscles. "If you can't say anyhing, Steve, at least you can look friendly while not saying it. " At least so says my inner voice.

So when I get cornered, I try... After five minutes of what I imagine must be awkard silences deflated with occasional odd remarks... "So, are you here for the graduation ceremony?" "I see that you noticed the sky was blue today." "Did you visit the restrooms while on campus? They have fancy motion-activated paper towel dispensers." ...we part ways and I feel terrible for a week thinking about how stupid I must have sounded.

How can I teach to a bunch of strangers? At first (10 years ago), I couldn't.

I was so afraid of what the audience must be thinking about me ("Did he say 'um' again?" "Why is he touching his nose?" "Did you hear that warble in his voice?") that I started really to focus on the cues I was afraid they could pick on. Content suffered a bit back then, but I needed to make strides that meant the most to me first. I learned to fake that I wasn't scared peepee-less to talk in front of a group.

BUT, once I got rid of the danger-cues I started to imagine that the audience was hostile... or at least waiting for some excuse to become hostile. So I needed to find a way to befriend the audience.

Step 2 for me wasn't to improve the content of my talk, but to add humor. Nervour humor of course. But if I could SEE a smile, I felt a lot more comfortable. Basically I guess because I felt that I was in control of the smiles. There are a lot of reasons why your audience could laugh at you. Best to make it mostly purposeful... then those occasional times you really do mess up won't sting so much.

Even after 10+ years, the start of a new semester brings the tummy-aches of anticipation. The first few lectures every time are the hardest to get over for me. But I doubt the students notice.

===End Ramble===


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