You can write but have a hard time talking to strangers. It’s easy talking to your friends but not a group of people. Standing up to direct a meeting would make you freeze. Karaoke won’t see you on it’s stage, but talking to a strange young woman/man might. Joining a Toastmasters group to learn how to address an audience, will be waiting a long time to see you give an impromptu talk.
It’s been estimated that roughly 75% of people have a fear of public speaking. What is it they are afraid of? Does a group bring out the fear? Does making a mistake saying something create that illusion?
As a youngster I was shy. Far more comfortable being by myself than mixing it up with others my age or those older or younger. My parents were constantly encouraging my engagement with others. Friends were one thing, but strangers were another.
At age 10, the change came about by way of a paper route. A combination of changes included having to talk not only to current customers, but procuring new ones as well. The newspaper company constantly sponsored contests to motivate and stimulate route carriers to get new subscribers.
Prizes were offered based on the number of new customers. About every 6 months a trip was the ultimate prize, to locations like Washington D.C., Ft. Knox, Kentucky, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Those things in the ‘50s were like exotic trips to most of us small town boys. So it required me to learn how to talk to people. With the tremendous help of my route supervisor, who would go with me for support as I talked to new prospects, slowly but surely I learned that talking to people was not so scary. In fact, it took on a completely different aspect in my young mind, that of power.
Time soon taught me that if I talked, and did it first, I was in control of a conversation. Just as soon as that fact caught hold, other nuances such as knowing who to let have control, and when to take control were learned. Before long you couldn’t shut me up. The Saturdays set aside for collecting payment for the paper, were spent instead talking to my customers.
To be sure in some instances I was invited in to watch T.V. with the other kids in the family, and many other side attractions that were time wasters but totally enjoyable. There’s a better than even chance it was to shut me up as much as offering me the pleasure of T.V.
I won all those trips previously mentioned; Washington D.C., Ft. Knox and Chicago. Can you imagine the thrill of flying in a turbo-prop to Washington D.C. in 1958 for a 12 year old? Scaling the Washington Monument, standing under the rotunda at the White House, and running away to visit the “peep shows” on the Arcade machines. Yeah, talking was definitely paying off!
The paper route was the fuel for the “talk” rocket that was blasting off in me! I had the power! In speech class it was a monologue that brought tears to my classmates and teacher. For debates I was the power to be dealt with. Needless to say it was one of the few “A’s” of any class considered to be a solid subject in those days.
This led to parts in the Junior and Senior Class Plays, and M.C. for the Concert Band Spring Concerts. Constant trouble for opening mouth at inappropriate moments in class and other times was the opposite of the positive that was happening. In that sense you might say I paid my dues for this new found power.
Writing was going on during these times, mostly in the form of “love letters” to various platonic interests. Reading was far more prolific and not just to what was required for English. Inserting myself into main characters of The Robe, or delivering Mark Anthony’s speech after Caesar’s murder, reciting the Gettysburg Address, were those moments where I thrived.
This discovery had both positive and negative results. The negative involved learning how to manipulate others and playing mind games. The positive was knowing that I could lead others, and could be influential in a good sense.
Later on the opportunity to do monologues in front of hundreds was such an amazing experience. Main roles in vignettes were also a part of this ability. Having people remind me of these moments years later because of the impact it made on them, is more than just special.
I talk to complete strangers on a regular basis. In fact it is somewhat of a challenge, to force them to communicate with me, when it is obvious they are trying to avoid it! Starting a conversation in elevators is a hoot. No one wants to talk in that enclosed space as a rule. It’s funny to see how quickly some exit almost forcing the door to open a little faster.
Here’s the really strange part for me. While most would consider me outgoing and possessing a very positive personality, at heart I am still shy. All this talk and lively persona is a learned behavior. Those moments where I am alone with my thoughts, are priceless. Hours, even days can pass with no other human contact, and I am at total peace.
Now a hermit I’m not, and social interaction is just fine. It is something I can take or leave, which seems to be just a little at odds with someone as gifted with the tongue as I am.
So how has this affected my ability to write? Speaking in my mind translates to the keyboard, allowing those thoughts to become live. Conversations that might take place with another are happening with you. If you concentrate just a bit, you may even hear my voice.
And on that note it’s time to bring this missive to a close. I would say goodnight wherever you are to Mrs. Calabash, but that belongs exclusively to the “Schnozzola,” wherever he is. So, until your eyes and my words cross again.