How to Maintain the Ability to Interact with Other Human Beings

Have you ever seen that comic by the Oatmeal on why working at home is both awesome and horrible? I love it… especially because it perfectly captures the “degradation of social skills” (his words) that occurs when you’ve been working alone for an extended period of time.

How have I been affected?

  • I no longer feel shame when I wear yoga pants to the Stop & Shop, or to Barnes & Noble.
  • I tend to mutter to myself in public.
  • I have extended conversations with my cats.
  • I’m mystified when people actually call me on the phone, instead of texting or emailing.
  • I don’t have a single, business-appropriate outfit, and always go into a panic whenever the odd networking event or launch party pops up.
  • I tackle my husband as soon as he arrives home and try to engage him in conversation about EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD EVER, ALL AT ONCE.
  • I have panic attacks when at large social gatherings, work myself up to the brink of passing out when public speaking, and am forced to medicate myself with a potent mix of Xanax and wine.
  • Actually, that previous bullet point pretty much describes me even before I went full-time freelance!

The point is, many freelancers — especially the introverts among us — tend to hide behind our books and laptops and notebooks and cameras whenever possible.

Which is goddamn ridiculous when you’re trying to be a successful entrepreneur, as both community-building — and the ability to sell yourself — are crucial.

Which is why I joined Toastmasters last month.

Toastmasters is an international organization started to help people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. I attended my first meeting as a guest less than a week before I was to speak on a panel on ASJA, because of course. I attended again two weeks later and was voted in as a member of my local club. Two weeks later, I gave my first, full-fledged speech.

I was a little leery about it all at the first meeting. We were required to clap anytime anyone said anything, and it all seemed a bit forced and, dare I say it, cult-like. But when I was asked to speak off-the-cuff that first week, I was surprised by how gratifying it felt to push myself in that way.

Also, my local group is comprised of the most non-threatening people ever, so it seemed an ideal environment in which to build my confidence.

Some tips I’ve picked up:

  1. It’s okay to ask for a few moments in which to gather your thoughts. No one will think you’re an idiot for asking, and those extra moments will actually help you begin from a ¬†position of strength.
  2. Take a few deep breaths before speaking, and remember to breathe throughout. (I’m serious. YOU MIGHT FORGET.)
  3. Make it a point to speak slowly and evenly. This way, you won’t trip over your words when your mouth inevitably dries up due to extreme terror.
  4. Pretend you’re having a casual conversation. It’s better to be loose than to stand there stiffly, gripping the podium (or your glass of wine… or the bar… ) for dear life.
  5. Don’t throw a lot of facts at someone. Supplement almost every fact with an anecdote. This will help the listener connect with what you’re saying on a more personal level.
  6. If you’re going somewhere where five trillion people are likely to ask you what you do — or where you have to give a presentation — practice your spiel or your elevator speech or your whatever five trillion times beforehand. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll feel with it.
  7. Go off-book! This is most relevant when you’re giving a presentation. When you rely too much on your notes, you can end up going monotone.
  8. Smile. Even if you suspect you’re on the verge of passing out and dying in front of EVERYBODY. Pretending to be confident and happy-go-lucky can actually help you feel confident and happy-go-lucky.
  9. Remind yourself that it’s silly to be so afraid. Most anxiety is caused by fear of something that might¬†— but probably won’t — happen. Be prepared for the best possible scenario.
  10. Remember also that everyone else is likely feeling as self-conscious as you are. So they’re certainly not taking the time to judge you.

Don’t let yourself become as socially-challenged as I am. Seek help! And then get yourself out there. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

Related: Top-Notch Marketing Tool: The Panel, Want to Build Your Business? Get Out of Your Comfort Zone, Networking Events: Conquer Your Fears By Thinking Like a Journalist, How to Build Your Network Without Having a Panic Attack

Comments

  1. Your post made me laugh with recognition, Steph! I think I talk my partner’s ear off every evening and I’m definitely guilty of yoga pants in public (although, in Colorado, it’s not as noticeable). Thanks for sharing the Toastmasters tips. I’m taking a screenwriting class and first order of business is a verbal pitch.

  2. Great tips. Like you, i live in yoga pants, do everything by email, and seem to only talk to my husband and kids.

  3. We sound so similar, it’s hilarious. I know I need to get out more and network to avoid bumbling my words during networking or a phone call, but it’s not always easy for an introvert.

    A neighbor I walk with also suggested Toastmasters. She attends weekly and loves it, but she’s hardly the internal type, like me. I’ve done the public speaking in college and a bit at my former corporate gig, but I prefer public speaking only if I absolutely have to do it.

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