Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sociophobia

A recent poll discovered that 40% of adults are terrified of public speaking. In fact, comedian Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that, at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

Few of you may remember this, but throughout the majority of my life, I suffered a slight stutter. I often had trouble putting my thoughts into words at a conversational pace, leading to a lot of "um...a-ands...no wait...a-and then I uh..."'s. I enjoyed reading and drawing, but these activities left little room for social interaction, which led me to becoming sort of a self-made loner.

As I was (am) enrolled in the Theocratic Ministy School in my congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, I did on occasion have to speak in front of large groups of people. When I started out, I wasn't nervous at all, but as I entered my preteen years, I became filled with anxiety. Still, I would get complimented afterwards. I liked this, but as I was--again--slightly socially awkward, I had difficulty accepting compliments.

I recall a time in 6th grade when I had to give an oral report on the history of Italian art. I had focused so completely on the written part of my report, that I hadn't really prepared. I had frantically written out a page of information, but once I got up there, I was so focused on my audience eye-contact that I couldn't bring myself to glance at the page. I just rattled off information that I wasn't aware was in my brain and ended up getting an "A". This event served as a turning point in my attitude towards public speaking, but it did not make me want to do it any more.

I was homeschooled in 7th grade. Needless to say, this did not do much in the way of improving my social skills. When I went back to 8th grade, I was so depressed about not fitting in, due to my lost year and social awkwardness, that I became a tremendous introvert. I had few friends, and none very close.

I entered highschool hoping to start anew, make a fresh start. I did this to a certain extent, as I found a lot more people who shared my interests than could be found in my tiny junior high, but I couldn't completely get over this slight fear of social interaction. I was in the school band, but I didn't even completely fit in there.

One day, there was a boy in my English class who was trying to promote a play he was in. Nobody seemed very enthusiastic about it, and I felt sorry for him, so I went to the last showing. It was in the cafeteria, on the tiny old stage that we used before the Performing Arts Center was finished, but by the end I had found a new love. Despite my fears, I knew that I wanted to be a part of something like this somehow. I actually kindof forgot about this, until the next year when I was getting an "F" in participation in my Spanish class. I realized that something had to be done about my fear of speaking to others, so I enrolled myself in the Drama 1 class. This was something which would force me to do what I found the most difficult. My teacher, Mr. Holcomb, taught me to get over myself, which I found to be a truly invaluable lesson.

Since then, I have been in 2 Drama 2 classes, played Leonato in "Much Ado About Nothing", Betty Meeks in "The Foreigner", Clementine in "The Paper Bag Bandit", and was cast in 2 other plays. There are two pages about "The Foreigner" in the yearbook, and I still get people coming up to me and asking me if I was that hilarious old lady in the play. Recently, my Drama 2 teacher asked the class to tell him why we act. Some students had reasons such as the fact that they liked being someone else for a time, or that they just enjoyed performing. I told him what I had realized only the day before speaking with a classmate, that acting is the only time when I don't feel socially awkward. One kid high-fived me on that, and my teacher, Mr. Johnson, said that that is actually something that's true, that acting is sometimes an outlet for those who have difficulty interacting with others in real life.

So basically, I'm wierd. But I've gotten better. Acting and the Theocratic Ministry School (without which I never would have known the basics of public speaking that made me stand out from the crowd at school) have given me the confidence to reach out in my real life. The fact that I am no longer one of those who are afraid of public speaking (kindof) has contributed to the ever continuing effort to eradicate my sociophobia.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Boy, can I identify with THAT! Before I started the School, I tried to take a speech class at Sierra College. I lasted five minutes before I ran out of the room and dropped the class. I still have trouble speaking with people I don't know...still have social anxieties...and yet, I give 45 minute talks in Kingdom Halls in other cities. The Theocratic Ministry School gave me far more confidence in public speaking.
Keep up the good work and keep active in the School!