190: Talking to Strangers

Some people have real problems talking to strangers. But, hey! That’s the only way to make new friends, not to mention one excellent way to get whacked by a rabid psycho-killer.

Lots of people already know that public speaking is the number one fear of most people (statistically, which means it’s only partially true). Some of us, however, just have the gift of gab, as long as it is a casual social situation not requiring too much strenuous brain-cell activity. I mean, funerals and hospital vigils require tact and serious thought that most social situations just don’t measure up to. Chit-chat, though? Lots of us can handle that with one hand tied behind our backs, as long as the rabid psycho-killer is not present (or lurking nearby).

I think that is one reason I am a semi-successful teacher – it does not faze me being in front of a class of children or adolescents. I know grown, otherwise competent, adults who freak out at the thought. That might explain why getting substitute teachers is such a difficult proposition. And don’t even TRY getting somebody (who is not a teacher already) to substitute for you at leading your Sunday School class (age of participants notwithstanding), or at a civic club presentation you were supposed to give, or at any other function requiring them to get up in front of an audience and *gulp* speak.

A word of advice from a twenty-two-year veteran of the classroom: you will still get nervous if it is something you don’t do frequently. I volunteered (sort’ve) to preach a sermon at my church when the pastor had to be absent. My arm is still twinging in bad weather from the twisting it got, and that was YEARS ago. In spite of the fact that I am a preacher’s daughter (might have had something to do with it – I wonder if Rembrandt’s children were expected to know how to paint because their father could do it?), and have been in church literally thousands upon thousands of times, I was there all those times sitting in the congregation, not standing shaky-kneed behind the pulpit delivering the message. I was nervous. Just a tad. Since I have been singing in church since I was a tot just out of diapers (literally – they stood me in a chair so the congregation could see the cute little curly-haired tyke I was), I have practiced for years the techniques to help one relax and dispel nervous tension before performing. Still does not help much if it is an unfamiliar undertaking. Maybe I should have SUNG the sermon?

Anyway, I made a neat outline of my sermon, and wrote it out, and put it on notecards, and practiced it, timing myself to stay within the acceptable amount of time that most people (statistically) will actually listen to a sermon before the rumbling of empty stomachs drowns out the preacher. I still had to wear a floor-length skirt to hide my shaky knees. And I made sure to have no change in my pockets, so I did not stand there and jingle it while I spoke. People tell me it went well. I think they were being kind, since they need a substitute preacher occasionally, and might have just been buttering me up with confidence so I’d allow myself to be volunteered again, instead of having to fill in themselves the next time. I actually don’t remember very much of it, and I was lucky nobody thought to video-tape it, or you might be able to see it on YouTube.

My advice about getting used to speaking to strangers? Start with writing a blog. You are not going to know too many of them personally, either!

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