What does a perfect day look like to you…mine is a chilly fall day, an oversized, soft chair with a snuggly blanket. A cup of hot tea, some kind of treat and either a good book or a journal with a good quality pen. No noise or very soft music in the background. Over the years I have learned to enjoy my own company.
Now do not get me wrong, there are plenty of people I like to hang with, but it’s easiest when it’s just me. That’s one sign of an Introvert. I guess I have always been one.
When I was young, talking to more than four people terrified me. Public speaking was some kind of torture technique like waterboarding.
If I saw people approaching me, my head would go down, my eyes would look away and I would keep walking. I would repeat in my head…. No eye contact ever. Small talk was a big fear of mine.
I would miss school if I had to do a book report in the front of the class. It meant pure terror to me.
While I was working at Kinetico, my job sometimes required that I give a presentation occasionally. I would fret and stew about it for days or weeks. One day, my boss suggested sending me to a Dale Carnegie class for public speaking. Eight weeks to learn how to talk in front of people.
I signed up and immediately tried to come up with an excuse to not go. It seemed like a good idea in theory but the reality was terrifying. But I did not want to let my company down.
When I got to the hotel meeting room for the first week’s meeting, there were 19 other people in attendance. Some looked calm and others, like me, were freaking out.
That first night we had to give a simple two minute speech to the group about ourselves. Nothing fancy or elaborate. My idea was to wait to last and maybe there would not be enough time. I do not remember much except there was plenty of time for me.
I walked to the front of the room, now physically shaking and sweating profusely. My eyes filled with tears. My mind racing as well as my heart. I had experienced terror before and this was one of the worst.
I stood there, head down, streaming tears, voice warbling and said something. I have no idea what. I cannot remember a thing. Afterwards, my classmates all hugged me and said encouraging things. It must have been pathetic to watch.
With each week, it was a little easier. The people in my class were awesome, it was such a safe place. We all improved and on graduation day we all celebrated.
I proceeded to give the random speech here and there. I took several public speaking classes in college. It was still never easy but I was able to cope with the stress of it all.
Fast forward a lot of years. I had not done much public speaking and was reverting back to my intense introverted ways. I find a job on a scenic railroad as a host. I thought it was mostly serving beverages. It turns out it was about being entertaining also.
I had learned that the better you know a subject, the easier it is to talk about it. So I started learning local history. It was a wonderful challenge.
My tours now consisted of a few facts and a few sentences about history. At the end of the trip, I expected huge accolades for all my knowledge and entertainment. In reality, I was greeted with mixed reviews at best.
What was missing? I talked with coworkers and I found out facts where not enough. I had to learn to tell a story. So I started watching comedians and seeing how storytelling was part of the big picture.
So I came up with a way to make the facts more interesting. The sentences turned to paragraphs. I thought I had found the answer. Still mixed reviews.
What was I still doing wrong? According to my classes and the books I read, I was doing everything correctly, but something was still missing. On the train, I got moved to First Class. Now I had to up my game but my concern was that I just did not have the extrovert gene. Maybe this was something I just could not do.
I kept studying. I kept working on my technique. One day watching an older Dave Chappell comedy special, I saw what I was missing. Two things: passion for the subject and a connection to the audience. Without those two things I was always going to be like a flat soda. A flat soda can still quench your thirst but it is not very satisfying.
Tony Evans, from Dallas Theological Seminary, is one of the most dynamic speakers I have ever listened to. I studied his delivery, the way his voice changed and his mannerisms. There I saw what I was missing.
I started learning the history and facts in a way that was more than information, it became alive. Then I started to talk about it with enthusiasm. The more I did that, the more passion I felt. I added antidotes from my life as a way to connect with my guests. Then I started to hear comments from guests that reflected their enjoyment. Being entertaining for four and a half hours now was fun for me and them.
Now I work as a Historic Interpreter. My job is talking to strangers about what they are seeing. The passion I feel for this job sometimes overwhelms me. I feel good about the story and I want to pass it on. Understanding where the audience is coming from and knowing where you want to take them bridges any gaps in the way to a connection.
Of course, there will always be people who do not want to be reached. All you can do is try and move on. For those people who are interested, the sky is the limit.
The last component to remember is, no matter how many times you say something, you must always be genuine. Even if you have said that same thing a thousand times.
On my days off, I am still an introvert. On the days I work, I am an extrovert. It just goes to prove that labels do not necessarily have to define you as a person. Great lesson learned.