I'm a lot shyer than most people realize. When I was a child, I would burst into tears if anyone other than my parents said anything the slightest bit critical to me. This happened even if the person spoke to me out of concern for my safety, such as saying, "Don't sit on the arm of the sofa, dear, you might fall off." I used to make my little sister ask our neighbor if we could visit her, even though we'd visited dozens of times and I loved this neighbor. When strangers held out a plate of cookies and asked if I wanted one, I frequently said no, although I lusted after that cookie. For some reason, I couldn't stand being the focus of attention from a stranger, even for a minute or two.
My shyness continues into adulthood. I always feel more comfortable with perfect strangers than I do with folks I've met only once or twice. I can say anything to a stranger I'll never meet again; but if I suspect I'll need to interact with that person from now on, it turns my insides to mush—what will they think of me? My friends consider me humorous and thoughtful, but people who don't know me often find my jokes snarky and my directness a little blunt.
I got married with only a minister and witnesses present, and being the focus of attention for that short time gave me a whale of a headache; I don't understand why anyone would want to walk down the aisle in a fancy dress. I work as a private investigator, and I easily do my sleuthing on the computer or in courthouses behind the scenes, but when I have to talk to a subject, especially on a pretense, it always gives me the jitters beforehand. But I make myself do it. Once in awhile, I stand in front of a crowd with a microphone and talk or teach. And although I always wish I were anywhere else before I venture out there, I know I'll do a good job.
How do I know I'll do okay in the spotlight? It's all because of a camera. When I was hired as a teaching assistant in graduate school, I had to take a short course for new college teachers. A lot of the instruction was routine—how to take attendance, report grades, handle the classroom, etc., and—being an A student—I aced all that. But then the instructor announced that for the last part of the course, we would each be videotaped and critiqued. Omigod! Could it get any worse? Having to stand up in front of a class was bad enough; being videotaped made it more awful, and then having to sit through a playback of the video and be critiqued by everyone in the class? That had to be my worst nightmare.
The assignment was to teach a typical twenty-minute lesson in our normal subject. I taught Spanish, so I decided to teach a lesson on giving and understanding directions. When my day came to teach before the camera, I soon had everyone reading maps and saying right, left, two blocks south, and so forth in Spanish. I was quaking inside the whole time, knowing that camera was recording all my blunders. After my lesson, we took a short break while the instructor set up for the critique session. I chugged a quart of water from the hallway fountain, wishing the liquid was tequila instead of simple H2O.
Back in the room and now in the audience, I watched the videotape of my lesson. To my utter amazement, I didn't look nervous on screen. I appeared and sounded professional. The only critique I received was that perhaps I smiled too much. Whoa! What an incredible confidence boost!
No, the experience didn't erase my shyness. But I now know that I can successfully play the part of a poised teacher or investigator. I'll never feel relaxed standing before a crowd, but I do feel that I can do that job well.
So—want to overcome that nauseous feeling before you go on stage? Get out the video camera and tape yourself in action. In the worst case, you'll have a chance to curb your nervous mannerisms before your big performance. In the best case, you may find that, like me, you don't look uneasy at all.
About Pamela: Pamela S. Beason received the Daphne du Maurier Award for unpublished authors a few years ago. Now she has published a quirky romance called On Shaky Ground (The Wild Rose Press) that includes earthquakes, vandals, and arson. She's also self-published a romantic adventure novella, Call of the Jaguar, available in ebook form everywhere, and a mystery novel called The Only Witness will also be available any day now. She has a three-book contract with Berkley Prime Crime for her Sam Westin mysteries. The first book in that new series deals with the search for a child missing in the wilderness, and will be available this coming December.