When you were in grade school you may have dreaded being picked to read out loud. For example, when my client Jason was in middle school, his teacher would assign exercises in which each student had to read at least one paragraph to the class. Because he knew that his turn would come eventually, he would develop those fight-or-flight symptoms such as the sweaty palms and rapid heartbeat even before he had to do anything. He would try to prepare by reading the paragraph in his head to ensure that he wouldn’t make any mistakes.
When his turn came, he would always start off well, but somehow he always managed to stumble on a word before he’d finished the first sentence. This made him upset and embarrassed.
This sort of worry is commonly carried into adulthood. If you are shy and afraid of making mistakes during work presentations or social activities, you might want to bring your idea of perfection under control by reminding yourself that it’s okay to stutter or mispronounce a word or several words.
We sometimes become so fixated on the fear of making a mistake that it ultimately causes us, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, to make one. The more we think about mistakes, the more likely we are to make them. In fact, sometimes we can feel relieved after making a mistake because we no longer have to worry about one—it’s already happened!
Similarly, if you are uncomfortable with making eye contact, try not to think about the fact that you’re making eye contact. Think of it as you would breathing: we usually don’t think about the fact that we’re breathing because it’s something that our bodies do naturally and automatically.
Suggestions of Things To Do
If you are shy about speaking in front of others, take a speech class at your local college or join your local chapter of the Toastmasters. Ask a close friend to help you practice speaking in front of others by doing speech exercises with you. One fun and helpful speech exercise is reading a play together: you each pick different characters and read your lines out to each other.
Singing lessons are also helpful. They teach you to use vocal muscles that most people don’t use very often, and this can give you a stronger tone and better control over your voice, thus increasing your confidence when you speak.
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If you commute to work, listen to audiobooks that ask you to repeat words out loud. Find a subject that interests you, such as a program to boost your vocabulary or an audiobook course on a language you’d like to learn.
The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel and the more familiar you will be with the way you sound. This is not practice for perfection, though, but for comfort, self-assurance, and the ability to stand and deliver.
Socializing Tips for Introverts
I (Barton) have a secret that I’ve kept from the public for almost my entire life: I am shy. Most people wouldn’t guess it, but when I have to give a talk and meet new people, I usually don’t get much sleep the night before.
If there is a meet-and-greet before the talk, I can become a nervous wreck, thinking about all those people I don’t know and who don’t know me, asking me questions and expecting me to be entertaining and informative. It can be a very scary proposition.
I’m the same way socially. If I’m invited to an event where I don’t know many people—perhaps a party given by acquaintances of my other half—it can be a bit daunting to put on the public me rather than just be the guy who watches football on Sunday in his PJs. Trying to be that person can be wearying, but when required to, I can call the plays and help my partner by being a little more outgoing in social situations.
Here are a few tricks that have worked for me and may help you, as well. Using these tips can make a potentially uncomfortable evening a pleasant one for those of us who are introverted. This stuff is easy and it works, so give it a try.
1. Try To Keep A Smile On Your Face
Smiling lets people know that you are open and receptive to being approached. Seeing someone smile helps the other person feel that you are safe to talk to. Smiling also sends a signal to your own brain telling you that you are in a good place and should expect nice things to happen around you.
It’s interesting that we are the only species in the animal kingdom that bares its teeth as a sign of welcome and joy. Other species do it only when they are angry or scared (called fear aggression).
2. Become The Master Of Ceremonies
If you are talking to a small group of people who don’t already know each other, become the master of ceremonies. By that I mean be the one who makes sure that everyone gets properly introduced. If someone new comes along, you need to introduce him or her to the group, as well.
This will help you get to know everyone and make conversation, though not necessarily about yourself. The other people in the group will appreciate your efforts. It makes you look like an outgoing person even if you are a little (or a lot) shy.
3. Use A Person’s Name When You First Meet
When you are introduced to someone, call the other person by name as you shake hands. Say you are at an event and someone introduces you to a guy named Dave. Say, “Hi, Dave. Nice to meet you.”
It’s a really simple action that produces some very powerful results. The person you are greeting will feel more welcome, you will remember the name after you’ve said it aloud, and you will feel more empowered and comfortable because you are in control of the situation and conversation.
The next step is to ask Dave where he is from and what brought him to this event. The conversation will usually flow on its own from there.
4. Join a Spiritual Organization
Joining a church, a temple, a mosque, or some other kind of spiritual organization is a great way to meet new people who may be shy, just like you. Participating in spiritual and religious activities can even help you govern the emotional regions of your brain, improving your memory-retrieval networks.
Places that provide opportunities for spiritual connections are great places to network and mingle. Most people who are connected to spiritual social groups feel less judged and are able to be themselves. These environments tend to be warm and welcoming, and they offer a great avenue to involvement in the community through volunteer work.
Many of these organizations also offer activities like choral singing and plays. Take advantage of this and participate in as many activities as your schedule allows. You will most likely meet other shy people and become more comfortable being yourself around them. This is a great thing.
5. Become Involved
If you don’t care for spiritual or religious affiliation, however, try thinking of other emotion-based rewards, such as volunteering at a hospital, participating in a fundraiser, or running a marathon for a great cause, such as cancer awareness.
You may be reluctant to put yourself in a situation where you might be called upon, which can happen when you are introducing yourself to a new group. Use positive self-talk, and tell yourself that there is nothing wrong with showing your emotions.
Don’t stay at the back of the crowd. Practice positive thinking, and reject any negative thoughts that pop into your head after you agree to take part in an activity.
Becoming involved in the activities of these groups is one way of gaining confidence and conditioning yourself to being around others. If you can’t find any activities that suit you, don’t be afraid to propose your own activity or class.
If you have a skill you would like teach to others, start a class. The individual attention will not only increase your self-confidence and reduce your shyness, but it can also boost your ego. I call that a win-win!
©2015 by Barton Goldsmith and Marlena Hunter. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, The Career Press.
1-800-CAREER-1 or (201) 848-0310. www.careerpress.com.
100 Ways to Overcome Shyness: Go From Self-Conscious to Self-Confident
by Barton Goldsmith PhD and Marlena Hunter MA.
About the Authors
Dr. Barton Goldsmith is a multi-award-winning psychotherapist, syndicated columnist, author, and former NPR radio host, a keynote speaker and a top blogger for Psychology Today. He was named by Cosmopolitan as one of America's top therapists.
Marlena Hunter, MA, is a University of California graduate with a degree in psychology and several years of experience in clinical settings as a marriage and family therapist. She studied psychoanalysis at Sigmund Freud University in Vienna and received European credits. She has also written for psychologytoday.com.