Shy

I am at heart a very shy person. My shyness is selective though: while some people are terrified at the thought of speaking in public, I revel at the opportunity, and am comfortable in front of any sized audience. It’s being in the audience that terrifies me.

I don’t mean the “sitting on the hard chair, listening to the speakers” part of being in the audience. I mean the “hanging out in the coffee room after the speakers” part. I’m just no darned good at “working a room,” and I get so flummoxed by the prospect that I often fade into the silent background.

Partly this is because I’ve not got a good backstory. I can’t say “I manage the user interface design for Microsoft Word” or “I invented spray-on underwear lubricant.”

I am an easily distracted generalist, good enough at a wide range of things, expert at none; I’ve never been able to focus for long enough, or to tolerate the overlords implicit in a “position” to acquire a good title.

So my self-description is left to something like “well, I make websites and I’m a programmer and I’ve got these clients, and I blog and podcast, and sometimes I go on the radio, and I used to be a typesetter.” Not compelling stuff, I imagine.

Catherine has the same problem: she’s a weaver, a jeweler, a metal-smith, a spinner, a painter. Sometimes she says she’s an “artist,” sometimes a “craftsperson,” and sometimes she just says “I make things.” But she’s not shy.

Another cause: I don’t have an innate “small talk” ability. I love small talk — I could talk about the weather and the Blue Jays forever given the right conditions — but I’ve had to learn it from scratch, so it’s more an awkward second language than a fluent dialect.

And of course I’m just plain afraid. Terrified of the unknown, suddenly left frozen at the thought of freeform social contact.

Given that the interesting part of conferences happens during the “hanging out in the coffee room after the speakers” part, this fear / awkwardness / terror leaves me at something of a disadvantage.

Halfway through reboot, I decided that, fuck it, I had to just jump off. Pretend I wasn’t terrified, and see what played out.

I went down to the “sign up for dinner out with the people you’ve met” list by the door, choose a group at random, and put down my name (previous plan: cower back to my hotel). Then I figured out a way to get a ride to dinner, and even hung out with some rebootkins before dinner by pulling up a chair and chiming in. I even sat down for a brief chat with Scoble.

Much to my complete surprise, it worked.

I ended up at Cofoco with a great group of people: Nikolaj, Mark, Dragos, Bernhard, Thomas, Felix, Stefan, Henriette and a whole other bunch of people down the other end of the table.

And I didn’t explode or die or (I think) make a fool of myself. It was fun. I learned a lot (and had a great meal).

And the fun just kept on coming. Today I got invited out to dinner with Doc, Nikolaj and his wife and kids, Laurent and Ben. No explosions or deaths there either.

I think I will stop being shy now; it’s obviously worn out its usefulness.

Comments

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on June 13, 2005 - 01:18

I think you should say “I invented spray-on underwear lubricant.

Thomas Schulze's picture
Thomas Schulze on June 13, 2005 - 06:07

Hi Peter,

indeed, this was a lovely diner. Very good food and lots of interesting talks. I hope you had fun on sunday. (I had sort of, because my flight took off at 1130.)

Glad I met you!

Thomas.

Johnnie Moore's picture
Johnnie Moore on June 13, 2005 - 08:52

Hi Peter: I identify with almost all of what you say. Like you, I’m happy on stage but have to really work at working the room. It doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to perform into it. Likewise, I don’t have the “elevator speech” version of who I am or what I do. Actually, I think more and more people are now spinning a variety of plates and that whole position-based identity is getting a bit, well, 20th Century…

Guy Dickinson's picture
Guy Dickinson on June 13, 2005 - 09:25

I met you on the balcony by room3 — we were checking out the main hall presentation and evaluating sniper positions, I seem to remember (whilst balancing between the 2 talks :-). Thanks for introducing yourself — it allowed me to discover you’d setup the ZapYourPram conference, which reminded me about a video I’d seen there, which reminded me of something else etc.. So thanks — it was nice meeting you — see you next year, hey?

Cyn's picture
Cyn on June 13, 2005 - 13:02

You and Catherine are the perfect balance.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 14, 2005 - 07:06

Yes, Guy, but remember that our opening conversation went something like this: “How are you liking the conference?” (you). “No!” (me).

Dragos's picture
Dragos on June 14, 2005 - 15:51

I think we had a great time at dinner and in general at Reboot — you disguised your shyness very well, at least I didnt have that impression. Glad to have met you, you should definitely come more often on this side of the pond. :) Cheers!

Nikolaj Nyholm's picture
Nikolaj Nyholm on June 15, 2005 - 08:32

Peter,

I’m happy you did as I enjoyed your company immensely on Sunday and Monday. Interesting thing for me was that I really didn’t have much time to talk to anyone before reboot was over, so I’m happy that a couple of you decided to hang around a few days extra.

Looking forward to Zap Your PRAM ‘05!?! ;)

/n

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