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Fear of Public Speaking

September 23, 2009

This isn’t really photography related, per se. The other day I was teaching a photography workshop. There were 33 people there, which is a pretty good showing. As I understand it, fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias around. I just don’t get it. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, I simply don’t understand it.

I guess mostly because I have the exact opposite reaction. I love speaking before large crowds! I’ve been doing live photography workshops for nearly two years. Before that, I’ve done volunteer work teaching lectures on topics ranging from economics to recycling to hazardous waste disposal. I’ve always enjoyed being in front of crowds.

In my photography workshops, I’ve presented to groups as small as a single person (more than once, I’m sad to say) to well over 50. More important than the size of the crowd in absolute numbers is the relative “crowdedness” of the space we are in. The presentation I gave Monday had 33 people in a circular room approximately 30′ in diameter. It was well packed without feeling uncomfortably crowded. It was perfect.

Fifty people in a room designed to hold 150 would not feel as good. Although there is clearly a certain intimacy to be found in very small gatherings (one-on-one or me presenting to just two or three people), I really do prefer the dynamic that comes from interacting with a larger group.

Once you get more than fifteen or twenty people together, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll find one or two bold enough to ask questions or make comments. That usually emboldens several others who might otherwise be too timid to be the first to speak. On the whole, I think everyone benefits from having these people among them.

When it’s just me speaking, with no feedback to guide me as to the interests or concerns of the audience, the information I present may come off as somewhat random. I always feel that more value is conveyed when people tell me what it is they want to learn.

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