I was at a presentation just recently, talking with a fellow actor about the change that occurs when you are “on-camera”, or “on-stage”. Something I, and I think most actors, can relate to. There is a strange transformation that takes place the moment you either walk on stage, or the director screams “ACTION!” It is a little magical and very hard to explain. Ask different people, and you will get different ideas. The real person becomes hidden behind a character who is often more confident, more gregarious, more… everything really. Then when “Cut!’ is called, or you walk off-stage, the real you oozes back in.
What has this to do with shyness? Well, I find most actors I know claim to be extremely shy people. I was once, and to a lesser degree, still am, but that is just me. I always thought that you had to have a lot of self-confidence to be an actor. The truth appears to be quite the opposite; you have to be seeking confidence to be an actor. Some of the most inspirational actors I have had the pleasure to meet, and work with, have had some of the most extraordinary experiences with shyness. The stable actor, and there are a few I know, would appear to be the exception to the rule. I am rather simplifying the matter of course, as there are varying degrees of traumatised actor here. It seems that I am always having actors telling me how shy they are when not in the lime-light.
This is a rather interesting position. A professional actor is not only a working professional, they also need to be their own representative, salesman, or marketing officer, however you want to look at it, so being shy and awkward in social engagements can be a disservice to their career. So the trick is to overcome this shyness somehow and take that first step; engage. I’m not too sure that I am actually capable of being able to give advice to anyone here, as I find this more confrontational than taking the limelight as a Master of Ceremonies for a quiz night. In a way, in order to engage with people socially, I often need to employ similar techniques as I would in acting, without actually acting anyone else but me.
Well, we all do in reality. Act. We have personae we present when in different environments; our work face, the one for our parents, and the reversion we experience when we go to our High School Reunions. Most of us at least. Apparently I have had the honour of meeting the one person I will meet in my life who has but one face for all occasions. I wish him the best of luck. For the rest of us, we are in a way all actors, and that is the key here. We all act, but we are still ourselves.
So I find that I don’t overcome my shyness. That is a part of who I am, best not fight it. It is actually an emotional reaction to a possibly uncomfortable situation, and the uncertainty of being able to handle it. It is in this way simple information, letting me know that I need to prepare my confident self for action. Through little simple tricks; they way I hold my arms, hold my head and position my body, along with little key thoughts and phrases – I then engage with people. I simply make them aware that I am there. Now some may find this hard to believe, but I don’t like talking about myself directly. Once I get going telling an anecdotal tale about something I have been involved in, then I run the risk of running on a bit. I’m not actually talking about myself as such. I am coming at myself from an acute angle. Even so, I have my tolerance limit before the insecurities start to over power me.
I have been told that an important part of marketing yourself is to engage with others by listening to them, which is great for the shy person. Talking about yourself, even tangentially, can get very boorish for those listening to you, and you can actually lose people. It actually gets really uncomfortable when you become aware of how much “self” talk you are doing. Getting people talking about themselves, or projects they are involved in, is another important part of networking, and has two key benefits; first, you’re not talking about yourself all the time and second, you might actually learn something if you actually listen. I do all the time.
These days, I get a lot of people saying that I present a very confident type of personality, quite a contrast to the past, and the reality. It’s all an act. Simple tricks and techniques that make me appear confident, and then I get people to talk about themselves. There are the occasions where you meet the person more than willing to talk to you about themselves, and often diverge down various side topics. A good exit strategy is also a good thing. That I am still working on.