No, Really, I'm Shy. An
Ignite 2011 Talk by Pamela Fox (@pamelafox). All slides were hand-drawn on a Walgreens whiteboard in random cafes around SF. :)
Hey everyone. For the last
five years up til a few months ago, I worked at Google as a Developer Advocate. My job was to give talks, organize events, post in forums, and basically spend all day every day communicating with developers. Hearing that, you're probably thinking that I'm an incredibly outgoing and social person.
But, I'm shy. No, really,
I am. What does that mean? For me, it means that I'm afraid of approaching and talking to people, especially when its me and a group of strangers. At times like that, I'm most comfortable standing in the corner, pretending to amuse myself with farm animal themed mobile apps.
Ultimately, it's because I'm afraid
of rejection. As long as I don't approach people, then I don't have to worry that they will ignore me or turn me away. I could just decide to curl up in a hole for the rest of my life and not worry about it, but holes get lonely. Sometimes you need a little of that human touch. And sometimes, you need a lot. :)
Okay, quick survey time. How
many of you consider yourselves shy? Raise your hand, dont be shy. How many of you want a little of that human touch? Raise your hand. Touch your neighbor. Okay, so, yeah, you're with me.
Now, I've been shy for
a long time, and I've been wanting to not be shy for a long time, so over the past lifetime, I've developed workarounds to hack around my shyness, and since the world would be a better place if we weren't all afraid of each other, I'm sharing my ideas with you.
My main strategy takes many
forms, but basically it boils down to this: Since I'm afraid of approaching people, then I need to get them to approach me – that means giving them a really good reason to talk to me, and there's a couple different ways to do that.
One way is to get
yourself in a position of leadership over a group of people. Maybe it's an existing group or maybe it's a new group like a club you start yourself. Then people will approach you with group-related matters- like when I was class president in high school, my classmates approached me with such dire concerns like what love songs to play at prom.
Once you're in charge of
some group, you can organize events for it. Of course, you need to actually get people to show up at them, but usually, if you're interested in something, someone else will be too. Except this one time when I organized a viewing of Moulin Rouge. Apparently that's just me. Stick with buzzwords and you'll be okay!
Maybe you think it's too
much effort to create a club just to get people to talk to you, I understand. The next step down is to be a speaker. When you deliver a talk to a group of people - like I'm doing now - there will be a whole room of people afterwards who know who you are and even better, who know what conversation topics they can approach you with.
Speaking isn't easy- I still
get sick to my stomach just before I talk- but its worth it. When I moved to Sydney and didn't know anyone, I gave two talks at their BarCamp my first weekend there, and that's how I met 90% of my Aussie friends. Find a topic that you're passionate about and find a group of people that want to hear it.
And when you find an
event to speak at, try to speak early in the event - early in the week if it's a multi-day conference or before lunch if it's one day. You want to make sure people know who you are as soon as possible so that you can spend the rest of the time hopefully getting approached by them with their thoughts on your talk.
Maybe you aren't up for
speaking - but clearly you guys are all about attending events cuz you're here now. I applaud you for that, cuz its damn intimidating to show up at an event where you're surrounded by thousands of people you've never met. How does anyone find the excuse to approach you in a sea of strangers? Well, they need some idea for a conversation topic that'd interest both of you.
In an ideal world, we
would all walk around using an augmented reality Android app to visualize auras of hash tags around people's bodies, and we would be auto directed to people with overlapping hash tags. But we are not in an ideal world yet. (Although maybe that's what they'll announce in tomorrow's keynote?)
Until then, you can use
your clothing & accessories to convey your interests to others. When I dye my hair crazy colors, I get approached by everyone – from hobos to hipsters. But I can also just wear a shirt geeks relate to. Like with this github one, we could talk about whats in our git repos, or after a few drinks, how much we love hardcore forking action. :)
It may sound desperate, but
if you really want people to approach you, give away free shit. People love free shit. When I was a kid, I used to bring giant bags of candy to lunch during holidays, and my classmates suddenly became my best friends. As a Googler, I did the same thing – but instead of candy, I gave away free shirts and beer.. the adult equivalent.
Sometimes it gets exhausting trying
to be approachable, sometimes it gets expensive, and sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes you have to simply swallow your pride and admit it. Admit that you are shy, and tell people how they can make it easier for you.
When I worked at Google,
we all ate lunch in a big cafe and people would go to the cafe in different packs every day. I'd usually end up walking in alone, look around at the tables, be too scared to sit at any of them, and take my lunch back to my desk. I'd pretend to be all lost in my work, but really it was the saddest moment in my day.
I didn't want to spend
every afternoon feeling bad, so I finally told one of my colleagues about my lunchtime shyness, and from then on, he made sure to explicitly invite me to lunch every day, and I no longer dreaded lunchtime. Once your friends or colleagues realize your antisocial behavior is because you're shy, they can make it better.
Of course, my ultimate hack
in combating shyness was to get a job that forced me to employ all of the above workarounds on a daily basis. I basically got paid to face my fears for 4 years, and now I have techniques to last me a lifetime. I still get shy, but at least I know ways around it if I really want to.
Now that I've shared some
of my shyness hacks with you, I want to hear some of yours. You guys now have every possible excuse in the world to approach me, and I want you to use them at the after-party tonight. I'll be the one standing in the corner with the pink hair. :)