Struggling with Conversation

Several times throughout this term, I’ve encountered discussions on introverted and extroverted personas. When the question is directly posed to me, I actually feel quite restricted and boxed into two categories. Naturally, I am friendly. I enjoy conversations filled with substance and a positive exchange of knowledge and energy. However, I am also content with solitude, and often find it necessary after prolonged human interaction. Most people crave human interaction, and I am no exception. However, there comes a point during the conversation when I feel the need to retreat—not completely because of my introverted nature, but because I struggle with maintaining conversation.

I’ve shared this weakness with very few, and received responses of disbelief. Externally, I do a halfway decent job masking my self-doubt, so others do not see my struggle. Internally, I find it anxiety-provoking to maintain conversation. I overthink that people will find what I have to say as irrelevant, incomprehensible, or un-enlightening. I’ve had this long-standing view that holding a conversation is something to be achieved, rather than an engaging experience, used to convey a message, share ideas, relate, or even constructively disagree with others.

With a spirit of intentionality, I’ve found myself making major strides to improve upon this weakness. Presentation Skills at UNSW is designed to equip students with the tools necessary to lead engaging talks, discussions, or presentations. This course has served as both a platform for experiential learning and a playground for me to explore what it means to be a conversationalist.

Lesson Learned #9: Treat every encounter as a presentation of your best self.

Classroom Presentations and Conversations: There’s a difference between presenting and acting. In order to give an engaging presentation, you must first be present. Each week, we covered a new topic that helped guide authenticity and presence within our individual performances, such as tools for listening, engaging, connecting to an audience, tailoring content with persuasive verbiage, behaving and appropriately embodying the presentation, having an awareness of the surrounding space, adding elements of storytelling, and appropriately projecting.  These techniques could be employed in my oral assessments, and outside the classroom in regular conversation, because of four commonalities. To converse and present in an engaging manner calls for active listening, curiosity, creativity, and questions.

I saw these core principles best embodied throughout our storytelling circles and workshops. During certain tutorials, we’d sit in a circle. One person would begin a story, and pass on to the person sitting beside them. We all had to listen and build on the foundation of the story. Those who felt daring and creative, would take the story in a completely different direction than its original set-up. As a group, sometimes we’d pause to ask clarifying questions, before continuing the story. Other workshops provided prompts that called us to be curious and creative in our presentation approach.

Interestingly enough, many students in this class were international and had a major that wasn’t directly associated with public speaking, such as directing, fashion, medicine, and even architecture. However, everyone brought their own sense of individualism and presence, and I found myself learning so much from my peers. Those who were shy broke out of their shell and did not allow any barrier—nervousness, language or accent— to hinder their overall presentation. I was truly encouraged by everyone.

Check out some of the excitement and laughter that filled our workshops below. My mate Jasper of Denmark, Reese of South Africa, and I each had a chance at storytelling for an audience and working with a teleprompter! The teleprompter was surely not a strong point for me, but it was fun experience, nonetheless!

This class was challenging, at times awkward, but most of all fun. I met some really amazing people and we had a good time learning from one another’s successes and mistakes.

Quick Trivia

“Okay, everyone—give it your best go”. My tutorial instructor loved saying this to us right before we broke off into our workshops to practice our newly learned techniques. I found myself approaching each new day with this phrase. All you can ever do in life is to give it a go, and while you’re at it, making it your best. Want to take a guess at the meaning of this common Aussie phrase? Check your answer toward the end of this post!

Outside the Classroom Setting: Much of what I learned within lecture and tutorial, I found myself applying or seeing it applied by those I encountered outside of the classroom setting. There are two friendships I’ve made in Oz that I will always treasure, because they have consistently challenged me to incorporate those four techniques I’ve learned this term. While they appear to be quite coincidental, I know they are the result of intentional conversation, curiosity, creativity, active listening, and questioning.

I met my friend Natalie of Canada one Monday morning, after stumbling upon Leichardt Park. She walked past me as I sat on a bench reading my Linguistics textbook. Leichardt Bay is beautiful, so of course I needed a picture to capture the moment. I didn’t quite have the confidence to ask a stranger, but something about Natalie seemed very warm and welcoming. She also had an aura that made me believe she was a photographer of some sort. I actually didn’t say anything to Natalie as she passed, but about 30 minutes later, we both were making a beeline toward one another. I was a bit confused once she approached me. She was slightly nervous, but had an encouraging message to share with me on the wonders of God. I found it ironic that she was Christian and felt this pull toward me, just as I had felt this spirit in her that made me feel comfortable to even think about asking her to take a picture of me.

Needless to say, our conversation was very engaging, and I felt no anxiety at all. Since our first encounter, she’s been kind enough to invite me for dinners with some friends she’s met throughout her time in Australia. We’ve even gone on the Spit to Manly hike where she was the perfect photographer to help me capture each moment. We’ve shared stories, wisdom, and laughs together. Natalie will be moving back to Canada in 2020, and guess who plans to visit her? I’ve never been to Canada, either. Natalie is one example of how the willingness to converse and genuinely present ourselves to others can open doors for new encounters and experiences never imagined.

I could say the same about my travel partner—Charlotte, from the UK. I’ve never had a British friend, and Chach was a very welcomed surprise. What began as a search for a permanent flat resulted in our friendship. Chach and I were going to be paired as roommates in an apartment in Parramatta. I emailed Chach to get to know her a bit and see if we’d be compatible roommates. Even though I never did move into the apartment, Chach proposed that we be friends and explore Australia together. One bridge climb, kayak experience, several brunches, a trip to Melbourne, and countless hours of shopping later, here we are. I can certainly say that Chach is a walking example of many of the techniques I’ve learned in Presentation Skills. She’s always ready to present her true authentic self, and is unashamed. She walks around with no masks, nor does she feel the need to act like someone she is not for the sake of circumstance. I’m grateful, because although we did not live with one another, I’ve gained a friend for a lifetime who is a natural born-storyteller. If you ask her, she’d probably say she’s an over-sharer, but that’s what I find most engaging about her.

I’ve chatted with people over the difference between tomato sauce and ketchup, Donald Trump, Kanye West, the transit system, music, Australia’s universal health care system, and even Trevor Noah. The list is endless. There is one thing that I know for certain now, that has re-framed the way I view maintaining conversations. Being open to conversing with others connects the world. It’s amazing to see just how much my conversations have expanded once I broadened my horizons and applied these techniques to every encounter. I’ve learned the real meaning of presenting my best and authentic self, in addition to actively listening to others as they do the same.

Quick Trivia Answer: Giving something your best go, or a go means to try—I think in America, we will often say “give it a shot” or “give it a try”.

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