If you have ever felt extremely uncomfortable in social situations or when you need to talk to strangers, to the level of feeling intense fear or feeling your heart racing. You suffer from something called Social Anxiety. It is essentially the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people. It makes you feel inadequate, inferior, humiliated and depressed.
I have it too.
As life would have it, my dream career/lifelong dream involved constantly talking or interacting with huge groups of people in unfamiliar surroundings in situations I had no control over.
I decided that I had to do something about it. I could no longer function at my full professional capacity this way. I went out, attended mixers, gatherings, gigs, funerals, anything that had a lot of people in attendance. None of it helped.
I decided then that maybe it would be helpful if I take it one person at a time. That is when the idea for the Portrait Project came to me. Putting someone in front of your camera in a situation where everything is under control felt like a relief. It felt like something that would be easy to do.
Call it luck or whatever you find sensible, the first person who showed up for the Portrait Series was a sweetheart. I think she was the one who made me comfortable and after that I was able to ask about as many things from her as she did from me.
I’ve clicked 35 portraits as of today and certain patterns have appeared. I thought I’ll share a few things I learnt to help all you lovely people out there. Sadly this is going to look like a list, but thankfully I’m not going to add numbers to the sub-headings.
Gather up every single happy thought and memory that you keep hidden away for dark times. Think about them as if you’re about to Cast the most powerful Patronus Charm but instead, say Hello or Hi or whatever variation of that introductory greeting that appeals to you.
Throw in a phatic observation to cement your warm thoughts. ‘I really like your sweater.’, ‘Cute dog’ and ‘Cold isn’t is?’ are perfect examples. It creates an instant common ground for you to talk about.
For me it was always, ‘What made you want to be a part of this series?’
Ask A Question
Everyone wants to talk, they just don’t know how to. People inherently like it when other people listen. So ask them a question and have time to listen, always have time.
If your Hello was warm enough to break all the ice(I don’t know how that expression came to be), throw a disarmingly beautiful question at them. ‘What makes you smile the most?’ or ‘What do you want to take away from this experience?’ works wonderfully well. If they seem comfortable talking, ask more, people love questions.
Small Talk Sucks
Small talk is a wormhole, stay away from it at all costs or you will end up back to ‘And tell me, whats new?’ every 5-6 sentences. Its bad, it’s an aberration. It’s a constant loop of wasted time that will never come back.
Don’t ask ‘How are you?’, no one ever replies to that question with any sincerity. Instead ask them about their Day so far, ask them about their week, ask them about the last 5 minutes leading up to meeting you and how it changed their life. Maybe that last part was a little too far reaching but anything other than ‘How are you?’, Please I beg you.
Imagine a situation where you are pouring your heart out about the significance of your favourite sadness Ice cream flavour and the other person is only physically present. It sucks. Don’t be that person. Be present, engage them, MAKE EYE CONTACT.
People tend to throw certain details about themselves into the conversation. Pick them up and remember them. Casually mention those details while conversing. Nothing makes them happier than having things about themselves recited back to them.
Be genuinely invested in the conversation. A conversation is almost like life, it ebbs and flows, sometimes you need to pick it up, sometimes you need others to pick it up for you.
But why do these conversations matter?
In an age where entire human existences are contained in 140 characters and stories are more about click bait than meaningful content and actual stories. These fleeting conversations matter. Human beings have an innate need to talk and connect with others but somehow we are satisfied with doing so just over the internet through short messages.
Get out, go about, pour your heart out to strangers. Talk, be smitten by a strangers thoughts. Fall in love with spoken words. Conversations are stories and no matter what happens to the world, Stories will always matter. And so will you, Always.