I'm not shy! Am I?
August 25, 2007 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Help me be more outgoing in class.

I'm a closet shy guy. I work with the public day in and day out, I'm outgoing, I don't act shy but deep down inside I am. I have a pretty big social circle and don't mind being the center of attention. I can start conversations with just about anyone but there's one catch. Whenever I find myself in a classroom setting, I become extremely shy.

I'm able to make friends everywhere...but class. I start to become really self-conscious in class and don't particularly like speaking. I feel like a little kid. Professors intimidate me. Am I a bad student? No. Do I know my stuff? Yeah. So what gives?

Oh and outside of class, with the same people, I can interact with them - but in class, woah cowboy, that's another story.

posted anon because it helps me convey myself easier - see, I am shy!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem. I think it's my perfectionism. I don't want to make a mistake if I answer a question or speak in front of people. Even if I know I'm right, I'm scared other people will judge me by my answer, and it sometimes makes me freeze up in class. Are you a perfectionist?
posted by la petite marie at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You may want to go talk to your professors in office hours to practice interacting with them in a less intimidating environment. If you can connect with them there, you'll feel more comfortable in class.
posted by underwater at 8:22 AM on August 25, 2007

I like underwater's idea. When you talk to them one on one, most profs are much less intimidating, because the environment may be less intimidating, and they are able to show that they are in fact interested in what YOU have to say.

Also, I think the reasons you are shy in class are similar to the reasons I, and many others, are shy in most general situations. You're afraid you'll say the wrong thing. You have plenty of ideas, but none of them seem worth saying. You think you'll sound stupid, etc. What they tell people like me, besides not worrying that what you have to say sounds stupid, because it's not stupid, is to stick to what you know, and give the other party a chance to talk. Practice these things whenever you have a chance, and eventually it will be easier in general.

So, for a classroom situation, when a topic comes up where you really know your stuff, just tell yourself you'll make one comment, or X number of comments, however many you think you can handle. Depending on how the class is structured, you may be able to prepare your comment beforehand. Really, in any class structure that is not 100% lecture, you ought to be able to do this. When you do the assignment for the next class, just make some observations. Pick out a thing or two that were really interesting. Practice how to explain these observations. Then share them and ask for other people's thoughts on it when you get the opportunity in class. As far as keeping the other party talking, just ask questions. It helps us learn. It doesn't mean you're dumb. So, again, when you do your reading or whatever, make and write down questions about parts you didn't understand. Have them ready when you go to class. Then ask them when you get the chance. That way you can be engaged with them more, while all you have to do is ask one question, and they do the hard part of speaking at length.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:37 AM on August 25, 2007

Some suggestions from the professor's side of the table:

1. If it helps give you confidence, remember that most of us desperately want you to say something. (Well, something that has to do with what we're talking about.) Because there's nothing worse than standing in front of students who Will Not Speak.

2. Second the recommendation to see the prof in office hours.

3. Believe it or not, professors are also intimidated by speaking in class. (Help! There are all these freshmen staring at me!) If you watch closely, you'll see that many of us really focus on just a few people located at various points in the room. Try imagining yourself talking to just one or two people--the students who seem most sympathetic, or whatever.

4. I was terminally shy as an undergraduate, but trained myself to come up with at least one question or comment per class period.

5. Your fellow students know no more than you do. Trust me. In fact, what strikes you as a stupid question may actually be something that everyone else is burning to ask.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:19 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Some recommendations:

Get together with a group of your fellow students outside of class to discuss the material. You may then feel more comfortable talking in class in front of them.

Talk to your professor outside of class so that you become more comfortable with him/her. You may also mention that you feel uncomfortable speaking up in class and ask for suggestions on how to overcome it. Or ask if the professor could do some sort of structured response thing in class, where he/she asks every student to make 1 comment or ask one question.

Prepare a few statements based on the readings or topics for that day. That way, you can spend time perfecting your words before class. Try to be the first person to speak up, so that you can set the stage for discussion and then maybe feel more comfortable being part of it.

You may wish to start off by making fairly simple comments or respond to the "easier" questions that the professor asks. As the positive feedback of getting something "right" starts to settle in, you'll feel better talking more and conjecturing more.

Instead of coming up with comments, ask questions. Maybe just ask the professor or one of your fellow students to elaborate on some point they made, then you can respond to it.

Remember that everyone else in class is just as worried about seeming smart or getting things right, they've just learned to get past it and so can you.

Remember that learning isn't a competitive enterprise or a zero-sum game. Learning is collaborative, and you and your peers learn best when you work together and create a respectful and open atmosphere. The people who want to show off how smart they are or who will judge you because you may say something they think is dumb are assholes anyway, and no matter how smart they are or think they are, they'll eventually hit a brick wall because they are jerk offs who overestimate their talents and can't learn from others.
posted by papakwanz at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2007

Sit in front.

Also, start out by asking questions rather than by answering them. Prepare them ahead of time. This way you are not exposing yourself by getting an answer "wrong" while still practicing speaking. If you're afraid you'll ask a dumb question, have someone help you come up with them.
posted by nax at 12:51 PM on August 25, 2007

Just say something to get started. In situations like this I like to write a little script for myself beforehand.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:05 PM on August 25, 2007

If you aren't speaking up, asking questions and adding your perspective to the class; you are in a sense, depriving the other students and yourself of a full intellectual discourse.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:39 PM on August 25, 2007

It helps me to know for sure I'm right before I answer a question -- if there's any doubt I may be wrong I don't say anything. I do all the reading and actively seek out more information before class so I know the answers to the teacher's questions. After awhile it becomes easier to ask questions, analyze things, etc. (Possibly because I think I've established myself as "the smart one," and therefore my word counts for at least something.) Conversely, if I answer a question wrong then I won't say anything for days.

It does take more work, but at least you're learning more and pointing yourself out to the teacher. And you won't have to cram as much for tests, which is nice around finals.
posted by lilac girl at 11:03 AM on August 26, 2007

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