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There is no article, friend or mentor that could have prepared me for the shocker and unprecedented social nervousness that has tackled and blindsided me.

The virtual world was an adjustment and I remember the mental shift of facilitating skill and motivating and engaging an audience in a different way. I am a born facilitator and engaging was not the challenge, seeing myself on a screen 24/7 was growth on steroids. I longed for a live audience, the energy and laughter, the moments of connection that every speaker knows and resonates with.

Slowly life adjusted, I trained, coached and motivated virtually and I still do.

A few weeks ago, I entered a venue where I was invited to motivate and inspire a team of 50. Spaced apart, sanitised and masked, attendees were excited and the air buzzed. Yes, it felt right. I presented, we laughed, we got real, we dug a little deep and by the end of the session, growth was evident and leaders were team ready.

I received my thanks from the conference convener and continued to pack up my gear.  For many, the real connection of a conference happens after the talk.  I went to the area where the attendees started gathering, and there, as quick as a lightning bolt, I felt a jolt to my chest that was very foreign.  My heart was beating so fast I thought it could be heard by all.  Behind my mask I continued smiling as I was being approached by the group of attendees.

The open space between us got smaller as each person wished to share their personal encounters. Before you knew it, the circle was small and I felt completely surrounded. And now? 50 People waiting to speak to me is making my heart beat out of my chest?  WHAT!? When and how did this happen?

Nothing out of the norm, except that I have been in an isolated bubble for 12 months, choosing my town and grocery time during quiet periods and not physically engaging with groups beyond my virtual realm. Flattening the curve, doing my bit.

I left that afternoon mentally shaken and the trip home was filled with deep digging and unanswered questions.  So, let me break this down a little, because I am not alone.  As I have started sharing my experiences, I have heard countless stories of similar encounters.   Let's be unapologetic about this learning shall we?

Hindsight is always a great teacher, yes, I should have started integrating socially, sooner.  Small steps, perhaps a friend or two, a restaurant trip with a small group, a client on-site visit instead of virtual only.  Walking into an event to inspire and speak as I have done countless times previously, without even considering a possible mental hiccup, was short-sighted.

On reflection I have started making intentional adjustments and would encourage you to do the same.  Let's have a look at 10 easy and practical steps:

  1. Start with small interactions, perhaps two meetings a week in person?
  2. Don't avoid social interactions all together, avoidance is not going to help you adjust any easier.
  3. Be brave! Yes, I invited a group of friends to join me for a cuppa in celebration of my birthday last week.  Did I have doubts, absolutely!  Did we all leave laughing and rejuvenated, yes!  Keep it safe, but send that invite.
  4. Set your boundaries. I realised that one of my personal challenges, simply put, too much function.  When I do engage or enter a space, within minutes I am the on-site practitioner.  With Covid, there are more lives, families and businesses that need my guidance than ever before.  This is my purpose, my white hot why, so it comes naturally.  When does it become unnatural, when I drop my boundaries?  Buying a bread at the supermarket, a client will start asking for advice.  Braving a coffee with a friend quietly in a corner, before long there is a heart that needs to share a burden.  Is it easier to remain in my bubble and speak to friends telephonically or extend the invite to my home instead, absolutely!  And that is precisely what I did.
  5. You are not alone! The bubbliest extroverts are also pondering their social abilities and experiencing an almost "first day back at school" season.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Just writing this article I still have this niggle; how can it be that I am experiencing social awkwardness? Well, the reality is, no amount of studying or experience could prepare any one of us for a pandemic.  It's complex.  We will perceive this experience differently.
  7. Have grace for yourself and others.
  8. If you are simply not ready to move forward, to pop your bubble and expand your circle, my friend, that is fine too. Once you know your limits, practice vocalising it. If you get invited to join a large gathering, it is acceptable to respond with a "Thank you for the invitation, I am not attending functions as yet, however would love to catch-up one to one. Let me know when you are available for a cuppa." Being prepared minimises anxiety and inner turmoil every time you receive that text.
  9. Write it! A growth journal has been an integral asset to myself as well as my clients.  Note the small successes and note the challenges that linger.
  10. Anxiety can easily ripple into a larger and more uncontrollable mindset. Please seek medical council if you feel that you are becoming more overwhelmed than before.  When you start questioning every sentence before you speak, over rehearse or pre-empt every scenario before leaving home, please reach out.

As I start settling into my intentions, it is clear that the virtual world is one which I have more control over.  Eeeeek!  Yes, I can control the aircon, the sound and microphone, the lighting and even the camera angle set-up.  That control is dangerous, it has settled into a comfortable pod in my planning.  So, bring on the live conferences and events, where I have no control over the technology, sound or temperature.  This is what growth looks like. May you be encouraged to take the small steps that carry you toward the goals you have for yourself. Take care of you and yours, and be safe.






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