I’m writing this for the people who can relate to me when I say that the sound of that sentence leaving someone’s mouth used to make my jaw clench and my heart beat a little bit faster than usual. It sounds dramatic but it’s true. Asking a question to a guest speaker in a room full of people you don’t really know? No thanks. I’m going to look at the floor and pretend I don’t exist for the next 15 minutes.
Before Agent Academy, I would avoid questions at the end of a guest talk at all costs. If I had a burning question, I would approach the person at the end and ask while everyone was leaving. I found it stressful and embarrassing. I’d be worried that my question was stupid or not worth answering, and when the people around me would ask really interesting questions, I’d get jealous that my brain didn’t come up with that question.
Do you sit there and wait with bated breath to hear what the person three seats down from you is going to ask? Or do you sit there taking notes and thinking about what question you would like to ask instead? Even thinking about it like that helps ease some of my stress. Asking questions helps you learn more about the person that you probably didn’t get out of what they had to say about themselves. It enriches the experience for you, and for the speaker. It’s always nice for people to take interest in your life and the guest speaker will definitely remember and appreciate the fact that you showed interest in them. To be honest, they are probably a bit nervous too.
I’m usually a stickler for staying in my comfort zone. Even when I was at school, I’d only ever ask questions that I knew had a definite answer. Things like “when is it due?” – nothing too outside the box! But inside my head, I wanted to know more. It was my fear of being embarrassed or laughed at in front of a room full of people that would hold me back and so my major piece of advice would be, please don’t let it hold you back. Ask that question that you think is silly, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you’re sitting in a talk and you genuinely can’t think of a question, then promise yourself you will ask a question next time. You’re not going to be engaged by every single lecture or talk that you go to, but holding yourself accountable for the little things really does make a big difference.
I can honestly say though, asking any question has definitely helped me feel more comfortable in these types of situations. It’s as simple as this; the more you do it, the less scary it becomes. And the chances are that while you’re asking your question, everyone else in the room is probably planning what they’re going to ask instead of listening to you. Basically, people are more concerned with their own experience, rather than yours.
Everybody is different, and everybody deals with stress and anxiety in different ways. So, throwing yourself into the deep dark void of question asking may not work for you, but for the people who may just need a bit of a push into that void, please believe me when I say that the more extroverted and confident you pretend to be when asking questions, the more extroverted and confident you will feel inside. I for one am good at pretending that I don’t get anxiety over these types of social situations. Those around me tell me that I seem calm and relaxed, but on the inside, I feel like I’m made out of butterflies. This blog post is almost definitely going to ruin my cool, calm and collected exterior that I seem to have, but if one person reading this feels like they can go to college or university and approach a guest speaker with a question, then I don’t mind.
When starting Agent Academy, question-asking was the most daunting thing to me. But now we are going into Week 5 and the anxiety I felt has significantly decreased since Week 1. Being on the programme has really helped me grow in confidence and not be afraid of communication. Ultimately, I’ve found that engaging in conversation has a lot more reward in it than staring at the floor, pretending like I’m not there.