Getting Lost in the Crowd

I’m at a conference this weekend! This time, it’s not a Linux conference. I’m at a church leadership conference, and boy has it been interesting.

The most interesting part, sadly, hasn’t been the content — but rather my inability to handle the huge mobs of people. If you’ve known me for a while, you know that after my car accident it was difficult for me to be in crowds of people. That’s still largely the case, but I don’t seem to have that problem at Linux conferences. I thought, foolishly, that perhaps I was outgrowing my issues with crowded rooms. As it turns out, Linux conferences for me are more like public speaking, even if I’m not actually speaking…

If “how brains work” doesn’t interest you at all, you may want to bail on this blog post now. HERE is a great link that will make you laugh away any guilt you may have for leaving early. Really. I don’t mind. 🙂

It turns out people with difficulties dealing with large crowds (I’m sure there is some long “phobia” for the condition) can often speak to a crowd of people without that anxiety being a problem. It seems strange, but I can attest to the fact that speaking in front of a crowd is very different than being a part of the crowd. While speaking in front of crowds is certainly stressful for many people, for some reason it’s much less difficult for me to speak to 1,000 people than to sit in chairs next to 1,000 people listening to someone else speak.

For a while I was concerned that it was an ego thing. Maybe it ultimately is, but for some reason I just seem uncomfortable in large crowds of people unless I’m the center of attention. See, it sounds horrible doesn’t it?!?!? At Linux conferences, I’m certainly not usually the center of attention, but since I’m there representing something bigger than myself (Linux Journal), it seems a bit more like I’m one of the circus acts people are there to see.

So here I am sitting in the car in the parking lot. I needed a break from the crowd. Feel free to draw your own conclusions on my anxiety issues and how they pertain to my ego. Judge me. Be sickened by me. Call me a jerk. But please, if I’m at your conference, make me dance like a monkey. Apparently it soothes me. 🙂

Photo credit to vividbreeze on Flickr

9 thoughts on “Getting Lost in the Crowd

  1. I’ve found that from a platform or stage, having those thousand people “over there” much more comfortable. Then I can keep an eye on ’em. Even better, when speaking I have a modicum of control over how the act/react.

  2. Makes sense to me. When you’re there as a part of something bigger, you’re sort of taken out of yourself. If you’re there as another member of the crowd, you’re kind of stuck in your head, which can intensify being overwhelmed, even if you’re interacting with others.

    I’ve always had issues being in crowds – a certain sense of claustrophobia, an intense shyness (though I’m better than I used to be on that score) and being overwhelmed by everyone else’s energy. But if I’m working or volunteering at an event, a switch gets flipped and next thing I know I’m Miss Extrovert. I discovered that about myself when I was an audience page for sitcoms – my shyness completely went away because I was there to help out people from all over the word enjoy their experience as an audience member. I joked, I laughed, I was politely firm when needed. I didn’t know who I was, but I liked it.

    Doesn’t mean I still don’t get super-shy and overwhelmed if I’m a part of the crowd, though.

  3. I’m uncomfortable in large crowds myself. I can deal with them if I have to, and they bother me far less when I can move around in them (like a county fair or ren fest) or when a performance is involved (like live theater and concerts.) It also helps if I’m with one or more friends, as I can concentrate on them and forget that there is a large crowd around me.

  4. Here’s a slightly different perspective from someone who has similar issues.

    When I’m at the front of a crowd, people are watching me AND I often have a bubble of space around me, be that the distance between me and the crowd, or the space near a table or podium.

    When I’m part of a crowd, something untoward could happen and no one would notice. Someone could come at me from any direction, and because no one is paying any attention–well, no one is paying any attention and no one would notice my absence.

    Additionally, when you’re speaking (or I am teaching) you are concentrating on something else: your talk, the material you are discussing, possible questions you might be asked.

    Some things to try: stick to the edges. Sit at the end of the aisle. Keep to the edge of the crowd along an open space (if possible) or a wall otherwise. Surround yourself with people you know. They provide a buffer against the crowds.

  5. I’m a bit claustrophobic in crowds, too. Unless I’m the speaker or it’s a crowd of people I “know.” So the raging crowds of Singapore on a Sunday afternoon makes me want to jump in the ocean, but being in a Navy ship after dark (when you’re not allowed outside the skin of the ship except for watch-related duties) bothers me not at all. Because even if I don’t “know” the entire crew, I know them.

    That makes sense to me, anyway…

  6. Preaching to the choir. Went for a significant time in my life with major panic attacks in crowds. It has lessened over the years, but every once in a while, and usually when I’m not expecting it, that old tingly feeling will appear in the pit of my stomach.

    Familiarity with the group does seem to help. I can easily get up in front of any number of people at a professional group I belong to and speak. But the same number of people in a recreational or mass event setting, OHHHH, not so much.

    The fact that I use mass transit every day sometimes amazes even me! If it’s a crunch day and we’re packed in like sardines I’ll find someone next to me I can talk to, that way my “world” view is only the 2 of us, not the couple hundred other people on the subway car.

    Even did a stint working a major concert venue for several summers. But I worked for the place, and if the crowds got a little intense I could always step away off the plaza or into one of concession booths. Because believe me, on a 90+F day Atlanta day, with 23,000 very happy Margaritaville participants packed into an overcrowded outdoor arena to see Jimmy Buffett, it can be a little overwhelming!

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