I was recently invited to a college in Kasargode district, Kerala, to conduct a public speaking workshop. During the session I invited the students to come forward and deliver a two-minute impromptu speech on a topic of their choice. Of course, public speaking is a scary thing for most people and these students weren’t any different. After much persuasion and coaxing, only a handful of students showed the courage to grab this opportunity; the majority were more comfortable sitting in their chairs (comfort zone) and observing the brave ones. If they stepped out, there was a possibility of being laughed at, ridiculed or made fun of by the audience. Or they might have forgotten what they wanted to say due to nervousness or what would others have thought if they didn’t perform well? What surprised me most was a female student who came to the stage reluctantly and told me: “Sir, I will not remove my mask because it has become part of me and I feel more comfortable with my mask on.” The stage was a couple of metres away from the audience and there was enough social distance. She stuttered and stammered throughout her two minutes on stage. Later on, I found out that it was not due to the fear of Covid-19, but it was because of her fear of facing the audience that she refused to remove the mask. She said: “With the mask, others won’t know my nervousness and fear, and I feel more comfortable with it.”
As the fear of Covid-19 eased, I began conducting sessions for small groups. After having spent almost two years with online classes, most students have become comfortable with them as they have the freedom to keep their cameras off. Even if they are asked to turn on the video, the usual response is “poor network”! The teachers have no choice but to assume that the students are listening to them. After schools reopened, most students are back in school with masks which is mandatory. But now there is a tendency for many students to hide behind those masks as they are not easily recognized by others, especially when they are in a new school and environment.
Have you gotten too comfortable with your mask? Are you trying to hide behind it?
Denny Joseph is an International Corporate Trainer, Career Coach and a certified Neuro‐Linguistic Programme (NLP) practitioner. He is the author of Design Your Destiny and Speak With Confidence. He is the founder of Genius Minds Academy (GMA) in Bangalore and co-founder of Nexus Training International in Singapore.