MGU 342 | Social Anxiety


How do you turn social anxiety into confidence and connection? Whitney Lauritsen chats with author and coach Marcus Bales. He shares his journey from being a socially anxious child to an award-winning professional speaker. Join the conversation as Marcus provides hard-fought wisdom for those who struggle with similar social situations and self-doubt. Believe it or not, one surefire way of gaining confidence is acting in haunted houses! If you want to learn more practical tips, tune in and rise above challenges!

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Turning Social Anxiety Into Confidence And Connection With Marcus Bales

I was drawn to having our guest Marcus on the show because he talks a lot about social anxiety. That is a big focus of his work in his upcoming book. That is something that has become important for me to address personally. I did not understand how much I was struggling with social anxiety until probably the past years or so.

Understanding that has helped me navigate communication, in-person experiences, and anything that involves socializing, whether that is one-on-one with somebody or a large group. This is a very timely conversation because I am going to an in-person event, which feels so rare these days at least for me. I have not done a ton of socializing or especially in the business sense. Since the pandemic started, I cut back on going to live events. There was one that it is happening and I could not turn it down, but I find myself trying to almost brace myself for the social anxiety I expect to feel.

A) It is because I will be going, there will be networking, and I will be around a lot of people. B) I am speaking and, Marcus, part of your journey has been overcoming the fear of public speaking. I would not say that I have fear around that, but I get anxiety around public speaking. No matter how confident I am and how good I feel in the environment, I feel anxious.

It is a combination of nerves and excitement. It is wondering how things are going to go. It is thinking about the past and what has gone wrong. I have had some public speaking experiences that were not so pleasant, and sometimes I get in my head about that. I am curious, as a starting point, is that something that you still experience even after all this time you have spent studying social anxiety? Do you still find yourself feeling that anxiety? Have you gotten better at managing? Where are you at as of the end of April 2022?

Every single time I get up, I feel some form of anxiety and I believe that everybody does. Every great speaker I have ever spoken to has said, “You always get a little bit of butterflies, even if you are good.” Part of it is natural. We want to feel accepted. We want to do our best. It is natural to have those feelings of anxiety, but it is how you look at those feelings of anxiety that ultimately determines how successful the presentation is going to go.

I talk extensively in the book and with my clients about redirecting that energy into something constructive instead of destructive. Every time I start to feel my chest get tight and I start to have those same nervous feelings that everyone else does, I start to redirect them into a positive direction, and that positively impacts my performance at trade shows, conferences, or even on one-on-one communication like now.

A great question is to be transparent. Were you feeling anxious before coming on this show? I noticed that I experienced some emotion that does not always feel good before I connect with a guest, and I wonder if that is unrecognized social anxiety. How about you?

I would not say that I was tight in the chest and super nervous to come on the show because I get to do this fairly frequently. There is always that little bit of nervousness and excitement. Sometimes our bodies do not always know the difference. You get all those endorphins and you are excited about something, but then you are also like, “Am I also afraid? Is this also fear?”

It is being able to recognize, “This is my body’s natural response to an event. I can decide how I want to react to it. Whether that is I am going to get nervous and spiral, or I am going to say, ‘No. This is excitement. I am getting excited for this conversation that I get to have.’” Even now, there is that little bit of like, “How is it going to go? Are the listeners going to like me?” It all then comes back to that wanting to feel accepted and do a good job, but redirecting that energy somewhere positive.

MGU 342 | Social Anxiety

Don’t Shut Up: A Collection of Stories and Advice on How to Overcome Social Anxiety

I love that you are touching upon how much we want to feel accepted because that is a huge part of this. I know with the show, it certainly is. When I am public speaking. I feel a lot of that desire. When I am crafting my presentations as I am prepping for my talk, I am thinking about like, “How can I make the audience feel good? How can I give them some good value? Is this going to be good for the event organizers?” You could get in your head a lot and feel a lot of pressure.

Sometimes that pressure makes it hard to perform. It is the skill of moving through any of this fear and doing it anyways. It ties into the title of your book, which is Don’t Shut Up. I am curious where that phrase came from or what that means for you. Do you find that people think that they need to shut up? Is that what is behind that?

The title of the book came from the idea that there is this little voice in our head that says, “It is easier to shut up, sit down and be quiet.” A lot of people can relate to that feeling. Not saying that other people are telling you to shut up, but it is that idea that you are telling yourself to shut up. Whether you know it or not, you have that little voice in your head or that anxiety that creeps in and says, “It is probably easier to not say anything.”

The whole point of the book is that by doing that, you are limiting the experiences that you get to have, you create a detriment to yourself, and where you can go as a person. We always try to shield ourselves from injury or illness. In doing so, we start to eliminate things from our lives that could cause emotional injuries and we say, “We will not do that. We will not go to that event and give that presentation. I would not talk to that person,” because we think that it is going to hurt us in some way.” By doing so, you might be hurting yourself more. The title came from telling yourself not to shut up.

Obviosuly, it is very eye-catching. What does this mean is my initial thought when I saw the title of your book because it has got that shock value. It also taps into something universal, but there is that old idea that public speaking is the biggest fear people have. I am not even sure if that is true. I forget what the statistics were, but I remember growing up and being in college. Earlier on in my career, hearing that a lot and being fascinated by that because I found public speaking to become became very exhilarating over time. I think the times that I did not like public speaking were when I associate it with something that I had to do like I was being forced into it.

I had to talk about something I was not passionate about. For example, when I had to give presentations in school, I was like, “This is something that I have to do in order to pass this class.” I do not have an option because of the way the education is set up and I felt awful about it. I remember being in school, especially in high school feeling so awkward.

You would then sit there watching other people give presentations and I would feel so anxious. It would be in my head the whole time. That gave me a lot of perspectives because I am like, “All these other people who are watching me are probably not even paying attention because they are feeling anxious too, more than likely.”

Once I transitioned into presenting on things that I felt confident about that I enjoyed, it shifted the whole experience. I am curious. Did you find that to be true too, given your history with social anxiety and also with your research? Do you find that what we are presenting in the context and the choice play a big role in whether you enjoy something or not?

There is a very strange psychological phenomenon that I have observed. I would love someday to do a bigger study on it. It is only something that I have observed in my clients and throughout my life. It is these rare bursts of confidence surrounding topics you are passionate about. We probably have all been in a situation where you are a bit nervous at a party, social event, or work event.

Everyone is talking and you are sitting back quietly, and then all of a sudden, they mentioned something that you are passionate about. They mentioned that new movie that you saw and you loved it. You then interject and before you know it, you are already in the conversation talking like you are the best speaker in the world and you did not even know it. Those rare bursts of confidence surrounding passionate topics.

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I tell people lean into it. I talk about it extensively in the book and in my training about when you have those moments, lean into them and also try to initiate them. A conversation is a back and forth where you exchange passionate points. As you transition between points, make sure you are talking about things you are passionate about so that when it is your time to talk, you have got that confidence coming up from those passionate points to push you forward.

It also means that you may have to present things that you are not so passionate about. Because you have to present on a lot of things that you are not super passionate about sometimes, the way you get over that is you start to understand that those allow you to practice. You would not wait until the day before a huge game to practice your first free throw. You would be practicing continuously before that.

Why do we wait until that huge speech where everything is on the line to practice? No. You would rather have 100 speeches under your belt that you may be were not so passionate about so you had practice. That is how I got over that. I have given thousands of speeches now and worked at dozens of different conferences throughout my life, and not every single one gave me that exhilarating feeling, but knowing that each one allowed me to practice and get better.

When I did have that pinnacle moment where I had a passionate speech to give, like when I officiate at my sister’s wedding. It was all of those small things that allowed me to be so great that day, and without those, I would not be the person I am. You start out on passionate points, but you soon realize that by giving speeches and talking about things you may not be passionate about, you are still practicing and getting better.

That gives a little bit more context to why I had to do so many presentations in high school and college. They are probably encouraging exactly what you are describing. When you are younger, you do not have the perspective. It is interesting because I look forward to opportunities to speak, but given what you are sharing, it is helpful to reframe it and look for all sorts of different opportunities to practice. Even a podcast is an ongoing practice. I have done hundreds of podcast episodes, and I feel like it is a constant refinement.

You could attribute it to the same thing where there are times when you have a big guest on the show and you do not want that to be the first person you have ever talked to. You want to have lots of experience recording up until then so that you can feel you are fully prepared and thriving in that scenario.

I suppose you could apply that advice to a lot of things. I am curious if it also applies to the conversation. Going back to other elements of social anxiety that people feel. It is not always going to be about getting up on stage. It could be going to an event or a party. For me, with my upcoming conference, I would love to hear some of your tips on what helps you work through your social anxiety? Do you do prep work? Do you have tools for yourself? How have you set yourself up for success so that social anxiety does not overtake you at an event like a business conference?

The number one way that I got over it was through practice. I have attended countless trade shows in my life and done tons of interviews like this one, and each time you do it gets a little bit easier. Being able to go out and practice those interactions, even if it is with the person working the counter at the grocery store. Each one of those times you do it, your brain goes, “That was not that bad. Maybe we do not need to be so nervous next time.”

Every single time, it chips away a little bit more. The nervousness never goes away, but you understand that your reaction may not be completely justified. When you do have a more strong stress response to a situation, you have the experience to say, “We probably do not need to be this nervous. We can begin to calm ourselves down and redirect that energy in a more positive direction.”

A lot of that comes down to, “Do you have a plan in place? How are you going to open a conversation? How are you going to give that presentation? How are you going to talk to that person you need to?” Having a plan is going to make it a lot easier to start than if you wing it. I tell people all the time, especially when you are public speaking. If you have a speech, you should have a plan. You should know what you want to talk about and the order in which you want to talk about it.

MGU 342 | Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety: There’s a big difference between a positive and a negative mental critique.


You do not want to write every single word because then you can start to sound a bit pre-programmed, but you want to understand what you are going to say, and when you are going to say it so that you do not have to worry about it when you are up there. The same goes for normal conversations.

If you walk up to someone and you have no idea what you are going to say, it is going to be a little bit nerve-wracking. If you use my process to come up with a new, exciting and empathic statement to open the conversation and you follow the steps, soon enough, the conversations often roll, and then it is easy, then you rinse and repeat from there.

What is an example of an opener for a conversation?

I do not like to give one-off openers because they remind me a little bit of pickup lines, which I absolutely hate. They are so cringy but I talk extensively about this idea of empathic statements, and it is the perfect way to open any conversation. Empathic obviously comes from the root word empathy, which means to share the feelings of someone else, which is exactly what you want to do when you start a conversation.

You want someone to understand that you know how they are feeling and you know something about them because then, you have a connection right off the bat. An empathic statement is usually going to be declarative in nature and it is going to be about the other person. A simple example would be, “That is a cool Nirvana t-shirt.” It seems small and stupid but it is something that they can relate to.

They are obviously wearing that shirt for a reason. Whether they liked the band or the laid-back style. It shows you something about them then they can relate to you. You made a comment on it. They say, “They also like the shirt. I like this shirt. We have got a common connection,” then they are obviously going to respond with something. You need to listen to that response and you need to come up with an insightful question to keep the conversation going.

It is that easy. Those couple of steps, once you ask that question, use the momentum, and then it becomes a lot less formulaic. You can have the conversation go in a million different directions. To open, I find that an empathic statement about the other person is going to create that connection right off the bat.

I agree because you can see someone light up when you point something out like that and you are acknowledging them. Many of us want to feel seen. By noticing something about what they are wearing, which is probably done with intention, for me, I think about what outfits I am going to wear. I am not even that into fashion, but every outfit I am putting on has some purpose behind it, especially if I am going to a party or an event.

That intention is so helpful and people like to feel validated. I do not receive that many types of conversation starters. It is interesting because you are pointing this out and I am thinking whether it is at a personal event or something casual versus a business event, it feels like a lot of people are waiting for you to see them. To take your advice and if everybody initiated more connection with one another, it would feel much more connected versus those conversations you go into and that person does not stop talking about themselves.

An example immediately comes to mind. I went to a party in Hollywood. The problem with LA is that there are a lot of people that are in their ego here. That could be true in many parts of the world, but in the entertainment business, there is a lot of networking. Everyone wants to network. They want to connect with each other. At the end of this party, I was introduced to this guy and he went on and on. I felt like he was treating the conversation like it was a job interview.

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He literally listed off his entire work history. At first, it was quite interesting because what he was talking about was fascinating and some of the work that he has done was interesting to me. He did not pause to ask much about who I was until the very end of the conversation, and then he completely dismissed it.

I shared one line about the work that I do, and you could tell he could have cared less. I could tell that he was asking about me only to find out if I could help him. That was a major experience in Los Angeles. I am sure this happens all over the place. If that conversation had shifted where he made it about me and then I made it about him and we were passing the ball back and forth, it would have turned out very differently.

We probably would have continued the conversation outside of the party. It would have been more beneficial than him almost giving me a presentation about who he was. I am curious as a follow-up. What do you do in those types of situations? Do you have methods of turning it around or do you simply walk away from those types of conversations? What do you do when somebody is dominating the conversation and does not show much interest in you?

It all comes down to what you want out of the conversation. There are a lot of different outcomes that can occur, and it depends on the situation. Is this trying to meet a friend or make a business connection? Are you trying to sell something? What is the desired outcome? Once you know what that outcome is, you can decide how to proceed in the conversation.

If I was trying to make a friend and our first interaction was them blabbering on for 30 minutes without asking me a single question, I would probably walk away. As you are confident and you are overcoming your anxiety, it does not mean you have to continue talking to people if you do not want to. You can stop talking at any time.

Let’s say this is a business connection and you have to make sure that the relationship is good, you can let them keep talking. By letting them continue to talk, it is obviously their main MO for the conversation. By letting them do that, they are going to keep having better and more positive feelings toward you. I would keep throwing them softball questions about themselves.

It all depends on what you want out of the conversation. If this was a friend who I already had, in my friend group and they were talking my ear off, maybe I would interrupt and be like, “This conversation feels a little bit one-sided.” It is okay to call your friends out. Everyone can use that every once in a while, but it is based on your situation and your relationship with your friends. Do you think they will respond positively to it? Do you think it is worth interrupting? It all depends. I have some friends that I would do it for, and then I have some others that I would not.

I am curious what other ways social anxiety shows up for people. We certainly have nervousness about not knowing what to say and how to handle these types of conversations. Another one would be your appearance. Showing up and wondering do you look good or be concerned that you do not look good and somebody is going to judge you for however many factors there are about physical appearance. If you want to touch upon that, I would love to hear about some other ways that it manifests like what causes somebody to feel anxious in these social situations.

At its core, social anxiety can be boiled down into two areas. Number one is social acceptance, which is a feeling that everyone can relate to, and the other is confidence in your own knowledge, otherwise known as test anxiety. We think about it when taking a test but you do not think about it when you are in a social situation. The knowledge you possess does not change, but your confidence in it does.

You start to second guess yourself and you do not want to get it wrong so you end up getting super anxious and not answering. I think those are the two root causes. You are either anxious because you want to feel accepted or you are anxious because you think you might get something wrong. Those two have two different ways of manifesting. A lot of the test anxiety in the social world comes from public speaking because there is no downtime. There is no back and forth.

MGU 342 | Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety: If people critique your style, ignore them completely.


You do not have time to regain your place or think of new witty responses. It is all on the fly. In social conversations where there is a back and forth, that is more of the acceptance. I need to feel accepted. I am worried that they might not like me, and that is where that anxiety comes from. It all intermingles. There is a whole bunch of gray areas in between where both are at play when you are on stage or when I am on stage. Not only am I afraid that I might say something wrong, but I am also afraid that people might not like me so you get both coming and going in different social interactions to some degree or another.

Speaking of being afraid of people not liking you, what do you do when you find out that somebody does not like you? When you experienced some rejection, many different ways could show up, but how do you personally manage that within yourself? Do you have any mental tactics for overcoming the bad feelings that rejection could show up within yourself?

Number one is to understand that not everyone is going to like you. We are all unique individuals. There are seven billion of us. More than that now, and not every single one is going to like you so it is okay. You have a specific personality and it is going to be attractive to certain individuals and unattractive to certain individuals, but then beyond that, you can also start to look at what you might have done.

Do not internalize and be like, “They hate me and I am racked with guilt now.” It is okay to go back and critique yourself because there is a huge list of things that most people do consciously or unconsciously that make them less likable and they do not even know it. I have that list in the book. I am not going to go through all of them, because that would take a whole lot of time. Things like gossiping and humble bragging are traits that you can do that make you less likable.

If you can go back and review the interaction in your head and say, “Did I humble brag there? I think I did. I should not have done that. Maybe that is why.” You then can correct it later. Just because someone does not like you right now, it does not mean they are not going to like you later. Everyone has a bad day. Not every interaction can go smoothly. If you can review and say, “These are the things that I did that I think I can work on and I can remove them from my actions then I can do better next time. I think we can all remove some of these traits from our lives.

That ties into another question I had about post-social anxiety. Those of us who go to an event personal or professional, come home and start thinking, “Did I say the wrong thing?” Maybe we do not know the difference between having information that we did say or do something embarrassing or something unlikable versus sometimes it is a fear, but it is not a reality.

That in itself can cause a loop of anxiety because I have experienced that. I might start to anticipate that bad feeling and associate that with events. I might avoid going to an event or public speaking because I had a bad experience. The last time I spent the entire next day in bed feeling bad about myself and that you can get caught in that loop. Do you have tips for handling that? Is that something that you have ever experienced personally?

All the time. I am my own worst critic and it has taken me a long time to understand that those things are not healthy. There is a big difference between positive and negative mental critique. A negative mental critique will cause you to spiral, and you will start to nitpick every single action that you did. Usually at the root of a negative mental critique is vague statements.

There is nothing backing them up. You say, “I should have said that better.” When there is no scientific data to prove that you said it wrong. You are going down this rabbit hole. A positive mental critique is saying, “I did a good job but here are the things that I could work on and not hounding yourself to say you did a terrible job. You are bad at this.” It is saying, “Here are some things I could get better.” It is because whenever they do something, there are items that they could do slightly better, and it is all about how you look at that. Are you punishing yourself or making yourself better?

That leads me to another question. What if you felt good about something you did socially, whether it is a conversation, presentation, a talk, or public speaking? What if you got negative feedback from that that does not line up with how you felt? There is that conflict of, “I feel like I nailed this. I put a lot of work into this. I do not think I could have changed anything, but yet I received some negative feedback.” Is it still worth incorporating that feedback into your work in the future or do you think that you should ignore some negative feedback like it does not pertain to you?

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There are absolutely scenarios where ignoring feedback is a good thing. I personally get feedback almost every single week. I speak at a lot of different conferences and presentations, and there are a lot of stakeholders in those presentations, and they have feedback. You have to understand which is constructive feedback and which is destructive feedback.

Constructive feedback is going to be things where they are like, “You did a great job on X, Y, and Z, but next time you could work on A, B, and C.” Destructive feedback is, “I did not like your tone, your word choice here and this.” You can start to tell which is coming from a place of comfort and which is coming from a place of anger.

Understanding where that feedback is coming from will allow you to parse through it and see which is worth incorporating into your own speaking habits and which is nitpicky. Everyone has their own style. If they are critiquing your style, ignore it completely. You are your own unique person. You do not need to listen to them. If I did, I would be speaking much differently because you only get one voice so speak the way that you want to but if you say, “That is not a bad point,” then it is probably good feedback.

That is helpful and interesting. Sometimes it is very nuanced. Even when you share that advice, I still find myself getting stuck. I have been someone who has a lot of people-pleasing habits, and that makes the social situations hard for me, and my anxiety that go up because I feel like I am constantly trying to figure out what is going to please other people.

I am trying to work on finding that balance between what makes me feel good and confident versus that constant survival mode of, “Am I pleasing this person? If not, I got to change.” It keeps me in this loop of never finding that feeling balanced and secure within myself, and that is a rough place to be. What would you say to someone like me who has a history of too much people-pleasing?

That is a great point because I have suffered from that. A lot of people I have helped have suffered from that, and it almost manifests in too much talking. When you are a people pleaser and you see that someone is uncomfortable, you almost have to fill the dead space and try to hit on a subject that is going to get them engaged and make them more excited.

By doing so, you are draining your own energy and you are being less effective in the conversation. In those situations where you feel like you have to please somebody, take a step back and think, “Do I have to please this person?” If not then you can start to relax. If yes, if it is a super important interaction, you can start to slow down. When you slow down conversations, it is going to allow you to have more time to think, come up with better responses, relax your stress response, and engage them better in the conversation.

You probably felt it before. When you are a people pleaser and it is difficult to get somebody re-engaged, the conversation almost feels like it is speeding up. Your speedometer is all the way to the right, and now you can’t think, you do not know where to go next, you are stringing things together haphazardly, and you do not have a plan now and your anxiety is going to continue to build.

Taking that step back, taking a deep breath, understanding that pausing and not talking for a second is totally fine for a conversation then regain your place and go from there. Re-engage with them and ask them insightful questions. See why they are having a bad day. Maybe it is not you or there are other external circumstances. We get so wrapped up in our own internal monologue that we forget other people exist outside of this interaction as well. Being able to go, “They are having a bad day. It happens to everybody. It is not me. I do not need to please them. We can have a casual conversation.”

That is so helpful because it can feel so intense at times and it feels like there is so much at stake. A lot of times, slowing down, tuning into what is going on, and not blowing it out of proportion can be helpful, and not treating every person the same. It is easy to get into those patterns where we are not connected to what is happening in this specific situation and letting go of what has gone wrong in the past or trying to please everyone.

MGU 342 | Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety: Categorizing anybody is destructive.


The big challenge is we get in that mode. I do not know if it is a coping mechanism for survival. It is like, “I am used to trying to please everyone, so I am going to keep going with it and that feels comfortable to me.” We often feel so comfortable in the uncomfortable that we do not even know how to get out of it.

That is something that I try to examine. To your point too, I think this upcoming event that I am going to, there is not an opportunity to practice my public speaking. There is an opportunity to practice throughout the entire event and every interaction I can look at is almost like a practice in itself. When I treat it that way, it is almost relieving some of the anxiety because it is like, “There is no pressure to get this right because I will have another opportunity to practice after this.”

As you practice, you can start to use those hits and misses in a conversation to show your brain, “They did not notice that mistake that I made or I thought I made. When I got that hit, that thing in the conversation got them engaged, then all of a sudden, they are invested in the conversation.” I use that quite frequently in my casual conversations when I feel that anxiety creeping in.

It was a technique I developed when I was a casino party host, which is where I gained a lot of interpersonal communication skills. I had to hop from table to table every single night creating new conversations with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people every single night. I coined my own psychological phenomenon, the hits and misses effect.

A hit is a piece of information that the other person can relate to, and a miss is something that they can’t or a mistake. What I noticed was when I threw out a mistake, nobody even noticed. They did not acknowledge it, but when I got a hit, they would turn, face me, and be engaged in the conversation. That helped tell my brain these guys are so wrapped up in their own internal monologue. They did not even notice that you made a mistake so you should not be this nervous anymore.

There is something about the casino that is so intriguing. How did you end up at that job?

That was part of my first journey to becoming a professional speaker. I was right out of high school and I was doing some DJ work. I was an electronic music producer creating songs and stuff in my free time. While I was doing that, I was also working at a copy and print store to make some extra money. One day, this guy came in a black leather jacket with slick black hair, and he was making copies of a bingo card.

I was like, “What is this guy doing with his bingo card?” I started talking to him and he was also a DJ and he ran an event company and said, “If you want to try out, swing by our office.” I came by and met with the guys to try it out and they brought me on as one of their DJs. Eventually, that led to becoming an MC.

Soon enough, I rose the ranks and became one of their most booked MCs in the area, and eventually became a casino party host along with many other speaking engagements that I would do. That allowed me to learn so much about interpersonal communication, public speaking, how to create conversation starters, and understood that a lot of the fears that I had were completely unfounded.

That is so intriguing and what a cool skillset to have. It also goes to show that a lot of these skills can be learned and you can train yourself to do these things. I struggle with anxiety, but a lot of people would never know it because I have built skills and found ways to sometimes cover-up and mask it, but other times it is something that I am practicing.

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Other people do not even realize that I generally identify as an introvert. I am curious about how you feel about introversion versus extroversion because some people are into that and some people do not fully believe in that. What do you think about these different types of personalities and can they be changed?

I am in the camp that categorizing anybody is destructive. When you put people into rigid groups, it creates toxic identity traits on both sides. Most people, when I say, “Introverts identify as that and they never talk but extroverts also have the opposite.” You have to be on all the time and it is exhausting. We think about people like Robin Williams, who was the pinnacle of an extrovert but he was tortured on the inside because he felt like he never could be himself. He was always on and we do not think about how both labels can create toxic behavior because you start to identify as that individual when we are all somewhere along a spectrum.

I would technically also be considered an introvert. I love downtime. When I am not speaking after a social engagement, I am exhausted. I need to go and recharge, but I also have bouts of extreme extroversion where I am very sociable and I love having conversations. I do not think labeling yourself or other people is helpful.

When people talk about introversion and extroversion, I say, “It is fine if you think you lean one way or the other.” If it starts to define who you are and limits what you can do, then it becomes an issue. I tell most people don’t worry about it. You are not introverted or extroverted. You are somewhere in between and that is totally cool.

There is a lot of talk about being on the spectrum. It is usually associated with something like autism. The more that I have learned about neurodivergence and talked about it with other people, I realize, for the most part, we are all on the spectrum but it is a matter of what you are referring to. It gives that fluidity as you are mentioning here versus we have this tendency to want to label and categorize ourselves and other people because maybe there is comfort in it or if we can identify it as something that gives more context.

I see the desire for that. I certainly enjoy using things. When I talk about being an introvert, I am leaning towards not using quite as much as I used to. It opens up an opportunity to chat with people because generally, people will say, “I would have never known that you are an introvert and you have anxiety,” and then I can share more of who I am.

I agree that I do not want to put myself in a box because A) I do not want other people to put me in that box, but B) I do not want to limit myself because of some rigid definition that might even be outdated. We are constantly learning about ourselves. As a society, more information comes out about how our brains work and their psychology of it. Going beyond limitations is a key part of your message. I enjoy that because it is about that evolution that we are all on and not being attached to having to do things one way our whole lives and thinking that we are never going to change. Would you agree with that?

Absolutely. The older I get, the more I learn about how our brains work. Everything is on a spectrum. I do not think anybody is 100% one thing and 0% another. We are all somewhere in between. Having that flexibility allows you to take opportunities that you may not have if you had a strong identity in one way or the other.

Whether that is speaking or how you dress, like you want to wear a skirt one day, but you are labeled as a guy. Would that stop you? Maybe if you identify that way. Being able to have that fluidity to be who you want to be without the fear of breaking your labels is a strong factor in having true confidence because now you are confident in yourself. It is not faked. It is this real confidence.

That to me feels so good. It is permission to shift and giving permission for other people to shift. It excites me that is being discussed and embraced more. I think that the rigid side of things is generally where my anxiety comes from. When I feel like somebody is okay with me expressing myself, however it shows up on a day-to-day basis, I feel more comfortable around them. I lean into that.

MGU 342 | Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety: Support small businesses, especially in an industry that you love.


When I go into a situation socially where I feel like somebody is expecting me to be a certain way and I am going to have to change myself because maybe I do not feel that way, that brings up a lot of anxious feelings and fear. That acceptance goes back to what you were saying earlier, how key that is. Acceptance and fluidity go hand-in-and from my point of view knowing that people are constantly shifting and that is okay.

It lights me up to think about it that way and I am very drawn to those types of people. I am interested when you are observing other people from all of the work that you have done, you must see all different types of personalities, like people that do not seem accepting at all. Do you think that is coming from a place of not feeling accepted themselves? They have learned to not accept other people. Where do you think that comes from and can those people change? How do they change?

Everybody has the capability to grow and become a better version of themselves. You are totally right. I have a very unique opportunity in my line of work, where I get to talk to people on every single side of every single issue. Once you get past the initial guttural reaction of it, you understand that everyone wants the same thing.

We all want to be happy. We all want to get the best outcome for ourselves and we all have a set of beliefs that we hold to be true. When you start to understand that about other people, it becomes a lot easier to have those difficult conversations. A lot of times, it comes from a place of being labeled. Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Are you a guy or a girl? Are you this or that?

You are then in that label and you have to uphold the values of that label. When you start to pull away from the artifice, then you can have a real conversation. A lot of times deep down, those people are not as bad as we would like to paint them to be, but rarely do you get to have those conversations. If we all start to get better at understanding that everyone is not going to agree with you on everything, but if you can start to have better conversations and not go, “We disagree. I am out,” then you can start to find a middle ground that might be more acceptable.

I think that is a big problem we are feeling right now. On both sides of any issue, there is no middle ground. It is my way or the highway. When there is a way, everyone could get the things that they are looking for. A lot of times, it is those labels. It is that unwillingness to have conversations with people who have opposing views, and when you do, you quickly find out that you are not as different as you thought you were.

That ties into the title of your book, Don’t Shut Up. It is like we might want other people to shut up, which is a form of censorship. There are nuances to that and boundaries to be set at times, but there are other times where people tell us to shut up directly or indirectly. There are times where we feel like we have to shut up because we are trying to avoid conflict, we do not know how to find that middle ground, or we do not want to find that middle ground so we do end up shutting ourselves down.

I am starting to believe that it is important for us to continue having that dialogue. That is where we grow, learn, and connect with people. If we shut down too much, we are severing that connection with one another. I love the theme of your book. It is inspiring confidence for people to not learn to be better speakers but learn to be better conversationalists even when it is a tough conversation.

I think those were the times when it is the most important like the most difficult conversations. At least that is what I have found. Anytime that I am nervous is probably a pretty important conversation.

I could not agree more. One last thing that I want to touch upon that is nothing to do with what we have talked about, but I am curious about. I saw that you have a history of doing haunted houses. I had to bring it up. I want to know what is the story behind haunted houses for you and what have you done exactly.

The most difficult conversations are usually the most important. Share on X

That was my first love. I started doing haunted houses when I was thirteen years old in my parents’ garage in Oregon, Wisconsin. We eventually outgrew the tiny confines of our garage because these were shutting down the streets. We had cops there to do crowd control. They eventually said, “You can’t do it here anymore. You got to go professional or you got to stop.” I then started a professional career designing, building, and operating haunted houses.

I have had the opportunity to do them all over the place. I did a charity haunted house in Chicago for the afterschool teen program. I still have a passion for haunted houses and horror in general. I try to act at least one haunted house every year to get my little fix in. It is surprising how many parallels there are between haunted houses, public speaking, and being more confident.

There are a lot of great stories in the book about haunted houses and how it relates back to becoming a more confident speaker. I would not spoil those because I think they are good. Some of them are pretty funny. It is something you would not think about having parallels between haunted houses and becoming a better speaker.

That is so cool. It is such a fun fact about you and fascinating. I enjoy the idea of haunted houses. Hearing you describe it, I am like, “That is so cool.” When I was growing up, I was intrigued by the experience of it but I did not like the horror of it. That is not something I am very drawn to. I like scary movies, but they have to be certain types. I do not like the unexpected side of a haunted house.

That makes me nervous. It feels unsafe to me. Even though I can trust that a haunted house is safe and that there are actors there, someone jumping out, that adrenaline rush, does not appeal to me. Is it for you that you like going to haunted houses or do you like creating the experiences for people or both? How did that evolve and where did you even identify that within yourself?

It is both. I love going to haunted houses almost as much as I love putting them on. The weird thing is I have been doing it for so long that I do not get scared anymore. It is very difficult to scare me, which has also become a challenge with my actors at different haunted houses to try who is going to get him this year, but I love both.

When I do have a good scare every once in a while, I love that feeling. It does come back to how you interpret it. It is like rollercoasters. You are excited and you have that adrenaline rush because you are afraid, just like you have that adrenaline rush when you are about to speak. You can either let it excite you or you can let it terrify you, but I still love everything horror. I try to go to as many haunted houses as I can.

It is interesting because I am thinking through this, I am like, “I enjoy rollercoasters.” I have gotten skydiving and I do not remember being that afraid. I think it is because I know what is in front of me. When you are on a rollercoaster, you can look at the track and you are like, “This is the height that we are going to, and when we get to the top, we are going to go down.”

What I do not enjoy about the haunted houses is they are usually designed to be around the unexpected. You do not know what is around the next corner, who is going to come out, and when that makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is interesting to think about that in relation to public speaking, because, unlike a rollercoaster, when you speak, you know some details about what it is going to be like but there is a ton of unknowns.

You do not know exactly how many people are going to sit in the audience unless the event organizer tells you, but even then, people might not show up. You do not know what questions you might get or if something will go wrong with the technology. Many things could happen and the same thing with conversations.

MGU 342 | Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety: If you want to become more confident, go and act in a Halloween haunted house.


You could walk into a room and have expectations for where it is going to go, but most of the time, at an event or a party, a lot of things could shift around. You are leaving me with some food for thought here about where my comfort lies and where my anxiety is. Learning to embrace the unexpected is a good lesson for me and other people, and it sounds like you have a natural ability to handle unexpected things. That is a pretty neat personality trait to have.

I think a lot of people would agree with you on that. They love to say that I do well on the fly. What I have found in haunted houses is you have the most fun when you let go. When you do not have any expectations, you let go and you do it. Those are the times you have the most fun in haunted houses and you have the most fun speaking. It is when you let go and have fun.

That takes a lot of vulnerability too because maybe part of it is the embarrassment of being scared, but it is a good practice. This Halloween, I might need to go do some haunted houses to practice being vulnerable, experiencing fear, and knowing that it is okay. It reminds me of this growing trend of people doing ice baths where they get into cold water.

That has been around for a while. I believe Wim Hof created this method. What intrigues me about that is people enjoy going into the ice water and managing their physiological response to it, where they are controlling their body and reminding them like, “You are in a cold environment, but you can get out at any point. You are going to handle it.” They get into this meditative state of practicing that physical fear, and that is cool.

Your messaging behind practicing things is neat. A great piece of advice to take away from this episode is how can you put yourself in situations where you can practice getting uncomfortable and working your way through that. Managing your anxiety, fear, and response so that you can grow and look at it as an opportunity to be more confident and connected with other people.

There is that old saying, “No pain, no gain.” If you are not uncomfortable, you are not growing. People talk about it all the time, but we often forget that all of your growth happens when you reach a little bit farther than you think you can, and that is where the growth happens. Whether it is public speaking or going into an ice bath to better control your response to cold. All of it is pushing yourself a little bit farther each day then all of a sudden you look back and you say, “I have come a long way.”

That is exactly why the show is called This Might Get Uncomfortable. It shows up in so many interesting ways. Thank you for exploring it from a different angle with me. Your work is so helpful, important, and interesting to me. Two last questions for you. 1) Are haunted houses reserved for Halloween? 2) Where do you feel is the best place to experience a haunted house?

To answer the first question, no. Haunted houses are not only for Halloween though that is their largest time of year. We are at the halfway point to Halloween, so there are some haunted houses that are opening up in many places across the country. If you want to go check one out, Halfway to Halloween Haunted Houses. The best place to experience haunted houses is obviously go support your local haunted houses.

Many of them are locally owned and operated. I am a huge proponent of supporting small businesses, especially in an industry that I love. If you want to go to the best haunted house experience in the whole world, go to Universal Halloween Horror Nights. It is incredible. You can go to dozens of the best haunted houses you will ever see, and you get to go to Universal.

I can check that off my list because I have already done that and it is so close. That is a twenty-minute drive from me. I was not expecting you to mention someplace so close. I am running out of an excuse not to go put myself in that uncomfortable situation.

You have the most fun when you let go. Share on X

You should go. You are so close. John Murdy over at the Hollywood location does a fantastic job for Halloween Horror Nights.

One final question. What is the best haunted house you have ever been to? Would you say Universal or if you had to pick one of all time?

If I have to pick one, I would say the Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth, Texas.

What was it that made it so great?

Number one, the owner is a great guy, but number two, the haunted house is so long, so detailed, so unique and they are not afraid to get very personal. You get wet and covered in bubbles. You are in claustrophobic spaces. You are bombarded with sound and light, and they go all out in a way that I have not seen at many attractions. I have been to some of the best all across the country, but I would say Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth.

The thought of that makes me uncomfortable, but I am going to challenge myself. I probably will be in the Fort Worth area at some point. I am going to keep you in mind and maybe go out of my way to get uncomfortable, and then I will report back to you and let you know how it went.

You should do both sides. You should go to one and you should act in one. If you want to become more confident, go and act in one.

That is an interesting idea too. I did not ever think about that. That sounds fun. I feel like you get to unleash a side of you in that situation that would normally be socially acceptable. It is probably very cathartic to go act in a haunted house because you are encouraged to scare people and make them uncomfortable.

You get to feel the true confidence inside yourself because you are shielded. You are in a costume, you are in makeup, you are not you anymore. You get to feel what it is like to be fully free and fully confident. Once you have done it, that confidence starts to bleed over into your real life, and there is another psychological phenomenon that I talk at length about in the book as to why this happens.

It is something I had not ever considered. I am grateful for you to bring out a new concept for me and hopefully our readers as well. Thank you so much for being here and sharing all of this again for the reader. Thanks again and I will be back with another episode.


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About Marcus Bales

MGU 342 | Social AnxietyMarcus Bales is an award-winning professional speaker, author, and coach specializing in social anxiety. As a child who suffered from severe social anxiety, Marcus understands how difficult it is to overcome. In his new book, Don’t Shut Up, Marcus breaks down exactly how he overcame his social anxiety.

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