Chapter 99: In defense of Awkward

Everybody can be smooth, given the right training.

For three years in college I had a radio show where I played the role of someone knowledgeable about Techno and Hip Hop. Though mine was a music show, there was still a good amount of song listings you had to read, public service announcements and station promotions to stutter through. All of those little speaking roles had to be strung together with that most wonderful of little daily deaths: DJ banter.

At first I sounded ill-at-ease on the microphone. I talked too slow, said “um” a lot, wasn’t good with the volume of my voice, perpetually raced to get off the air and back to the music. After a while all those things got easier, and by the time they finally kicked me out of the station I could talk for an hour straight about nothing at all.

It got easier because it stopped being unfamiliar. I knew the mic, I know how loud to talk, I had in my head lots of stupid transitions and words I could say while I was coming up with the next sentence. At no point did I magically become a different person, I just got comfortable with what I was doing.

Considering the analog in conversation, I once was talking to some random guy in a crowded setting about skiing. He was all smiles, wearing a sports jacket and jeans in a way that has always been intrinsically linked in my head to being an MBA student. He was saying something about his favorite places to ski out west when a major realization hit me.

He’s had this conversation before.

I started noticing that impression all the time. Smooth people sound like they’re repeating conversations. They’re familiar with talking, with banter, and familiarity is the breeding ground of smoothness. More importantly, the contra-positive is also true: awkwardness is generally the result of unfamiliarity.

Put someone in a situation outside of their realm of comfort and bam, you’ve got awkward. This person is making up words and phrases that they’ve never said before and you’re living at the absolute cutting edge of this person’s social landscape. It might sometimes be bumpy, but it’s worth it.

An analogy. Awkward people are raw, live performances, and smooth people are studio cut mixes. The studio cuts have better production, are easier on the ears and are generally perceived to be higher “quality”, but the live performances are the ones where you feel actual emotion. It’s only when you’re seeing it live do you really hear the musician behind the production. The broken strings, the improvised mess-ups, the accidental falsetto on the high note, all of it.

I support awkwardness, because the mistakes remind you that it’s happening live.

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