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Showoffs in Print

"The Confidence Game"
Feature article in FLARE Magazine, 1993

The days when Dale Carnegie was the only way to win friends and influence people are over. The newest confidence workshops let you stand up, sing out, act up - and be counted.

You're hardly unusual if the thought of getting up to speak in front of a group of strangers gives you palpitations. If "brainstorming" sessions at work make you pale with apprehension. If the only way you can get through cocktail parties is by retreating to the bathroom every 20 minutes to deep breathe.

Unfortunately, life requires us all to "perform" now and then, and if those moments unnerve you out of all proportion, you may think of taking some "assertiveness training," or joining groups such as Toastmasters International or Dale Carnegie. Likely as not, the impulse doesn't last long; there's something a little, well, "uncool" about these (admittedly tried-and-true) methods.

The good news is that they aren't the only games in town anymore. Many motivated young women are finding increased self assurance through hipper, alternative methods-and along the way developing skills they never knew they had: how to belt out a tune, act up a storm, and even survive the great outdoors. And yes, these new-breed confidence workshops can also be great places to win friends and influence people.

Showoffs Studio in Toronto is the brainchild of actor/singer Art Nefsky, who invented a karaoke-style singing workshop for women and men who like to sing but are too frightened or self-conscious to perform in public. He maintains that anyone can learn to shed their fear and be comfortable in the spotlight-whether or not they have good voices. Shy people have been known to blossom into confident, even extroverted performers in this atmosphere of acceptance, after only a few weeks of instruction.

Classes are limited to 10, and students take turns performing a song they've selected and memorized in advance. You sing once without advice or instruction, then two or three more times, following one of Nefsky's exercises designed to reduce your fear of exposure and bring out your natural expressiveness.

Soon, even the shyest participant is belting it out like a Minnelli manqué, gesturing dramatically as she performs. At the next class, the group invariably notices the singer is less self-conscious and her delivery more committed.

Guylaine Villemaire, 34, a flight attendant with Air Canada, started thinking about alternative careers after injuring her neck on the job three years ago. She thought about doing voice-overs for television and figured she'd be more marketable if she could sing. "My family always said I was too loud and too nasal, so I didn't think I was very good," says Villemaire. "Showoffs helped me to stand up, let it out, and not be afraid. People at work have noticed that I speak more slowly and confidently now, too." Showoffs Studio: 416-781-4044.