Hundreds of micro insects running under my skin. My stomach has a life of its own and breathing is more challenging than after running five kilometres.
This is how I felt when reading my book in front of people for the first time. And even writing about it now, all those sensations come back in my body.
But I had to do it.
I had spent months revising my book on how my approach to communication has been shaped by my heritage. And how storytelling has helped me to know my story, own my story and share my story.
It’s not a coincidence that the above two sentences contain lots of “my”, “me”, “I”. That’s because when reading my book, I was sharing something personal: my story. And sharing your story makes you feel like a crystal glass during an earthquake, vulnerable.
Yet, I did it anyway because I wanted others to share their stories too.
How to be afraid and do it anyway
Full disclosure, I’m not free of fears. One of my bestselling sentences is “Be careful!”. But along the way, I started noticing, studying, practicing ways to be afraid of sharing my story and do it anyway. And here is a summary of what I do.
1. There’s fear and fear
The fear that prevents you from crossing the street when is red for pedestrian, it’s a healthy fear. The one that says you shouldn’t give that presentation or write that book or tell that story, might be the bitter fruit of your past experiences and beliefs. Acknowledge that. Know what kind of fear is blocking you and make the decision to overcome it.
2. What’s the worst that can happen?
Really, what was the worst that could have happened when reading my book to people? They might not have liked it. And despite the disappointment, I could have lived with that. In fact, (after moaning and self-pitying myself) that would have given me the motivation to improve.
Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen if you do it anyway despite you being afraid? Be honest.
3. What’s the best that can happen?
We are often so clouded but the paralysing feeling of being afraid, that we never stop to think about the positive outcomes of facing our fear. Look, if you have decided to share something, to tell a story, there surely must be a reason and that reason is attached to an incredibly positive outcome for you and the people who will listen. What’s that outcome? Let the answer fuel you into taking the leap.
4. Don’t let other push you
Your fear means it is your decision to overcome it. When you are the one to be afraid, all the encouragement in the world won’t convince you. Your brain and heart need to be aligned in the right mindset to overcome the fear. But it has to be your choice.
5. Be prepared
Preparation does half the trick for me. And that doesn’t necessarily mean knowing a speech by heart or repeating it a thousands times or doing so while looking at myself in the mirror. It means: wearing the clothes I feel more comfortable in, hydrate myself, putting my mobile on mute to avoid distraction, giving myself some solo time 15 minutes before. Being prepared means putting my body and soul in the right space to deliver.
6. Start small
If you have to deliver a speech to 100 people for the first time, try doing that with 15 people first. Use the opportunity to notice what makes you feel more comfortable while presenting but also what can be improved about your storytelling.
7. Take your time
I’m never going to suggest to close your eyes and throw yourself in. For me, taking my time is very important. And I don’t mean taking the time to be ready, because you will never really feel ready. But taking some time before starting, to breathe, freak out, call a supportive person…
8. Remind yourself you’re a superhero
I love when in Grey’s Anatomy surgeons mimic the superhero pose to motivate themselves. However, I’d feel a bit silly doing it. What I have been doing, instead, is collecting and writing down experiences I felt I went over myself and reached my goal despite being afraid.
9. Focus on who you want to help
There must be a reason why you decided to share a story, do a presentation, participate to a pitch … and I’m pretty sure you want to be able to help a specific group of people. Focus on them, not on your fear. Think about how what you’re going to share is going to impact their lives, how it will help them to connect to you so that you can help. Focussing on them, will make it almost impossible to think about how afraid you are.
There is a saying in Italy that goes: once you are on the dance-floor, you have to dance. Take this saying with you. Once you are in, you can’t backdown despite how afraid you are. Great things happen when we challenge ourselves.
This is not an exhaustive list, in fact, if you have more suggestions, please do share them in the comments. I’m always looking for new ways to tackle my fears.