Fight The Fear Factor

The past two weeks my blogs have centered on you getting in front of an audience. As a leader, this will be necessary to get your face and your program out there. Yet many school librarians shy away from doing this other than with the smallest possible group. They know the value but find a host of reasons not to step into the limelight. The most obvious reason is fear.

Fear holds us back, and we can’t afford to let that happen.

Public speaking is a fear more common than death. Also known as “stage fright,” it is one of the most common fears. The phrase refers to performers, but it is, in essence, what we are all doing when we step in front of a group. Actors get past it or they wouldn’t have careers. You need to do the same because if you hide your light under a bucket, you will not be seen. If you are not seen, you will not be valued. And if you are not valued, you and your position are likely to be eliminated.

Terri Klass has sound advice on How to Stop Fear from Paralyzing Your Leadership. In presenting her five recommendations, she notes this fear can pop up at any point of your career, especially as the audiences get larger or feel more important. Each time you step onto a larger stage, there is the chance it might emerge. With these steps in mind, hopefully, you will be able to conquer it when it does.

  1. Name the Fear – Klass encourages you to identify the physical responses you are having. Can you recognize what is causing it? Notice and name your reactions (rapid heart, sweaty palms), and what they go with (not being sure you have the answer, wondering if anyone will listen to you, etc.) Recognizing that this is fear “talking” is an important first step.
  2. Share the Fear with a Trusted Advisor – Talking out the fear puts it into perspective. A fellow librarian or a friend (or both) makes a good listening ear. As you speak about the fear you just named, you are better able to see how inaccurate your fears are. If you don’t have someone to share it with, talk to yourself. Out loud. It’s hearing it that makes you aware of how much of the scenario you imagined is improbable and just some chemical reactions in your body.
  3. Try on a New Perspective – Klass has an imaginative idea here – think of someone who inspires you, and imagine them guiding you through this fear. How would they approach this situation? What attitude would they present? What would they say to you to encourage you? Can’t think of a person – Klass suggests you think of an animal. Imagine embodying the power of a wolf, the majesty of lion. It’s the perspective change that will help you manage the fear.
  4. Give It a Meaningful Good-bye – Look that fear in the eye and let it know you are done with it. Klass suggests writing down your good-bye and putting it away somewhere or speaking it into a mirror. Rather than putting away that fear, you can also burn it. There is a kind of satisfaction in seeing it go up in smoke. Gone forever.
  5. Commit to the New and Inspiring Leader – What are you going to do going forward? How do you want to be? Look at the presentation you made after having conquered your fear. How did it go? Remind yourself of this the next time you move onto a larger stage. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend who is beginning to shine more brightly.

I can remember reading Frank Herbert’s Dune shortly after it was published. A line from it has stuck with me forever, “Fear is the little death…. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” Each time we step out of our comfort zones, fear will be waiting. Don’t let it keep you from being the leader you were meant to be.


Presenting – You!

Leaders take risks. One of the scariest risks for beginning and seasoned leaders alike is making a presentation before an audience. But eventually you’ll have to do it. It’s how you extend others’ awareness of your value to the teachers and students. Unfortunately, Social Phobia—fear of social situations that can result in judgement, rejection or shame—is the topmost common fear.

So what can you do? Start small and with a familiar audience. Your first presentation may be to your fellow teachers. You know them and what they need to discover so they can be more successful at what they do. You’ve been showing them, one-on-one, how you support them. Now you are just opening it up.

Next level up may be to a parents’ group. While you don’t know them individually as you did with your colleagues, they will come to your presentation because they realize a gap in their knowledge you can fill, and you can show them ways to support their students. Sharing your expertise with them makes them more aware of what you bring to their kids every day.

Presenting to your state school library association or a national one is probably the scariest. Here you are speaking to your colleagues. A part of you may feel as though they know more than you and what are you doing there. (Ah, the ‘joys’ of Imposter Syndrome). Remind yourself a committee selected your proposal. They recognized you have something valuable to offer. Keep that in mind as you begin.

For all levels of presentation, preparation counts, and preparation includes your mindset. In addition to the content, you are presenting yourself—and that means you as a leader and the value of your program. Kevin Eikenberry describes how you can do this in Showing Up When It’s Your Time. Here are his tips:

Showing Up Aware -You are aware of the purpose of your presentation but think bigger. It may be a bigger opportunity than you realized. Something you say may spark a huge idea in someone in your audience. This might lead to a larger possibility, whether it’s a collaborative project with a teacher, a parent who now would like to create a library advocacy group, or it inspires an article or blog by you.

Showing Up Prepared – You want to be comfortable with the topic as well as how you plan to bring it. Technology blips (zoom, power point, internet connectivity) and questions going in an unexpected direction are always challenging and do occur. If you have a firm grip on your presentation and the material, you will respond confidently when the unanticipated occurs.

Showing Up at Our Best – Being rested and having eaten, as Eikenberry recommends, are a good start. Also, think about yourself and what makes you feel your best. You are likely to dress up for your presentation, but are you comfortable with what you are wearing? If you’re going to be standing for a long period, think about the shoes you’re choosing. If you may be photographed, think about the colors you’re wearing. This probably is not the day to try a new look. Don’t give yourself something else to worry about.

Showing Up Expectantly – Expect to succeed. An athlete going into a game expects to win. They may see themselves making a great play or crossing the finish line first. A positive mindset at the outset relaxes your body and makes you more engaging to your audience.

Showing Up Early – Always! This helps on so many levels. If you cut it too close, you will be agitated rather than relaxed when you arrive. You will have little time to “show up prepared” for those little glitches in plans. Also, arriving early allows you to mingle and talk with participants so that when you begin, they are already open to listening to you and you are already comfortable and familiar with them.

The hardest part of making presentations is getting started, but taking the risk is worth it. In the opening of the article Eikenberry quotes Woody Allen as saying, “90% of life is just showing up.” The idea is not to just show up, but to show off—your skills, your program, your leadership. And once you have a few successes under your belt, you’ll be ready for bigger stages in the future!