This quote from Maria Shriver is a reminder not to be afraid of being afraid. In fact, the most courageous people are afraid. If you are a patient and family speaker and you find yourself behind a podium, you will feel anxiety and that is ok. This means you are about to do something daring, something so great that so many other people are terrified of doing. You’ve overcome your fear to climb up onto the stage and that’s what really matters.
Brene Brown says, “if you fail, at least you will fail daring greatly.” In her book Daring Greatly, she deconstructs the great Teddy Roosevelt speech to point out that it is not the critic who counts, it is the (wo)man who has dared to enter the arena.
My son is a drummer in a punk rock band. He has played countless gigs in a mash-up of venues: basements, garages, clubs, halls and festivals. I once asked him: “aren’t you nervous before you go up on stage?” and he looked at me as if I had three heads.
“I’m not nervous, Mom,” he said slowly, so I could understand. “I’m excited to be playing.”
Ah. There are so many dichotomies with public speaking. This is true for all speakers, but especially true for patient and family speakers. We have so much more skin in the game, because sharing personal stories from health care makes us so very vulnerable.
One on one hand, it is normal and even expected to be nervous. On the other hand, why label your feelings in a negative way? Instead of being anxious, why not reframe and rename these butterflies as excitement? I have no answer to this, as I continue to drive white-knuckled to speaking engagements while still accepting and even seeking out these same engagements. On one hand, nerves give you energy, on the other hand, nerves make you nervous.
For patients and families sharing their stories, more dichotomies ensue:
On one hand, prepare thoroughly and on the other hand, don’t appear too scripted because you will come off as robotic.
On one hand, know your material well and don’t read your words, on the other hand, it is impossible to memorize 30 pages of speaking notes.
On one hand, showing emotion is good, but on the other hand, don’t burst into gasping, sobbing tears.
On one hand, connect with your audience using humour, but on the other hand, don’t stand up there and be a cheerleader.
One one hand, be self-deprecating to show humility, on the other hand, don’t be too apologetic.
On one hand, share negative stories, but on the other hand, do it constructively and don’t scold the audience.
On one hand, allow yourself to be vulnerable in the telling of your story, on the other hand, be respectful to all hecklers even if they are being total and complete jerks.
On one hand, your story is the most transformational element of many conferences, on the other hand, don’t you dare presume to ask for money for that speaking engagement.
On one hand, don’t be greedy and ask for too much money, on the other hand, don’t undervalue yourself.
On one hand, show passion, on the other hand, don’t come off as angry or hysterical, especially if you are a woman.
One one hand, tell the truth, on the other hand, don’t offend your audience.
On one hand, it is your message that’s most important, on the other hand, how and why you deliver that message is more important.
On one hand, the soft stuff is inspirational, on the other hand, where is the data?
On one hand, you can only speak on behalf of your own experience, on the other hand, try to speak on behalf of all patients.
On one hand, nobody cares how you look, on the other hand, don’t dress too casually (sign of not taking this seriously) or too formally (do you think you are better than those in the audience?). Don’t wear jangly bracelets, stripes or big florals, or all black so you look like a floating head.
On one hand, don’t worry, your video will work, on the other hand, the technology guy isn’t answering his page.
On one hand, humans are not perfect, on the other hand, there will be a member of the audience counting all your ‘ums’.
On one hand, being a ‘mom’ is enough, on the other hand, play up any professional background you have to ensure credibility.
On one hand, not everybody will get your message, on the other hand, that guy asleep in the front row is disconcerting.
On one hand, is this worth all the stress and sweating, on the other hand, it is only through sharing our stories that we are going to change the world.
Bravo and brava to all those patients and families standing in front of a microphone to inspire positive change in health care (and also the education world). I bow deeply and tip my hat to you – keep talking. Keep grabbing that microphone. Keep using your voice. Keep accepting those engagements. Keep asking for a fee. Keep asking if conferences are #patientsincluded. Keep feeling scared, but keep taking a deep breath and keep showing love for your audiences. As Mary Pipher says, this is where the transformation begins.