10.4 Get it Right
No matter how many times I do some things, I still get pretty terrified. Case in point, I’ve told a number of stories over the years in front of a wide variety of audiences. Usually, there is a low grade anxiety when it comes to any of these presentations, but it especially ramps up when I’m talking about something that is personal or which I have a very specific point that I want to leave with the audience.
This past weekend at our latest Stories We Don’t Tell brought a deeper sense of anxiety then most. It was not only about something important to me, but the larger concept behind it was something I felt I needed to get right.
To any storyteller that comes to our event, we encourage them to not censor themselves and speak to the audience in the room. We don’t publish the stories anywhere without explicit consent and if someone doesn’t want us to share it on our podcast, no questions are asked. I felt I needed to abide by this rule myself in order to get the story right. In order to not be afraid.
So, because of that, let’s not worry about what the story was about. Let’s just say that it talked about some unpleasant things that involved what it means to be a man, toxic relationship shit, and bad things people do to each other. You get the idea.
I learned a great deal in writing this story. As a man, I have thought long and hard on how to participate in movements like #MeToo and so on. The simplest and most effective approach for me has been to just sit back and listen. Participate in things like the Women’s March as a quiet supporter. To read accounts and believe the stories from women. Basically, to just shut the fuck up.
To listen and support others to standup on platforms and speak is the priority. At the same time, I do believe that men have to be a part of this conversation. I spent a great deal of time thinking about what that may look like for me.
I rarely use this blog to venture into this kind of thing, but after I shared my story on the weekend, I found it to be a constructive experience and one that seemed to have the desired effect - bring my voice into the discussion in a way that was respectful and not impeding anyone else. It was my story, but I hoped to speak to a wider and more universal subject. At the end of the story, everyone sang We Are the Champions together, so something positive came from it.
The following are ten things that I learned in writing and presenting this story. These are in no way definitive and not meant to make me sound like the expert. Don’t listen to any of this, throw it away, come up with your own rules - I don’t really give a shit. Dudes, relax, I’m not telling you how to be a man. At this point, you really should be figuring that out for yourself. I thought a ton about this story and worked on it for a long time. These are just some points to help if you want to share a story at an event that is tough for you.
1. Listen and read a lot.
Just do your homework. Don’t weigh in on this stuff without properly educating yourself, both on what has been happening and with stories from the past. When the #MeToo movement hit Facebook, I spent the day reading post after post of my friends sharing their stories. I did not react, I just read them. Ask your friends about their experiences, listen if they want to share and be respectful if they don’t.
2. Write the story you want to share and put it away.
An immediate reaction to something can be unproductive. If you feel strongly that you want to share your story, that’s great, but work the hell out of it. It’s important to not fuck this up, so take your time.
3. Run it by your friends.
After some time, when you pick it back up, talk it out with some friends. Don’t be afraid of getting something wrong - dudes, that’s how you learn, so don’t get defensive. Ask questions, and just listen.
4. Put it away again.
Take even more time. When you go to tell a story to an audience, you can’t take your words back. They can’t unknow what you’ve told them. Sure, this sounds like overkill, but if it’s something important, time can only help.
5. Real vulnerability.
If you’re planning on really being vulnerable, and I’m not talking in some bull shit way this word is being branded about lately, go all the way. Like, truly vulnerable, where right before you get on stage, your hands are shaking and you feel like you’re going to black out and you’re doubting every word and think to yourself that this is a mistake. This is the perfect place for me, and perhaps for you too. If you get to that place, people will connect with you, they will be there with you.
6. Speak for yourself.
Don’t tell anyone’s story, and really try not to explain a cultural movement to the very people who have way more experience with it than you do. Stick to your story and what you want to say about it, and it will have a much more deeper impact than you could imagine.
7. Put it away again.
As you can see, I’m really stressing that you should really think about this. Taking too much time with a story like this never hurt anyone.
8. Trust yourself.
For the audience to trust you, you have to trust yourself. Find how you tell your story. For me, I talk slow when presenting. For the above story, I went even slower. My approach was to move slow in order to try and approach the audience like: Okay, this is going to be tough, but we’ll move through this slowly and get to the other side together.
9. The right audience.
Not every event is created equal, and I don’t mean that as a knock on any one place. Many events have claimed the word vulnerability in their description - go to that event first to see if this is actually true. A story like the one we’re talking about can go sideways if you’re at the wrong place. An audience can turn hostile because of one person. If that one person doesn’t like your vulnerability, it’s really a projection of their own insecurities. If so, fuck’em.
10. Take care of yourself.
Be prepared to feel some feelings. This is normal. Be prepared for people to come up to you afterwards and share their stories. Listen to them, be there for them. This is the good stuff, but make sure you have someone to talk to as well.
Good luck and get it right.