How to tell your story when you’re afraid of being judged

by | Speaking Anxiety

heart_hands_smallerI held my sweating hands together for fear someone would see the shaking. I kept my gaze low because looking at their faces made me feel light headed. I was terrified that if I said a word out loud, I might throw up.

“Anyone else want to read their story?,” asked the facilitator in her velvety voice. The sound was so soothing that I lifted my eyes just enough to meet hers. She smiled gently.

“I feel like I’m going to throw up, so it must be my turn to share,” I said.

“Wonderful,” she cooed.

As I began to read this story that I had never shared with anyone except my husband, my jaw tightened with fear. My teeth were nearly chattering and my heart was racing.

I just kept reading, avoiding all of the eyes and the almost certain disapproval – or worse, disregard – of the women’s faces.

Then about one third of the way into my story, something happened. I felt this gentle opening, a release that began at my heart and radiated out in all directions. My voice thickened and I began to feel a deep groundedness. As if coming out of a sound-proof room, I began to hear my own story for the first time.

By the time I finished reading my story, I felt… free. I felt this strength and openness – even a compassion for myself and this difficult story that I had previously held solely so heavily in my heart and memory. I could see how lost I had been back then – and I felt a lot of love for that woman who struggled so valiantly, if but messily.

I looked up at the silent room full of women. I saw smiles and gentle nods of understanding – tears in their eyes. To my surprise, I saw no signs of pity or disgust. I could feel their care and connection. I heard their gasps and other sounds of surprise as I read. Now I could see that they were with me all along, feeling my pain as I shared and rooting for me, too.

I felt really connected with the women in that room. This hadn’t happened to me very often, so careful was I not to share too much and risk being judged negatively.

The truth is, there probably were moments of judgement as they listened. My story was full of situations where I wasn’t, shall we say, at my best.

We don’t control the judgement of others. Judging, thinking, assessing and drawing conclusions are what the human brain is designed to do.

This is precisely how we survive dangerous situations – assessing the danger, judging the level of risk, deciding what to do about it all. To try to stop this from happening is like trying to hold back the ocean – impossible and frankly, silly when you think about it.

So this leads me to the promise jn the title of this article:

How in the world do we move through the fear that stops us from sharing the stories that matter when we know there is a very real chance we will be judged?

Here’s how: We let go of trying to control what others think of us and we focus on how our stories will serve the people in our audience.

Simply said, difficultly done, right?

Here’s the thing: I still get scared when I am going to share a personal story that matters to me. The only difference now is that I have shared enough of these vulnerable stories at this point – and survived! – that I am clear how powerful it is on the other side of sharing the story. Not only do I feel more connected and free within myself but after you have countless women tell you just how much your story has inspired them in their own transformations, it's hard to not want to keep taking this worthy risk. (You will love this beautiful side effect, trust me.)

So, the first step is simply deciding to share the story that scares us.

Then, these are the important pieces to making a story powerful for the audience – and as safe as possible for ourselves as the storyteller, too:

  1. Get crystal clear on the point of the story. Why am I telling this story? What outcome do I want from it – for them, for me?
  2. Understand deeply who will be hearing/needs to hear this story. What does my audience or listener need and want for themselves that this story will help them realize in their life?
  3. Craft and practice telling this story with an emphasis on the details and parts that serve the audience. I remind myself continually that even my own stories, in the context of speaking to help others, are not about me alone. I want to tell them in the way the stories will best serve this audience (while staying true to the real story, of course).
  4. State the point of the story clearly and with conviction, reinforcing the learning that came of the experience for me. This makes it very easy to transfer the learning over to the audience as well.
  5. This one is so essential => Spend at least five minutes before I share actively caring for my heart around whatever may come of sharing. Remind myself that I have no control over the reactions of my audience but I do have control over the ways I take in and respond to their reactions. Promise to be radically loving and kind to myself throughout the process, regardless of what happens. I am my heart's keeper.

There is simply no more powerful medium of connection, engagement and learning than a well-told, relevant story.

Your commitment to pushing the edges of your own storytelling will serve your speaking (and all of your communication) like nothing else. This is beautiful, important work you are doing, becoming the storyteller of your own life lessons. Be loving, kind and generous with your self-compassion.

And soak up the freedom and joy of self-expression that comes as a gorgeous side effect of becoming a teller of real, human, life-enhancing stories.