Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fear, for the Heck of It

The first time I stood in front of an audience my mind drifted to the physical act of hanging sheet rock on some stranger's walls. If you have never had the privilege of carrying 25 pound sheets of chalk glued together with stiff paper you have not lived life to the fullest.

The 4' x 12' sheets take two workers to lift and place into position. Once positioned a sheet is nailed to the 2" x 4"s behind them. This goes on for hours and hours, the carrying, the nailing until it is time for the pinnacle of pleasure, mudding and taping the seams and nail marks. This is done by mixing a mud like substance, using a trowel, wearing clothes you never want to wear again and walking around on stilts to reach the upper heights plastering the gooey concoction. Upon completion, if it ever comes, someone will paint the entire surface and all your hard work disappears for ever.

For me the art or function of hanging sheet rock is the worst possible thing I can imagine to do when I would rather not participate in the process at all.

Speaking in front of an audience is much more pleasurable than hanging glorious sheet rock. Today's survey says, "an individual would rather commit suicide than speak in front of a group of people."Seems a bit rash, don't you think?

Yet the first time I stood in front of an audience preparing to speak to my freshman English class at Oklahoma City University, my thoughts drifted to hanging sheet rock. It did not occur to me to commit suicide, though it would not have been a bad idea, I merely had not thought of it.

Somehow I made it through my entire 15 minute speech without collapsing on the podium or choking on my own fluids. My knees physically knocked against each other almost the entire duration of my speech. It wasn't until one of the listening audience laughed at one of my comments or gasped at the horror of the subject of my speech that my knee knockers subsided with their harmonious tune.

The topic of my speech was spelunking. Exploring the innards of caves was a topic I knew something about. It wasn't until feedback hit my ears that I was able to calm down and enjoy the actual delivery of my words. Probably a bit of exaggeration as far as enjoyment goes, my speech was reaching a conclusion and I knew my time was short in front of this group of jackals. When I finally finished,  prepared to tuck my tail under and hide in the back of the room, the unexpected happened. A member of the audience raised her hand to ask a question about the topic of my speech.

I was hooked for ever! I had stirred an interest in the subject of my talk and someone wanted more information. How cool was that?

Today I beg groups, civic organizations, fraternal clubs, political allies and any fund raising committee to allow me to speak in front of their membership for absolutely any reason that will give me a bully pulpit. Quite a reversal from my earlier days, don't you think?

Sometimes I look for speaker nets to learn new tips and tricks to apply to my own speaking prowess. As a rule, though not always I encounter the awful specter of FEAR being repeated throughout a direct marketing piece seemingly interested in helping me cope with the unteachable beast. I still get butterflies before I speak to a group of peers or unknowns, though I am no longer petrified at the thought.

In grant writing the same words seem to be prevalent. The idea of “Fear” follows any line of extroverted optimism seeking financial or other type of approval through speech or written application. Simply speaking, fear has no place in your role as a Grant Seeker.

The nature of being a fundraiser asks you to step out in front of every kind of audience you encounter. Naturally, fear rears his ugly head trying to get your attention. Focusing on the issues whether speaking to a group of would be grant funders or to an audience expressing interest for your cause is a reason for concern, not fear.

I am an Auctioneer. I take charge of my audience of interested bidders the moment I open my mouth. I have come to realize over the years, that the bidders are the ones with fear in their hearts. They are afraid of two things, both are fearful. They fear they will lose the deal of the century and at the same time they fear they will win the deal with too high of a bid. Fear of having over paid for the item kicks in, now they will appear silly to the rest of the bidding crowd.

When standing in front of a audience, about to give your speech, the audience assumes you are an expert in your field. When approaching foundations, large or small these groups assume, until you give them a reason to believe otherwise, you are an expert in telling your organisation's story. They expect, not from fear, you as a grant writer will tell a truthful story following the potential funder's guidelines to the letter.

If you veer from the path they request, fear should pop up in your mind's eye immediately. The fear will come from knowing you have not performed your duties to the best of your ability. Your fear can be avoided completely or stopped in its path by reverting to the correct path the funder requests of you.

I choose to be a fearless grant seeker. With every leap I take into the non profit arena I learn a little bit more about myself and my audience.

I know my limitations!

That last statement is not true. I don't know my limitations. I don't even know if I have any because I am willing to pitch my hat in the ring and see where the smoke settles. If I have done the best I can possibly do then I am content to move on to the next project.

Living without fear is one of the greatest joys of life. Considering the things one can be fearful about, writing a proposal for a possible grant funder is very small potatoes in the larger scheme of things.

So let's walk up to the plate, swing as accurately as we can and bring everyone on base home for the winning run.

Never let em see you sweat!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this so much. I, like you once did, suffer from fear of speaking. Offing myself instills a greater fear, so I guess I would rather sheet rock, which I've done on occasion.
Fearless on alot of fronts, I can't seem to keep from anticipating the spitless, dry mouthed, "what could I possibly have to say that means anything", feeling I get before speaking. Yet if I can get by that and speak from the heart, usually works out well. I say usually because if I stammer or say "uh" fear leaps to the forfront and chokes me once again.
Ah, well, I still march forward, spitless, bladder spasms and all!
Thanks for the piece!

Brother Crow said...

Jim...saw your blog link on Mylon's facebook...i am his buddy that he talks about, don martin. i initially make some smart--- remarks, but only in jest. (like "no fear is stupid")...but that was just being silly. you make some great points in this...being a public speaker, i have encountered every one of those crazy things (and a sheet rocker, too). Plus, you write in a great, humourous way...great job! Your biggest take away...get used to fear, and learn how to master it instead of it mastering you. Hope to meet you soon.