How To Speak Up, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!

 

Dear Dixie,

I am a senior now in university and I am interning at the production company of my favorite director. My whole life I have dreamed of working along side such a talented person, but I feel so scared to approach him. I feel like I’m so close to my dreams, but that I’m letting them slip by me, because I’m too nervous. How do I approach this person? Help please!

— Layne


 

Hi Layne, thanks so much for writing!

Believe me, I know exactly what you mean. Learning how to speak up is hard and approaching someone in that kind of position is even harder. Whether you personally find this person scary or it’s the context that is making this interaction so daunting, keep these few tips in mind to keep you cool and collected next time you have the opportunity to strike up a conversation:

Your whole future does NOT ride on this one person, or this one encounter.

One reason you’re getting so nervous is that you’re putting a lot on this one conversation. I can guarantee you that your dreams will not be made or crushed based on this one interaction. First and foremost, get this “my dreams are so close and I’m letting them slip away” mentality out of your head. This type of mindset will only make you more nervous to speak up. Conversations with superiors can feel like they carry a lot of weight, especially when you are first starting out, but while they can be useful they will not make or break your career. This is a person who may or may not be able to offer you some tips, contacts or opportunities—and that’s it. It’s great if he/she does, and a bummer if he/she doesn’t, but your dreams, future and life are not hanging in the balance.

Relax — a director is just a person. And people aren’t scary. In fact, people are fairly predictable. For instance…

People love to hear their work is appreciated.

Who doesn’t want to hear that their work is appreciated or has even made a difference in someone’s life? Express your admiration with sincerity (and a lack of frenzy) and this person will be delighted. Having a specific example to mention is also helpful as it will underscore your credibility and will likely lead to a more in-depth conversation.

People love to give advice and offer their wisdom and insights.

If approached with calm sincerity, most people will be happy to offer their sought-after awesomeness. Recognize this person is very busy, so you’d be asking to make an appointment for 10-15 minutes of their time to get their advice about next steps, best routes, experience, etc. That is all you’re asking for — wisdom. Perhaps this conversation will lead to something more definite, but don’t ask for anything but a sliver of time and a fount of insights.

Be prepared.

Before you talk to this person jot down a few things you want to bring up during the conversation. This will make you feel less stressed and ensure that you have made full use of this opportunity. It will also help avoid the dreaded awkward silence and the attempt to fill that silence with meaningless babble.

Think about what you want to get out of the conversation. You can try and steer the conversation in the direction you want by being prepared and not being afraid to ask for what you want. For instance do you want to schedule a short follow-up conversation with them? Ask if they have time to meet at some point that day, that week, or how to get in touch with their assistant about their availability. Express your desire to work for them, mention that you will be graduating soon and would love to work for them in the future. Depending on the celebrity status of this director you can even ask them to review your short film or script idea. Speak up and ask for what you want! The worst they could say is no!

Layne, no matter what happens, I am certain that you have a bright future ahead. Even if this director pulls out a giant mallet and conks you on the head, so be it — on to the next opportunity. But remember don’t allow fear to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Lean into these kinds of uncomfortable or intimidating situations as the reward is often way higher than the risk. Learning how to speak up is hard but these interactions get easier with time and practice. Pretty soon, you’ll have the gumption to go up to Steven Spielberg and say, “Hey, that last Indiana Jones movie — WTF?”

Good luck, Layne! And PLEASE let me know what happens!

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