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, and thanks so much for writing!

Believe me Layne,  I know exactly what you mean. Approaching someone in this situation feels really intimidating. Not knowing the person in question, I don’t know whether he or she is personally scary, or if it’s just the context that feels scary, but consider these few things:

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

One reason you’re getting so nervous is you’re piling a lot into this one conversation. I can guarantee you that your dreams will not be reached, nor will they die, based on talking to this person. Your dreams will not slip by or be achieved based on this one thing. First and foremost, get this whole “my dreams” are “so close” and/or “slipping by” thing out of your head. It’s absolutely not true, for one, and for another, it’s making you a nervous wreck. 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 know that something they’ve done or made has had an impact? Who doesn’t want to hear that they’ve been noticed, appreciated or even made a difference in someone’s life? Express your appreciation with genuine sincerity (and a lack of frenzy) and this person will be delighted. And if you have a specific to mention that will underscore your credibility and may even spark a conversation? Even better.

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 his/her 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.LABG_EnterFashionBiz1

People love to get free help.

If you’re willing, as a product of your admiration and ambition you can offer your services for free. Nobody doesn’t like that. Again, just don’t do it in a creepy way.

Be prepared.

Jot down a few things beforehand — it can help make you feel less stressed. (And it will certainly make the encounter more fruitful and less mumbly and run-on sentence-y, too.)

Think about what you want out of the conversation. You want to express some praise and appreciation? OK, think of a succinct way to say it, and a specific example to include, if you have one. Do you want to find out how to have a short follow-up conversation about some career advice? Do you want to work for free after your internship is done? Or do you have something else specific in mind, such as asking the director to look at your short film or script idea? Do you want to interview him or her for your school publication? Whatever you seek, write down what you want to say, so you’ll be ready when the moment comes.

Layne, I’m sure you have a bright future ahead, no matter what happens. Even if this director pulls out a giant mallet and conks you on the head. I mean, “Ouch!”, but so be it — and on to the next opportunity. The main thing is to not let fear keep you from getting the most out of an opportunity. That’s the only regret you’ll have. Besides, these kinds of things get easier with time and practice. Pretty soon, you’ll be going up to Steven Spielberg and asking things like, “Hey, that last Indiana Jones movie — WTF?”

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


Dixie Laite

I'm Dixie Laite -- a writer, speaker, and branding consultant in New York City. For over 40 years I've been a bullshit-slaying, classic movies-obsessing, animal-loving dame. For over 40 years I have been working on figuring out how to be a woman. Some of it I nailed, a lot of it I'm still trying to get a handle on. Let's figure this shit out together!