Many Christian fiction writers are gearing up to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Denver this September. Some are feeling the pinch of nerves as if their finger were caught in the car door. They want to go, need to go, but don't know how to get through it without serious doubts.
I'd like to share some ideas to help light the path for those feeling less than confident in professional situations. At least I can share what works for me.
Mentally prepare--Imagine yourself at the event. Imagine how happy, fascinated and alert you are to the opportunities around you. Imagine yourself looking confident and comfortable. This is the most important thing you can do in advance of something that worries you.
Dress the part--Wear clothing that makes you feel professional and confident. With time on your side, take note of how you feel in certain outfits ahead of time and pack those. I'm not telling you what to wear, I'm telling you to wear what makes you feel the best. It does reflect in how you hold yourself in public. Don't believe me? Do some people watching over the next few days. Pay attention to yourself in sweats and jeans versus slacks and a jacket.
Practice professional greetings in advance--If you aren't used to shaking hands firmly (but not breaking knuckles) then practice with friends and family. A proper hand shake is gently firm, has eye contact and a smile. The words can be anything comfortable akin to, "Hi, my name is..." That immediately gets a return response. All you have to do is say, "So nice to meet you, Joe." It's that simple. Teach your children and practice as they will need to know that skill too.
Talk to those who have gone before--Learn from their experience either by email, blogs, phone or in person.
Read the ACFW Conference Blog Tour! You'll be stunned by all the information and advice available. It fits for other events as well because good advice is just plain good advice.
Smile--Those that don't look petrified or bored. Those that do look friendly and approachable. Enough said.
Look for others--There will be ribbons for first time attendees. Team up and share what you are learning. You'll feel part of the pack instead of on the outside looking in at strangers.
Take one thing at a time--Don't be so busy that it's a whirlwind. Allow yourself to be present in the moment, at the meal or in the class. Look over the schedule several times in advance. Now a glance at the schedule will just be a confidence builder because you know what's next. By being aware, you'll feel prepared. It's that out of control feeling that zaps confidence.
Act confident--How? Eye contact, a soft and happy smile, allow yourself to sit up front and not hide, talk to people around you, shake hands, compliment people for pleasant things you notice, arrange coffee dates with new friends, ask questions about others, build relationships. Note: Do not keep repeating how nervous or bad or uncomfortable you are. All you are doing is repeating a broken mantra. Do repeat how excited and interested you are to retrain your brain.
Focus on the positive--Things will go wrong. They always do. Get enough rest so you aren't frazzled and that enables you to manage stress better. Things will go wrong. Your job is to focus on the solution not on the problem. Confident people look at the problem long enough to realize they need a solution...and then get to work on it.
Things will go wrong--What? I know, you heard this before. Being solution focused means you aren't micro-focused. When we try to micro-manage or microscopically tear something apart, we do more damage. Since things will go wrong, create self talk that allows you to calm yourself internally while you get creative about solving what went awry. I often use, "Well, that didn't work. What will?" I also use those moments in my writing. Such a wonderful study of plot possibilities. When you look at it from that direction, you might hope something goes wrong so you can use it in a book. It's amazing how creativity comes out of difficulty. Keep a journal of the drama. You'll need to make it worse for your heroine :-)
Ask for help--Don't let your mind get in the way of common sense. You are not bothering anyone to ask for help with something you don't know. Most people are honored to help and tickled to show they know something too.
Watch people you think look and act confident-- Mimicry is an excellent tool. When you note the behavior, vocal tones, and manners of confident people, you realize it is just a set of skills to learn. Did you mimic learning piano, riding a bike, learning to read? Okay then, watch others to learn the skills you want to master.
And when all else fails, breathe deeply and say a prayer. Trust me, that's what I do backstage before any performance or speech. Because it isn't about me after all, it's about the message God has placed in my being and wants to share through me. It's His job, not mine, to bring that message out.
Exodus 4:12 "Now go! When you speak, I will be with you and give you the words to say." Contemporary English Version