Scaring myself, and doing it anyway

Posted on September 24, 2014

As everyone knows, there is nothing in human wisdom that cannot be found in a 90s music lyric. Baz Lurman’s 1998 classic Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), itself musical interpretation of a Mary Schmich column in the Chicago Tribune, is more packed than most. It includes the line “Do one thing every day that scares you”. I’ve rather enjoyed the opportunity that the Clore Social programme has given me to put this into action.

It all started at the January residential, when participation in John Cremer’s improvisation workshop was not optional. As a stereotypical INTJ analyst (for Myers-Briggs aficionados), I had been dreading it all week. There’s a reason I’ve spent most of my working life hiding behind spread sheets. Anyway, I went in suitably scared and I absolutely loved it, much to the amazement of my friends and family. And myself. Maybe public performance wasn’t such an awful thing to be feared after all...

Scare two was to take up the chance to be part of a performance poetry workshop run by Tony Walsh, and organised by 2014 Fellow Nicola Sansom. I was even more terrified by the prospect of composing and performing poetry but I thought that if I could manage that, then I could probably get over my fear of public speaking. Again, I enjoyed it a lot and picked up a whole range of hints and tips about writing, editing, speaking and performing. One was to avoid the temptation to apologise for your content or style - I do it all the time. Sorry about that.

Third in my self-composed programme of public performance flooding therapy was composing and presenting a talk about my hero Archie Cochrane, which I presented at the Brainfoods evening discussion group co-organised by another fellow Fellow Daniela Papi. This added the dimension of sharing proper content that I care deeply about, and presenting to my friends, family and a bunch of clever strangers. I hardly slept the night before, was very nervous about forgetting what I intended to say when the pressure was on. I can barely remember what I said, but I got lots of lovely feedback, and actually found myself enjoying myself whilst speaking and answering questions.

This was all the build-up for the fourth scare and main event - leading a session on impact with Caroline Fiennes at the final September residential. I have always admired Caroline’s writing about the use of evidence in the social sector, and she’s done proper grown up performance stuff like a TEDx talk. Crossing the floor from Clore Social Fellow and participant to speaker and facilitator at the residential added another dimension of weirdness, but top of my mind was that this was my chance to do some of what I said in my (puppyishly enthusiastic) Clore Social video about making a difference to how the sector uses data and evidence.

In the hours and days that followed, I got really lovely feedback on the impact that the session had on the people in the room. There’s plenty of room for improvement - use more stories, break up long periods of talking with more interactive content, but overall I was really pleased with how it went. I was particularly happy that it was engaging for people who normally find data and evidence talk a bit of a turn off (I know, weird right? How can you not love data?).

So maybe I don’t manage to do it every day (yet), but I can heartily recommend doing scary things regularly. In my experience (n=4), it is much better than you fear it will be.

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Michael Cooke

Michael Cooke

Social data scientist

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