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Overcoming Shyness

Julie Larose
Prescott Ontario Canada
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 2, April-May 2005, pp. 36-37.

When my La Leche League Leader approached me about considering applying for LLL leadership, I was thrilled at first. My mother was an LLL Leader, and as I grew and took an interest in health issues, I became very passionate about breastfeeding education. Of course, when my own daughters were born, La Leche League supported me as I learned about breastfeeding and mothering from others in the LLL Group. As my nurslings grew and I breastfed them everywhere, acquaintances and relatives approached me with breastfeeding questions and comments. I was happy to share my experiences and the facts I had learned. I believed that, as a Leader, I could be available to help many more women in my community who were seeking information and support.

The thought of leading a Series Meeting, however, terrified me. All my life I have been quite shy. The term "painfully shy" must have been coined by a timid person, because who else could understand the heart-racing anxiety at having to speak to a group, or the intense mortification of being at a social gathering with no one to talk to. My shyness stems from three main sources: a struggle to overcome a lisp, lifelong acne, and a difficulty with small talk. Even speaking up at Series Meetings involuntarily caused my cheeks to heat up and my heart to race. I still made myself speak up, though, because I had something important to share.

Realizing that I did have something to offer to LLL is what prompted me to apply for leadership and deal with my fears. I am a great listener; I can understand and present different perspectives; I can easily get into deep personal discussions; I love to research and share information; and I am resourceful and aware of community services. Most of all, I am passionate about breastfeeding. I deeply believe that breastfeeding is the best way to nurture babies and toddlers, and that accurate information and empathetic support will help more women to choose and continue breastfeeding their babies.

I enjoyed the readings and research in my preparation for leadership. The parts that I found the most useful, however, were the Preview questions dealing with group dynamics and the Leader's Handbook section about leading Series Meetings. I reviewed those tools many times and my Leader patiently answered all my questions and listened to my worries about leading in a group setting. I also found a regional Leader/Leader Applicant Workshop to be very helpful, as we role-played and discussed strategies for Series Meetings and confronting difficult situations.

Finally, I was accredited and the time came for me to lead my first meeting. I worked on it all month, made a visual aid poster, and rehearsed in front of my ever-patient husband. Finally, the evening of the meeting came. I suppressed my jitters, smiled, and began my introduction and the discussion. I knew that my experienced co-Leader was present if the discussion stalled or if I forgot a point. There were also familiar faces in the group -- mothers I had been chatting with at meetings for months. The flow was choppy; I tripped over some of my words and the discussion ended a little ahead of schedule. However, some of the mothers came to tell me how much they enjoyed it.

I have led several Series Meetings since then, and I led my first solo meeting last December. Besides speaking in public, I have also had to teach myself to welcome new mothers as they arrive, to put myself forward instead of waiting for others to come to me. The self-confidence I am building by stretching myself for La Leche League is also helping me to be less timid in other social situations.

Although my cheeks still sometimes heat up or I trip on my words at meetings, I'm glad that I took the risk to represent La Leche League in my community. I have to remember it's not about me: it's about plump, happy babies and the mothers who keep returning to meetings every month.

Ten Tips to Overcome Shyness

  1. Take time to prepare. If I feel familiar with the subject, I am less likely to be nervous. It also helps to give myself extra time to pack supplies before the meeting and set up after I arrive. I find I am more flustered if I've been rushing around or if I forget an item.
  2. Use aids. I always keep notes handy so that I don't forget to mention memberships, the Group Library, or the next meeting date. I also write out all the discussion questions, as well as a few extra points if the discussion stalls or if the group doesn't mention something important. Using a doll, a flip chart, or other props can occasionally help give meetings a little more formal direction and may keep participants' eyes on a neutral object instead of always staring at a self-conscious new Leader!
  3. Keep it simple. If I want to avoid a lull in the discussion, I ask questions that are short and deal with an issue most mothers can relate to. Key words such as "favorite" or "ideas" usually elicit more participation.
  4. Breathe and smile. I find that taking a few breaths and smiling before beginning helps to calm jitters and make me think clearly. Taking a conscious breath before each new section of the meeting also allows me to refocus and prevents me from talking too fast.
  5. Have a drink. Keeping a bottle or glass of water nearby is a good idea. Leading a discussion can leave your throat scratchy if the air is dry. It also provides a useful pause if I need to think about something or refocus for a second.
  6. Break the ice. Sometimes it helps to start the meeting off on a light note. Our Group begins the topic with introductions and an icebreaker question. The mothers often love it when we ask questions such as, "What was the silliest....?" or "When you were growing up....?"
  7. Ask about the baby. When welcoming a new or returning woman, I find the best way to initiate a conversation is to ask about the baby or pregnancy. Even if we only chat for a minute, she feels included, and most mothers love to talk about their babies.
  8. Think about the big picture. Taking the focus off of my insecurities and looking at LLL goals helps me to remember why I became a Leader. I think about what the mothers hope to learn from the Series Meeting, and what they will take away and share with the people around them.
  9. Use your support system. LLL Leaders have many people who are willing to help us in our duties. There are Communication Skills Development and other workshops that use role-playing and other useful exercises. Applicants who are nervous can work with their Leader Accreditation Department representatives. Co-Leaders, local Chapter Leaders, District Advisors, or Area Coordinator of Leaders can also lend ideas or a sympathetic ear.
  10. Be passionate. Because I believe so strongly in the benefits of breastfeeding and the value of LLL work, I am willing to stretch out of my comfort zone to further the cause.

Julie Larose is an LLL Leader in Brockville, Ontario, Canada. She lives in Prescott (Ontario, Canada) with her husband, Michel, and their daughters, Jessica (6) and Alice (3). Nan Vollette is the Contributing Editor for the "Helping Mothers" column. Submissions may be sent to Nan at 132 Powhatan Pkwy, Hampton, Virginia 23661 USA, or vollette@cox.net (email).

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