As I am probably going to be in next year’s Gang Show*, I thought it would be fun to go along to the planning meeting. First we split into two groups and put forward ideas, then we all sat on a big table and discussed those ideas. And it should have been great. It was really interesting to hear what people were coming up with, and I wanted to help make the show really good by adding ideas for songs I adored.
The problem was getting those ideas across.
Have you ever had an idea in your head, and wanted to say it, but been worried about looking stupid? Or said your idea, but thought you saw something in the other person’s eyes suggesting that actually, they were kind of taken aback by it and already thought it might not work out? Or kept wanting to say something, but someone else is talking so you wait for a break in the conversation so you can say the something, the break comes and you start speaking but you’re just a fraction of a second behind somebody else and you, feeling ignored, abruptly stop? Or later, you’ve got an idea but god, they’re not too close to me, do I really have to raise my voice? and you’re just a bit put off by all the people and the general size of the table?
You’re not alone. Because all of those scenarios occurred in the course of those two hours in the Church Hall.
However, I don’t want to just whinge. Because I’ve been reading a bit about ‘constructive’ and ‘solution-based’ journalism, below are some tips, when you’re in a ‘planning meeting’ for, say, a school project, to have the courage to say your ideas and make sure they’re heard. If you find yourself at the head of the group, saying “Has anyone got any ideas?” there’ll be something for you as well.
.Say it anyway!
Trust me, the more positive action, however unsure you are, is to just come out there and say your idea, rather than keeping quiet and feeling guilty later. True, they might dislike it- but they might love it too! You just don’t know for sure- you’re not a mind reader. We all see things in different lights- your doubts are probably just your bitchy inner critic talking, and the good things about your idea could be just the the things that are needed. It’s ok to be nervous, but you can do it anyway.**
Idea-takers, here’s one for you: make it clear that you’re not going to judge the ideas yet. The point now is to gather as many as possible. If we see other ideas being rejected, we’ll be less likely to come up with our own, and will just sit there feeling awkward. But if one person gets to say their idea, however mediocre, maybe it will cause someone else to think of something similar, but even better, someone else will think of an add-on, and on and on until the idea is fully developed and utterly spectacular. So get everyone’s ideas, write them all down, then you can get on to accepting or rejecting them. Make it clear that this is a friendly space.
. Also for the idea-takers: Make sure everyone has their say. There’s nothing more frustrating, in this scenario, than endlessly trying to leap into that second when someone pauses for breath, and getting there before someone else. As I said, it makes us guys feel a bit unwanted. Instead, go round each person to ask if they’ve got anything, at least once.
. Raise your hand!
I know it seems kind of childish and formal, but teachers came up with it for a reason! And it won’t look small and pathetic if you do it with confidence. It gives you a better chance of being the next one who gets to speak, without having to interrupt anyone. Even if someone else starts talking, probably someone will have noticed you and will say ‘Hang on, Emma wants to say something’. Or, still with your hand up, a moderately loud throat-clearing or ‘Excuse me’ should help.
. If you know what’s coming, come prepared! If your group needs song ideas, bring your iPod. (Sadly, today mine needed charging.) Dramatic techniques? Go online, look some up and find out why they’re so effective, which will help to convince your group that they will enhance your piece.
. Explain yourself! Properly! But be passionate!
It may be obvious to you why Cassandra Clare is such an amazing author, but it won’t be obvious to you mates who’ve never read her books. So say what you like about them. The characters? The whole idea of runic tattoos that give you special powers and a hidden parallel world with demons and demon-slayers, vampires and warlocks? The inspiring kick-arse female characters? Tell all. Except, in the case of books, films and theatre, the plot.
But do your explaining in a way that shows why you are in love with the idea, rather than why you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Be genuine, and show that you’re not saying this idea because you’re courting attention, but because you think it would really help the show, business, project etc.
.Keep the door open!
Remember how I said that, with others chipping in, an idea can develop into an even better idea? Well, be open to developments. Most of us don’t like to hear that, actually, our idea could be improved upon. But just remember, it’s not personal, it doesn’t mean all your ideas are rubbish. What you see as criticism, a more optimistic type will see as an opportunity for improvement. If Craig Revel Horwood only ladled out praise, how would the celebrity dancers correct the things they were doing wrong?
As Stephen King once said:
Yup, listen to other people’s ideas. How would you feel if you could read minds, and no-one was really listening to your idea, but was trying to figure out when they could but in and talk about theirs? Listen to others. Their idea might be really good, and could even help you improve yours. And show them you’re listening. Watch them when they’re speaking, for starters. Hopefully, they’ll do the right thing and return the favour.
These suggestions are a mixture of tips from websites, my Dad’s advice and my head. Some of them may flop- but they may be totally awesome! Let me know what did or didn’t work for you in the comments.
*The Gang Show is a thing Scouts and Guides do in Britain. Basically, all the Guides, Scouts, Rangers, Explorer Scouts and upwards get together, and put on a show. A proper one, with a director, stage lighting, live band etc. It’s great to watch as well as be in.
**You know those really confident people who can just do everything with no qualms? It’s not that they don’t get scared. Everybody gets scared. But they don’t let nerves stop them from doing cool stuff. That’s the only difference.