A shot of Fear squirted into Michael’s gut, and an instant later, his legs felt jittery, followed by a sudden strong urge to turn around, race back through the revolving doors, and run as fast as he could away down the street.
The feeling brought another experience to mind. One beautiful summer day, Michael and three friends were out hiking in the woods when they saw a bear off in the distance coming their way. The bear eventually veered off the collision course, but not before all Michael’s adrenalin pumped into his system. The shot of adrenalin feeling is familiar for Michael because this unwelcome visitor, Fear, asserts itself at work also. Fear announces its presence before Michael speaks in meetings. He gets that shot when his volatile boss expresses displeasure. And right now, as Michael walks into the vast registration hall, a small dose of adrenalin lets loose.
The moment he feels the sensation, Michael’s brain starts feeding him ideas. “This event is not for you.” And, “these are not your people.” Also don’t forget to, “be small and don’t get noticed.”
If you caught Michael a week before the conference and he was being honest with himself, he would say that Fear is a regular and somewhat predictable companion. Most of the time Michael pushes through the feelings of Fear so he might forecast that at the conference, despite Fear, he would join in, try new things, and make friends.
In a totally normal way, Michael might mispredict his future fear reaction. He might think, “we are all professionals here, we wouldn’t let a little thing like fear keep us from participating.” Fear keeps members from participating all of the time. Now some of your members are going to participate. They are the ones who will ask questions when no one else does. One member out of a hundred might volunteer to go on stage. Perhaps 20% participate fully in the chat; this means most members passively observe, maybe because they let Fear hold them back.
When people are observing they are often inhabiting the mental space of an outsider. It is hard for the outsider to contribute their ideas, offer up specific challenges for the community to solve or begin building relationships. The longer members think like an outsider the harder it is to break the outsider mentality.
As the creators of experiences, we can circumvent the predictable path of non-participation. We can’t stop Fear. But we can recognize it and intervene before our member’s minds start rationalizing Fear by telling themselves, “they were too tired to go to the reception anyway.”
One way to change our member’s narrative is to prime them for participation. How can you get members and attendees participating before Fear convinces them to play small?