Show Up As You: How Storytelling Can Help You Fully Embrace (and Share) Who You Are

Public speaking, storytelling, and leadership all tie together and the more you can align the three, the better off you will be as a strategic and impactful communicator. I think of it as speaking your truth

Three summers ago I got emergency gall bladder surgery while on vacation at the beach. When I spent my entire vacation in the hospital, and then two weeks lying on my couch at home not working, I started to panic. I had freelance jobs, paid my own health insurance premium, and did not have any vacation days or sick days. And now I was stuck with a huge out-of-pocket fee and way too much free time. I HATE down time.

If I gave a title to this two week period, it would be WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?! I was evaluating every life choice that I made up until that point. Choices that I would typically be proud of, like making a living doing my art and balancing it with a handful of “survival” jobs that actually applied the acting skills I learned in college, were now huge failures in my eyes. In a haze of Percocets and too many episodes of the Real Housewives franchise, I started applying for full-time corporate jobs. Like all of them -- in every industry and every job description. I didn't care if it matched my skillset or made sense at all, I just equated a corporate job with a new life of gall-bladderless stability. While applying, I had a thought: “Well, now I need a suit for all of these corporate job interviews I am going to have.” So I went to the sale section of J. Crew’s website and bought not one, but two, suits. This is exactly what I needed to recover from losing this not-so-vital organ. These suits will save me.

Flash forward: I never did go on any of those job interviews. My half-ass attempts at the applications got me no where. I also awoke from my new future self mentality and realized that those were not the jobs that I wanted to have. Not that there is anything wrong with a full-time corporate job, it just wasn't my life path. 

However, I kept the suits. They stayed hanging in my closet. When I would go in and reach for them, I tended to pair just the blazer with other items in my wardrobe. I wasn't doing this as an extreme fashion statement, it was more a form of assimilation. I was doing a bit of corporate storytelling work and conference presentations with Tell Me A Story, and figured I could only do this type of thing whilst wearing a blazer. Otherwise people would think I wasn’t a part of their world, that I was a phony. 

Ever since going full time with running TMAS as a service business, my modest collection of blazers has been on heavy rotation. I like them. They are what they are, but each time I put one on, it feels like some sort of shield protecting my true self from my perceived persona. There has always been a slight internal ick-factor when I show up to an event or workshop wearing one. 

Lately, I’ve been going blazer free (#businesswithoutblazers).  Yes, I know it’s 100 degrees in Philadelphia and everyone is wearing tank tops and shot sleeves, but the blazer-free choice goes beyond heat and humidity. Why would I shield who I am, when I am teaching others to take a leap and be fully themselves in their professional lives? The answer: I’m not going to any more. Even when I think a blazer is the perfect choice to go with my outfit, I will make that choice because I feel truly myself inside of it. And maybe this is the blazer that I truly need! 

I share this with you for a few reasons: 

  • Ask yourself what aspects of your life don’t feel authentically you. How can you change at least one of them? It could just be that you need an internal monologue/pep talk from your truest self.

  • Don’t be afraid to share stories from your life that feel vulnerable or embarrassing. I guarantee you that you are not alone, and that by sharing your story, you’ll help the person (or people) that are listening to you.

Networking as public speaking. 

I define public speaking as any time you are speaking to one or more people who aren’t your family or social circle. This includes phone calls with prospective clients, lunch meetings at work, and networking events. By thinking of networking as a form of public speaking you are raising the stakes of the introductions and conversations that take place. By raising the stakes, you should feel empowered to do a little bit of prep work before going to a networking event. This does not mean memorizing a script or a speech, but you can check in with yourself and decide how you’d like to introduce yourself, and if there is any specific ask or offer you can bring to the (wine and cheese) table. 

I like this idea that I read in Inc.: BAN ALL SMALL TALK!

Do you really want to talk about the World Cup? The heat wave? The weird bleeding plant burger you saw in your grocery store’s meat section? 

Read these articles (1 and 2) for conversation starter prompts and ways to reframe those conversations with strangers and business casual acquaintances. 

Inspirational Leader of the Month: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Last week, this 28 year-old won the primary for her Congressional District in NYC. She’s a woman! She’s a minority! She’s a millennial! People are going nuts over her win. And rightfully so, she is also in support of many initiatives and values that could really help our country in the near future. She also had killer branding for her campaign. I really loved her campaign ad. Beneath the schmaltzy music was a true message, a true passion, and a strength in her voice to match. There were also little sprinkles of personal narrative, which always makes us lean in to our laptops just a little bit further to listen. 

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Storytelling Hero of the Month: Hannah Gadsby

Another big win last week: Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s 70 minute Netflix special, Nanette. This piece changed me. It will change you. (TW: There is talk of abuse and violence in her show). 

I don’t want to give too much away, so please go watch it. However, I will leave you with this quote:

“Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine. I don’t want to unite you with laughter or anger. I just needed my story heard, my story felt, and understood by individuals with minds of their own. Because like it or not, your story is my story. My story is your story.”

And this one:

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This blog is a repost from the July installment of Hillary Rea's monthly newsletter, The Monthly Speak Up