Here's the thing: I've watched many brilliant TED Talks. And I am sure there are many brilliant ones just waiting to be discovered. But I do not think that a TED Talk makes you a thought leader. I do not think that following a very rigid format is the best way to connect with your audience and communicate and idea that you are passionate about sharing.
I left college in NYC with a degree in Vocal Performance and crippling stage fright. For the first few years out of school I could hide from the fear because I wasn’t putting myself out there to be seen, judged, evaluated, or even praised. After one Summer of auditions, I took an office job and spent most of my free time at brunch, watching reality TV, and going to DJ nights.
Last week I moderated a panel discussion on developing your personal brand. There was a lot of debate amongst the panelists and audience members regarding how much we share from our personal lives when in a professional setting. Should you have two Instagram account? (My intern recently told me about FINSTA vs. RINSTA, and my mind was blown.) Do we stay buttoned up - both on the inside and outside - and keep our hobbies, passions, and feelings at bay?
Here’s my philosophy. Meld the professional with the personal. Be yourself and use storytelling as your guide. Here are six ways that crafting your personal narrative will help you professionally.
Storytelling is the future.
In Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, she says this:
For three days I sat and watched some of the most amazing and provocative talks that I've ever seen. After each talk, I slumped a little lower in my chair with the realization that in order for my talk "to work" I'd have to give up trying to do it like everyone else and I'd have to connect with the audience. I desperately wanted to see a talk that I could copy or use as a template, but the talks that resonated the most strongly with me didn't follow a format, they were just genuine. This meant I'd have to be me.
Though she is speaking about TEDTalks and that style of public speaking that people often feel the need to replicate or imitate, we wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment. And we think that Toastmasters leads to a need to make it “work”. Templates don’t work. Authenticity does.
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.
I’ve always had an urge to write a storytelling manifesto. Each time I’ve sat down to write, I’ve thought two things: “Where do I begin?” and “Why me?” With each ponder of these questions, I fold down my laptop, get a cup of coffee, and wander around my co-working space until I came up with something else to do. What's held me back wasn’t a lack of expertise on the topic, it was more the worry that if I put these thoughts down on paper, they will be set in stone. And that notion is terrifying. The concept and ideas behind the word storytelling have grown so much. Humans have a multitude of channels for communicating the moments and ideas they hold deep. How can I dig through all of this in just one document?
I work out five times a week. I’m not sharing this fun fact to brag or because there’s a correlation between physical exercise and storytelling. I’m telling you this because my exercise routine exposed a huge roadblock in the way that I communicate.
I go to an exercise studio on the 4th floor of an office building. The lobby is tiny with not too much foot traffic. The elevators are slow and I usually have a good five minutes of waiting for one to arrive. Peter is the front desk associate. He’s in his 50’s or 60s and is always smiling and says “Hi, how are you today?” In most situations, this question prompts me to launch into a story of how my day has actually been and then inviting a story a return.
One of my favorite things to do, when I’m at a conference or event, is to observe the people who are presenting. Sometimes they are referred to as “thought leaders” or “keynote speakers” or “esteemed guests”. Sometimes they are famous… or infamous. When this person is introduced - they are hyped up by the person who is hosting. There is a long list of credits, accolades, and other intimidating factors. All of this build up raises my expectations to extreme heights and I assume their presentation will knock me to the floor. This is an expert, they will inspire. Ultimately I’ll leave not only learning something new from them, but learning something new about myself. (#fitspiration, am I right?)
Back in 2013, I attended the first ever Bullish Conference in Miami, Florida. The website described the weekend as “a powerful summit for aspiring entrepreneurs, experts, and gentlewomen.” This conference was founded by Jennifer Dziura, the creator of Get Bullish. I found Jen’s articles at a time when I was torn between looking for a full time job in a field that I could care less about and committing to my career as a freelance teaching artist and performer.