(Photo courtesy of Charlene King)
(Photo courtesy of Charlene King)
As part of the build-up to my May 30th Keynote address at ACN's 30th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting, I took a minute to talk storytelling with ACN member Randy Ford of First Story Strategies. You can read the full interview here and enjoy some excerpt below.
ACN: Give us a sneak peek of what we’ll hear at the 30th Anniversary.
Ben: My real goal is to push everyone to question their self-awareness about their own story. Do they even think about how they describe themselves? And I’ll have some exercises we can do.
I hope people will step back and say, “Do I even know myself as much as I think?” Since I’ve been consulting full-time, I’m doing that all the time. I think it’s important as a consultant. Can you own your own story? Do you even know what it is? Can you articulate it?
*No, they didn't, but do feel free to file this under shameless self-promotion. Also, I'm really excited to be the keynote at the ACN's 30th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting on May 30th and if 30th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meetings are your thing, I do hope you'll join us...which you can learn more about here.
And, if you're looking for a keynote, and the following description sounds like your thing, please do give me a shout.
What’s your story and how do you make it work for you?
Ben will discuss how your personal career path and story shapes the types of clients and projects that you attract.
He will also talk about how to determine and develop your story, as well as how to use it effectively to promote yourself and attract the right clients and projects.
Everything you need to know about the how and where and registration (including the early bird price of $100 if you register before January 1st) for GET YOUR STORY DOWN can be learned here (though I am also providing you with a sneak peek below. So please do get learned and please let me know if you have any questions.
Who should attend?
What are the benefits?
What is the cost?
Really excited to lead a Personal Branding & Storytelling Workshop for Content Academy from 10-3 on November 3rd. It costs $199 and you can learn way more about all of that here. You can also get some description below. And you can definitely give me a shout if you have any questions about any of it.
"Are you a small business owner, career-changer, creative strategist or writer looking to craft a personal narrative and tell your story in a way that engages the public? Then please join us for this hands-on workshop where you will learn how to manage your message, build your brand through storytelling and create a framework for executing a social strategy."
May we begin with a story?
Great, thank you.
The other day I had the following exchange with my younger son:
Him: "Do you still go to an office?"
Me: "If someone asks me to come in for a meeting I do."
Him: "Like you used to do though, like its work?"
Me: "I think so, sort of?"
Him: "Are they clients?"
Me: "Yes they are, exactly."
Him: "So it is work?"
Him: "Good, you seem happier."
And I am.
It's been just over six months since I went out on my own, partially by choice, and a lot not by choice, not really, which means that in terms of the laws of personal branding, entreprenuership and self-promotion, it's time to reflect on what I've learned, how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking as I look to the future.
(1) Working at home, which was not a completely foreign concept to me is great. I really enjoy the energy and flow of the day, but... when you work at home, people like to think since you're at home you can take care of things that need to be taken care of that have nothing to do with work, because you know you're at... home. Which is not to say I don't like the freedom of folding laundry during a conference call or running to the supermarket during a break, but it also suggests that there is a reasonable argument for finding office space of some kind.
(2) I can just as easily lose myself in hours of work as I did during my days working to 9-5, but disruptions feel really disruptive now. It may be that was true when I worked in an office as well, but I don't remember it that way. Being home it's so much easier to drift from a personal call or other distraction to the couch, kitchen or the internet, briefly losing myself in reading news feeds as opposed to getting back to work. This is very much about flow, and it now requires more attention, and maintenance, to achieve it. This applies as well when I take a day off, or travel for a gig, the rhythm of the day and the regular flow of my work is wholly disrupted and it now takes that much more time to find it again.
(3) Speaking of the day, there almost never feels like there is a natural stopping point or a reason not to work every day of the week. Or late into the night. Sometimes I stop because there's no choice, I fall asleep, there are plans, and nothing else will get done, but these days, it always feels like a trade-off. Why not put in another hour or get-up early on Sunday? I did it for years when the kids were little so I could write, so why not do the same as I try to build a business? Why not indeed? That said, I also find that when I do stop, or decide not to re-start late at night, the work still gets done. This shouldn't surprise me, I've always gotten the work done, and that hasn't changed, and so maybe its okay to just say enough, today, for now, and maybe I need to trust in that more.
(4) Still, Mondays are still Mondays. There remains a sense of feeling overwhelmed as the week takes off whether I work every day or not and I'm in an office or not. And yet, Sundays are no longer Sundays. Over the years whether I worked on Sunday or not, a kind of dread would build throughout the day, a pre-sense of being overwhelmed about what was to come. But not any more. I flow from day to day now, and yes Mondays suck for a minute, but that's because everyone else is getting started and I have to ride their wave of energy and not mine.
(5) My relationship to Mondays isn't the only thing that's changed, my relationship to money has as well. And not just the ever more conscious pursuit of it, which is certainly a thing, or getting it when someone owes it to me, but the actual ebb and flow, that word again, of it into and out of our house, and how and when things get paid for. I had stopped thinking about this, that movement. I lived with someone who cared, and I got lazy. But now I can't be, or don't want to be. I need to know when invoices go out because I worry about when the bills, and payments, are coming in, how they compliment eachother in term of timing, and how it all works day to day and month to month. It's inspiring, more like coming to know the parts of a machine, or an organism, living and breathing, and I'm feeding it. I always cared, but it was in an abstract way. No more.
(6) Even that isn't the most profound change I've encountered though. When I started being at home most of the time, I found myself struggling to follow what was being said and asked of me. I live with people who talk fast, sometimes as they're walking away and down the hall and on to the next thing, but it immediately felt like a concern. And it was. As I initially sought, and failed at, the more full-time work opportunities I pursued prior to all of this, I had some struggles following directions, and making sense, of things. It was confusing to me. That had never really happened before, and while I believe there are myriad reasons for some of that, once home, it became obvious that there was an actual problem. That problem is my hearing. And so, if I haven't seen you recently, or you haven't noticed my hearing aids, know that this has been going on for some time, and I especially have problems with high pitched tones, particularly the voices of women and children. Jokes aside, I've been missing a lot of conversations for some time now, though I have no idea how long, and if you think I didn't do something you asked me to do during the last year or so, it's possible I didn't hear you, but was nodding because I was confused and embarrassed as to why I wasn't following the conversation. To be honest, I didn't know I was doing it, but I do now, and I'm doing a lot less of it. I'm also happy to talk further about if you are so inclined.
(7) Related to this in a way, but not exactly, is that I have spent a lifetime using self-deprecating jokes to deflect things that embarrassed me, to manage-up, to not try and sound like a know-it-all or even just be funny. I like being funny. However, as opposed to my now long-time and now long lost job, self-deprecation didn't seem to work as well at the newer jobs I tried, and then one day during the last six months, a client told me to drop it. He said it made me look less confident, and that I lacked swagger. And he wanted swagger. So, I'm working on dropping it in work situations. Maybe you've noticed, and if so, I'd love to hear what you think. I'm not sure I'm sold on this as a necessity, but there is something liberating about it. Own your confidence, and don't be a dick, but don't be embarrassed about your ideas either. I never thought I was, and I've always been vocal, but it's worth thinking about this as I move from place to place and opportunity to opportunity. I'm no longer quite as static, and maybe concentrating on swagger is a necessity.
(8) It's also ever more clear to me that if one is out in the world and selling themselves, they are the product, and like any product, one needs to be able to package it, provide a framework, let people know what they can expect, when and how they will receive it and what it will cost them. I'm working on this now as well, thinking it through and trying to define what I've been doing and what I want to do. All of that is coming. There are frameworks that are emerging organically and I'm going to formalize them, offer them to the world and call it a business.
More on that soon.
(9) I will say this now though, the best, unexpected part of being out on my own has been opportunities to coach, both authors wanting to create, or restructure their books, as well as small businesses and career changers wanting to talk about branding and language and organizing their thoughts. It's been wonderful and I'm really good at it. I also recognize now that I always wanted to do this kind of thing, that I wanted to help people get unstuck and tell their stories, be strategic, and an ideas guy, taking so much of what I did well in partnerships and office situations over the years, but was somehow embarrassed to say that out loud.
Not any more. I'm giving it a name, it's coaching and I'm digging it.
And now for a call back, or a book-end to all of this, another story ayway before I go... for now.
When I first went out on my own, I was at a networking event and I had the following conversation with some guy:
Him: "So you're out on your own, huh?"
Me: "Yes, I guess so."
Him: "Things weren't going well for you were they?"
Me: "I guess not, but why do you say that?"
Him: "Because people don't go out on their own when things are going well."
I never thought about it that way, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. Things not going well are a big part of my story recently, but that doesn't mean I can't tell a different story, or at least change the narrative. That's the plan anyway, and I'm in it, now, and as my son pointed out, I'm happier.
So, as I said, more soon, and if you want to talk about any of this, let me know, I would be thrilled to do so.
You can learn much more about the most wondrous Northwestern University’s 2018 Summer Writers’ Conference here.
<Early Bird Registration extended through Sunday, July 15th>
It's an honor to be part of what Roger is building at American Real, so, please do take a listen and please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions about any of it.
I recently had the great honor of leading my ever-evolving, when not always life-changing Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop. This version ran three hours and was hosted by the quite awesome Modern Capital Concepts. In this workshop we cover a lot of interesting ideas, we talk and connect, a lot, and we do a lot of work. Many workshops, and many I've led myself, involve a preponderance of presenting and large group conversation, punctuated by bursts of exercises and small group breakouts, but in talking to Khloe Karova, Modern Capital Concepts fearless leader, I decided invert that model, and focus on intensely engaging exercises and small group discussions punctuated by presentation and conversations with the larger group. What I found... no surprise, is that people want to connect, and they want to learn from one another. They also want to be heard. Well that, and they already possess insights into their voice and personal narrative... they just don't necessarily see it, yet. They've buried that voice and the language that accompanies it under more formal words and thinking. Or they may be scared, or tentative, to embrace it, and who they are. All of which is to say, that there was lots of good energy and good stuff, you can learn more about the Agenda here and you are always welcome, encouraged even, to contact me if you want to discuss any element of the workshop further, especially though most definitely not limited, to hosting, and as needed, adapting a Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop for yourself and your colleagues, friends, family or peers. And all that said, I now want to take a moment to expand on some of the thoughts contained in this paragraph and share some takeaways and observations from what was a truly dynamic workshop that I am greatly appreciative to have played a role in guiding.
How can I be my authentic self?
Authenticity may be a current buzzword, but that doesn't mean it isn't an important concept for us to tangle with and one the participants found themselves returning to again and again. I should note here, that I designed the early versions of this workshop with authors in mind, but it neatly aligns with the needs of those launching small businesses as well. So, how do they, you, me, be authentic self? By embracing the self you are and not the version you wish you could be. That doesn't mean we can't always be striving to be better or different, but knowing who you are, owning it, and stripping away your desires to be something else, is where you start.
How can I differentiate myself?
You have to understand where the gaps are in terms of work or publishing and figure out whether you have the skills and experiences to fill them. But I also believe this begins with knowing your personal narrative and story, what differentiates may be skill and experience on the one hand, but it's also the journey you've been on to become that person, and being able to articulate your successes and failures, your influences and inspirations.
What is the "Ask?"
In a former life I worked with the public policy staff in my office and one key lesson I learned from them is that you never show-up at a meeting without an ask in hand. There is an expectation that you want something and you've been thoughtful in determining what you want. It's no different with every meeting you take as your build your business. Nothing is more valuable than time and there is no bigger waste of time than not knowing what you hope someone can do for you, and when possible, what you can do for them.
How do I prove my credibility?
One thing I've learned in recent months is that first step towards proving your credibility is putting yourself in situations where you can thrive and the second step is going into those situations with confidence and swagger. I'm a proponent of being transparent and honest with yourself about what you're good at it, and not, but once you've decided what you're capable of doing, step in, all-in, and don't step out until you're successful at ti. That success will only further burnish your credibility.
How vulnerable should I be?
The misnomer is that we are not to show weakness, no flaws or failures, but when you make these setbacks part of your story, when you own them, and learn from them, you grow and people will embrace you for it. What your connections and clients don't want is false bravado, and the lack of there there. It comes back to being the authentic you, and again embracing who you are and bringing it to the table.
Do I let people know I feel passionate about my work?
Yes, always, as with vulnerability, we can shy away from what we are passionate about, and what excites us, but there is no success without passion. Our responsibility to ourselves is to determine what we are passionate about, do everything we can to make that our work and let people see the passion that is driving us. It will be contagious and that's how we build our connections and businesses, and even find our authentic selves.
How do I find my voice?
You keep talking, and pitching, testing new language and ideas, and refining, rinse, repeat, asking those you trust, and everyone else, if what you're saying rings true to them. You also have to continually ask yourself if what you're saying rings true to you. I would suggest that you know it when it doesn't, that it feels false, or lacking, more dream than reality. But that's why we talk to others, especially those who can be truthful with us.
How can I make connections?
You have to be out in the world, lunches, meetings, trainings, drinks, informational interviews, work events, using LinkedIn to find those who are like-minded or who you emulate, and then you follow-up and you go to their office, or buy them coffee, or both, and when they need something you provide it, and you follow-up with their requests and recommendations, and some things work out and others don't, and the things that don't you try to make sense of, but either way, you keep pushing.
You also give me a shout so we can talk further, but I think I already mentioned that.
Or so I'm told... Please do find out much more about my May 18th Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop (hosted I should add by the quite kick-ass Modern Capital Concepts, Inc.) here and please let me know if you have any questions or want to host a workshop for yourself.
I was invited to lead a memoir writing workshop for a group of teenagers on a recent Sunday afternoon, but I'm not so sure anyone was asked to sign-up, or even that it was quite advertised, which is to say that it's possible that no one showed-up. Okay, no one showed-up, but that doesn't mean I hadn't borrowed some cool ideas and exercises for the workshop from the storytellers that come speak to the class I teach - Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, or that I can't share the outline with you. More importantly, as I prepared the outline I was struck that from a storytelling perspective, this outline could easily be adapted for individuals and organizations looking to explore their stories, and reflect on not just what makes them them, or what inspires them, but what they might focus on as they look to the future and what comes next.
First, begin by clearing some space in whatever space you're in, give people room to move around, get physical, blood flowing, and connecting with the energy of the room and one another.
Places of Origin
Think of the room as the world and ask people to go to the part of the world where their family is from. Don't limit them to the places they or their parents were born or moved from. Or even the place where their grandparents came from. Ask them to think about the places of origin they associate with their families, and the origin stories that have been passed along to them. And then ask them their associations with those associations. What do they think they know about place however they define it, and their place in it? How did they get from there to here, the journey, the decisions? What drove those who came before them?
Next, ask the participants, assuming you have some, to line-up to one side of room. Tell them that where they are standing is when they were born. Have each of them tell you in 30 seconds the story of their birth based on the stories they were told by family, whether it's their biological or adoptive family, or the family they've built for themselves.
After that, you, or me in this case, stand on other side of the room, and announce what the moment is right then, both the date and time.
Identify a small group of participants to walk towards you, and say to them by name, if that moment is your birth and this moment is now, you are walking across your life and everything you've experienced - crying, laughing, heartbreak, love, loss - and this point - and then you point - is when you were 5, 10, 15 years old and so on. Now give yourself ultimate permission to think about what comes to you, and resonates with you, about what was happening then.
Remind them that everything they've ever experienced is available to use and that personal narration is full of life experiences. Then have them walk to that age, and while they don't need to tell the room everything, ask them to share their story for 30 seconds.
For the next small group, share some prompts: Go to the moment that rocked your world. Go to the moment that changed your life. Go to that moment where you learned a lesson. Coach them to try to focus on place, to put themselves back in that moment, and then have them walk towards that moment and tell you 30 seconds about it.
After you're done engaging everyone, take a moment to have them assess the experience, how it felt, what they learned, and always taking a moment to reflect.
Now have the participants form two circles, and if the group is really big, multiple circles, but the idea is that there is a circle of participants facing outward, and another circle circling them, standing face to face, and facing inward.
Start by having the members of the inner circle tell whatever story has captured their imagination, the moment, and what has come to them since the exercises began to the person facing them in the outer circle. Remind them to think about dialogue, what rooms look like, smell like, who was there, their stories too, and to think about contect and texture.
Give them two minutes.
Then have the inner circle rotate one person over and tell the same story again to someone new, but now give them one minute. Encourage them to concentrate on what's most important to the story they want to tell. What's the actual story? Which details, characters, feelings, and conversations are most pertinent?
After that, its the outer circle's turn. Two rotations, rinse, repeat.
And then take a moment to have the participants reflect, again, this time as both storyteller and listener. What worked, what didn't, what did you want to know more or less of?
All of it.
Now we write. Ten minutes. Again, whatever story resonates most with the participants, have them channel it, and write it, no editing, just writing.
Maybe though nothing has quite resonated yet, or inspired them, maybe this has been a warm-up for the story they most want to tell, which is great. But maybe that story hasn't taken form yet. The idea is to liberate these ideas, to take action, to keep pushing, and so give them more prompts - one of the happiest days they can remember; their first crush; when they learned to do something new; when they were scared but overcame it.
Just write, feel something and seek to capture it in words, and on paper.
And then, and again, assuming you have participants to share their work, ask each person to read what they wrote, and the group to share their thoughts on that work.
I always encourage people to share something positive first, but then be thoughtful, push people, offer constructive comments about the characters, and point of view, what made sense or didn't, the gaps, and issues around continuity.
At this point, we would be done. People would have been on their feet, talking, sharing ideas, moving, digging, reflecting, and writing.
They would leave with a story, and if the day went really well, stories.
But that would be it.
And that would be cool.
But in preparing for this workshop and mixing and matching these different ideas, I started thinking about how this kind of exercise will benefit writers, but my initial interest in these exercises was in helping my Loop 202 students learn their stories.
We only brief touch on these exercises in class, but why couldn't there be an extended stand-alone session such as this for any individuals who are looking to better tell their own stories as they think about work and what makes them happy?
Further, and full-disclosure, this has very much been on my mind lately, how do we even know if we are on the path we want to be on professionally?
Are we happy, effective, and motivated by our work?
Are we energized?
When's the last time you asked yourself that? I've been thinking about this alot, and if you aren't certain how to ask yourself that question, or even how to start, why not engage in a series of exercises like these that focus on your origin stories?
With some tweaks they could be focused on work. Instead of your place of birth for example, what was the first place you ever worked? And what if we asked ourselves not what was our happiest day in general, but what was our happiest day at work?
Do you know even know the answer to the latter question? Might you want to find out?
I know that in personally exploring these questions, much of what I have been doing recently is not what made me happiest and most energized earlier in my careet when I first started finding some direction and my voice.
How do I, you, get back to those things? The first step is making sure you recognize them for what they are and why they meant something to you.
Further though, why stop with individuals?
I've worked with many organizations over the years who no longer quite realize, or recognize, who they are, or why they're doing what they're doing, much less how they got there?
Couldn't we adapt exercises like these for the individuals running these organizations, inviting them to spend time reflecting on their organization's origin story, it's history and timeline, what happened when. What it felt like? What energized the staff? Why people want, or wanted, to come work? What the organization did well and may have gotten away from?
I'm sure we can and I think this would be really cool, and really doable. I'm still thinking about what it could look like, but if you have ideas about this, or interest in making something like this happen, and you want to talk about it with me, let's do that.
Just give me a shout, share your thoughts, and we will get down to business.