Beth Noymer Levine, Founder & Principal, SmartMouth Communications
You’ve created something really amazing. Everyone wants to know more. The story of your success, how you got there, and what’s next draw entrepreneurial curiosity-seekers and other interested parties like flies to flypaper.
So, what do you tell them? What’s your narrative? Do you have your usual spiel all dialed in? Is it something that rolls off your tongue without you having to think about it too much? Perhaps most important, though, is it strictly about your venture or is it also about you, the leader?
Take a second to think about this.
The usual entrepreneurial narrative – dare I say, the “fallback” – is the one you might have generated for the VC community or for Wall Street, or it’s the one your marketing peeps crafted for promoting your products and services. Or maybe it’s a combination of those two. Either way, it’s probably great, but it’s not enough going forward. It’s actually not inspiring enough.
Audiences, and your stakeholders in particular, crave a more earthy, gritty, revealing, and more personal articulation of the journey. They want to feel it, feel a part of it, and they want to be inspired – by you, the leader.
To that end, you should begin to think about opening up and sharing your vulnerability as well as your passion – for example, what makes you doubt yourself and what makes you tick, what scares you and what excites you.
Here are some questions to prompt your thinking:
- What was my worst fear when I started this?
- What was my worst moment?
- Where did I most go right/wrong?
- Where did I overshoot/undershoot?
- What was my biggest surprise?
- What do I love to do every day?
- What do I love most about this project/company?
- What have we forgotten/underemphasized?
- How have the people I work with impacted me personally/professionally?
- How has this venture exceeded my expectations?
- What is my greatest wish for this enterprise?
The answers to these questions will provide you with verbal assets you can use in a variety of ways. For example, you might need an attention-grabbing opening for a speech you’ve been asked to make and – rather than the standard introductory remarks or polite niceties – you begin with a story about the very worst moment you experienced in starting up your business. Boom! They’re listening intently and you’ve instantly made yourself memorable (not to mention, likeable).
Or let’s say you’re about to open an all-hands meeting of your employees and you have had the nagging sense that, while you know you have a killer team, there’s been some complacency setting in. Complacency is the kiss of death, right? You, as the leader, have the opportunity to reignite people’s sparks and turn things around by digging deep and sharing what you love to do every day, what excites you about coming to the office, what you love most about the project or the company. Or you could even share how you feel about them, your killer team – not superficially, but deeply – and remind them of their higher purpose and their value to the operation. This approach trumps a numbers presentation every day, no doubt about it.
The answers to the questions above can also provide you with sound bites you can use to weave into an existing presentation or even to build an entire talk around. Think about this as you being transparent, but on steroids: being as open with your thoughts and feelings as you are with information.
There’s a lot of chatter about the effectiveness of storytelling, both the wisdom and the science behind connecting with audiences by using stories. Everyone loves a good story, because everyone loves to be entertained. Your dreams, nightmares, successes, failures, passions and fears all make great story material, and sharing them will allow audiences to feel very much a part of your journey.
There’s a lot to be gained – and nothing to be lost – by using your story, your narrative, and engaging your audiences and stakeholders on a deeper level. Make a note of the reactions and comments you get from people after you share more of yourself. I’m willing to bet it will result in greater buy-in and engagement – from employees, investors, customers, and even vendors and partners.
[Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
About the Author
Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The author of Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World and founder of SmartMouth Communications (smartmouthgroup.com), Levine is also the creator of the 5-star-rated iOS mobile app SmartMouth Public Speaking Toolkit (app.lk/smartmouth). She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and events nationwide.