Do what you do best
Don’t be mediocre.
If you need to get attention, the last thing you want to be is an average voice saying unmemorable things.
To avoid this trap, you need to focus on what you do best. It doesn’t matter whether this is something big (leader of the Free World) or small (tying really good knots.). What matters is that you have an expertise that certain other people value.
No matter how limited your abilities, if you keep chunking down the question of what you do well, you will get satisfying answers.
My friend, David Garber, has ALS. He can’t move his body or talk. But he is still one of the smartest people I know, and he has a laser-sharp wit. Since he lost the ability to use his body, he’s acquired another spectacular skill: the ability to inspire others with his tenacious will to live.
I recently received an email from David, which he “typed” through the use of an eye gaze interface. It was a long email, and it probably took him a week to type it. He used adjectives and adverbs. He made jokes.
I’m used to flying through emails, and have been known to miss a few critical messages. But I have read David’s email many times. David is great at inspiring me to be grateful for every moment I spend on this planet.
Whether your skill is drawing, carpentry, babysitting, listening, proofreading, or knitting… use it to reach out to others, and help them. There’s simply no excuse for thinking that you can’t do anything well.
Recently, I spoke with a guy who spent 15 years in Washington (the state) building and then running an outdoor rafting company. Mike just recently moved to Connecticut, where he is now launching a new career as a realtor.
Mike is trying to build his credibility online, and he has this thought that he can combine his outdoor adventurer life with his new tenacious realtor life. It’s not a bad thought.
The problem is that Mike only has 25 Twitter followers, and his realtor bio makes no sense, whatsoever; it sounds like he wants you to kayak over a waterfall with him instead of trust him to sell your house.
Mike and I discussed the small steps he needs to take before enjoying the career success he seeks:
● Make a list of 10-15 topics or phrases on which he wants to focus his online presence.
● Use this list to determine what he should – and should not – tweet about.
● Rewrite his bio so that his experience as an athlete and adventurer gives him more – not less – credibility as a residential real estate broker . (I helped him do this.).
● Attend numerous local events so that he broadens his personal relationships and increases his odds of securing listings.
● Hustle as much as he can to find deals, even if at first the best he can do is to refer prospects to brokers in other areas (He has many contacts in popular vacation resorts.)
Prior to our conversation, Mike was spinning his wheels. He was so eager to succeed in his new career that he skipped right past the small building blocks that required his immediate attention.
Instead of wondering why you have 20 Twitter followers instead of 200, make your own list of topics, and become a predictable source of good information on a narrow list of topics. People who care about these topics will eventually find you, even if progress at first seems a bit slow.
Focus on quality and steady progress. Don’t try to be an overnight sensation. People who rush or clamor for success often end up failing, or embarrassing themselves. We underestimate how true this is, because a very small number of such people end up making a very big splash.
The basics matter
Imagine two people a year out of college. Neither one has many business skills. They don’t know how to design, make, sell, or market products. They don’t know how successful companies operate, and barely understand how their new employer makes money.
Jeremy understands how to communicate, and he takes pride in everything that he does. When he writes an email home to his Dad, he proofs it before hitting “Send.” During his first months in the working world, he took pains to study the format of his company’s emails, reports, and promotions. He learned never to make a claim without citing facts to support that claim. He knows to use the fewest possible words while still justifying his opinions.
Tony is smarter and more ambitious than Jeremy, and he is eager to demonstrate just how bright he is. At every possible moment, he speaks up in meetings and rushes off replies to the hundreds of emails that cross his desk. People are impressed by his raw intelligence, but he already has a reputation as being a bit of a hothead. 75% of the time, his perspective is right, but 25% of the time, he is dead wrong, and in a highly visible manner. His emails are riddled with typos and missing words.
Did I mention that Tony is smarter than Jeremy? It won’t matter. In six months, Tony will be looking for a job, and Jeremy will be enjoying his first promotion. Jeremy understands that he has to get the basics right before he can aspire to higher achievements.
Don’t claim to be visionary. Don’t call yourself a thought leader. These are ridiculous statements that are nearly impossible to validate.
Only make claims you can prove.
You can claim that you doubled sales, but the claim will have much greater impact if your CEO is willing to be quoted saying that you doubled sales.
The more evidence you can cite, the better.
This does not just go for facts. It also applies to giving people the impression that you are a substantive professional.
If you just started a business and hired your first employee, take a picture of him or her, and post it online.
If you just moved into your first real office, take a picture, and post it online.
If you have a solid management team, put their photos and bios online.
Don’t ask people you do not know to take your word. Prove it.
It is very hard to be known for nothing.
I’m confident you will never see a tweet that says: John Doe is one of the best generalists I know. Hire him.
If you want to get the right kind of attention, you need to be known for something specific. This means you need to specialize.
This does not, however, mean you need to specialize in just one thing, forever.
Twelve years ago, I wrote a book on personalization. Last year, I co-authored one about the impact of disruptive innovation on customer experience. They are very different subjects, but in each case, I worked hard to master each subject before writing the books.
People love it when other people are easy to understand, so make it easy for others to understand what you are best at doing. I see plenty of tweets that say something like: How to Take Your Pinterest Engagement and Results to the Next Level. That’s specialization.
Tell the whole truth
When it comes to gentle self-promotion, most people say too little about what they have accomplished. This is a big mistake.
There are certain forums in which you have an obligation to tell the whole truth. These include your resume, bio, and any business-oriented social media profiles you maintain (i.e. your LinkedIn profile.).
By the way, if you don’t have a bio, you should. It includes some of the same information as your resume, but should be written in a narrative style. Imagine that you are giving a presentation; whomever introduces you should be able to read your bio as your introduction, and it should work perfectly.
In all of these forums, you need to be as specific as possible about your accomplishments. Here are some examples:
● Increased sales by 22% in my first year, by personally visiting customers instead of just calling them on the phone.
● Developed a new process for screening resumes that shortened the time needed to hire a manager from 75 days to 42 days.
● Won a Gold Award for Artistic Achievement from the Association of International Artists.
● To qualify for dual majors in Biology and Sociology, in six consecutive semesters, I took five courses instead of the normal four.
● To broaden my thinking and improve my writing, I read two books every week and wrote summaries that I posted on my blog, CoolBookSummaries.com.
Notice that each of these statements is specific, factual, and clear. Make it as easy as possible for others to grasp your accomplishments. This isn’t bragging; it is telling the whole truth.
For many months, I have been dreading this tip. Including it is like challenging you to find typos in my work. Let me take a deep breath and continue anyway…
When promoting yourself, don’t make mistakes. Don’t misspell words, include grammatical errors, or screw up the formatting of your documents. All of these give a horrible impression to people who do not know you.
It is HARD to be perfect. You can’t do it alone. I find it nearly impossible to proofread more than 500 words of my own writing, which is why I hire proofreaders. For personal documents, I often ask a member of my family to proof my work; then, I proof it myself.
An old boss of mine had a theory, which is that we don’t know why we form opinions about people, but we form them anyway. He meant that most of our inputs are comprised of subtle clues: how the person stands, the tone of their voice, whether they look you in the eye, how they dress, etc. The number and manner of your mistakes is another category of clues.
If you make mistakes in your resume or a cover letter for a job, you are not getting the job.
If you make mistakes in the copy for your web site, you are stacking up the odds against you. Careless mistakes are a big clue in the wrong direction.
Be there in tough times
Tough times present unique opportunities for human bonding. When under stress, we come together for support, but the long-term benefits may be even more important.
Social connection is essential not only to business and personal success, but also to longevity.
Author Brene Brown puts it this way, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
If this doesn’t sound like the kind of life you want to live, take every opportunity to strengthen your bonds with others. One of the best times to do this is when you and others are faced with adversity.
You remember the people who stand by your side when you need them most. When both my parents were sick with cancer, I was impressed beyond belief with those people who reached out to support my parents.
Those who helped did not necessarily come from the ranks of my parents’ close friends, some of whom simply drifted away. The people who helped had big hearts and a healthy dose of character. The, and tough times brought out the best in them.
Be someone whom your friends, family, and colleagues can trust to be there when they need you the most.
Use levels of substance
Way back in the early days of the Web, my alma mater launched a site called Knowledge@Wharton. Their approach was brilliant , and has resulted in a readership that today has grown to over 2 million professionals around the globe.
I’m going to paraphrase here what they did, which was to create four different levels of substance that readers could explore.
The first was a quick summary of a Wharton research finding or news item. This was a very quick read.
The second was a short article that added a bit of detail but still was an easy read.
Next came a detailed piece, perhaps an interview with a Wharton professor.
Finally, readers who were extremely interested could click through to read an actual research paper.
This is what I mean by “levels of substance.” Make it easy for people to dive deeper into the information you share, but also make it easy for them to get the basic idea in just a few seconds.
For example, I often do this by publishing an article on LinkedIn and embedding a 20-25 page SlideShare at the bottom of the article. Readers who found the article of special interest then have the option to open the SlideShare. I also tweet a few of the main points, to grab the attention of followers who are interested in today’s subject matter.
The Authenticity Condition
There’s an image etched into my brain, and it’s the sight of the road ahead rising up to Sunwapta Pass in the Canadian Rocky Mountains as our group of 16 riders pedaled towards it.
After climbing slowly for hours, we came around a corner and saw the final approach to the pass. The road turned 90 degrees and got dramatically steeper. Impossible, I thought. My legs were already toast. Flagging down the support van was always an option, but everyone kept going.
Fate smiled on us. As we turned up the steeper incline, the wind shifted to be at our backs. The ride was still hard, but it was doable. We all made it.
Let me be honest. This was no amazing feat. Real athletes ride further without even blinking. At the top of the pass, we had covered 65 miles since morning. But we were all just decent athletes, and I’m convinced that what kept us going was largely social influence; we were, as a group, committed to reaching the top of the pass.
Social influence is the power of people interacting authentically with other people.
It can be a wonderful force for good. It can help you work harder, persevere through tough challenges, and find comfort when you doubt yourself. But this mostly happens when the people involved voluntarily embrace what’s important to the group.
Social influence is a limitless source of energy for your career and life.
Social media is a category of services developed by companies. It sometimes – but not always – involves social influence.
You might call the difference the Authenticity Condition, which means that ‘liking’ is only powerful when people authentically like something. It’s why the social media efforts of so many companies are lame beyond belief. Although people will “like” lots of things to get a chance at winning a prize, they don’t actually care. That’s not social media; , that’s old-fashioned advertising online.
But if you can harness social influence behind something about which people deeply care, say, regaining their health or helping others in need… then you have a magnifying effect that boggles the mind. This is why I urge people to use social media with discretion, which generally means when the benefit to others outweighs the benefit to yourself.
Remember, to elevate social media to the heights of social influence, you must speak with an authentic voice.
Have one point
Does your writing get your point across clearly and effectively? If not, then here is a writing tip guaranteed to help. When I say “guaranteed,” I mean “very helpful but not actually guaranteed.” And yet, “guaranteed” sounds much more powerful and thus increases the odds that you will keep reading. Oh, darn – I’m wasting words again, which sort of is my point, but I made it too quickly, without giving you the backstory. Let’s try that again…
It is a well-known fact that no one knows more about effective writing than comedians who play the banjo and become directors. That’s one reason I drew my inspiration for this tip from Steve Martin’s very amusing book of his tweets.
I originally bought Steve’s book thinking that after a quick read, I, too, would become a very funny guy and attract a few million Twitter followers. That did not happen. After I closed the book, there was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Not one funny tweet emerged from my laptop, and I eventually returned the book to its honored position in our bathroom.
But Steve’s title stuck with me. It is The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten. The deliberate confusion got me thinking about how easy it is to get confused when you write. Instead of figuring out what you really want to say, you might tend to cram too much information into one document, whether that happens to be a memo, report, or presentation.
Here’s the rub: if you toss too much into one document, your primary message will get lost, mostly because you do not have a primary message.
The most effective way to get your point across is to focus on just one point.
To help me make my case, I went back into the bathroom and got Steve’s book. To be funny, Steve’s tweets need to focus (like a laser) on one idea, such as…
I just downloaded eleven hundred books onto my Kindle, and now I can’t lift it.
Steve did a whole series of tweets about Creepy Guy. One went…
Creepy Guy here fixing basement. Odd that he has to tie me up to do it.
Truth is, I don’t know how Steve managed to compose enough funny tweets to fill a book, although I suspect it has something to do with once having a “profession” that mainly consisted of trying to make grownups spew half-chewed food out of their nostrils.
In any event, Steve and I do have one thing in common. We think it is best to have one point, and to focus on getting it across effectively. Steve tweeted it this way…
Advice for writers: if you’re a writer, a real writer, a really, really real writer, like, REALLY a writer, you should not write a sentence like this one.
Minimize the trivial
To demonstrate a point, let me tell you a bit about why you might want to hire me as a social media expert:
In my freshman year of college, I answered an ad to hang pipes and curtains in the school’s new 2,000-seat concert hall. Once the theater was set up, I remained on the payroll and worked as a stagehand, lighting designer, and eventually a stage manager.
After college, I volunteered at WGBH/Boston, the public television station, until they finally found me a paying job. Over three years, I helped raise over $7 million to fund the development of new PBS programs. This was a wonderful experience, but working for a non-profit organization was not my long-term plan, so I applied to graduate school…
Are you ready to hire me yet? Or maybe your eyes are starting to water, and you are wondering when I am going to mention something – anything – that is relevant to why I might possibly be considered an expert in social media.
Many people, especially self-made entrepreneurs and older professionals, promote themselves in this fashion. They give you a chronological story of everything they have ever done. In the process, they waste your time and prove that you should NOT hire them.
Do not make this mistake. Only tell people what they need to know, to help you accomplish what is important to you. If you want someone to volunteer in your community organization, tell them about your community projects, not about what you do for a living. If you want a media outlet to write about your new and improved product, give them an interesting angle to capture their readers’ attentions. Minimize everything else.
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