Storytelling has become a core element of professional brand and branding. And storytelling, we often hear, involves some element of the personal, even if we’re trying to be professional.
“Be vulnerable” has become conventional wisdom. It seems like every day someone’s telling us, “Make sure you come across as human,” or, “They want to believe there’s a real person behind your website.”
The result? We’re learning a lot of personal information about strangers. Almost every Ted talk begins with a story, usually presenting the speaker as vulnerable. They made a mistake that should have been career-ending but managed to turn things around. They found success by mistake. They’re still scared.
But revealing yourself carries a risk. When you share on the Internet, you’re one step from appearing on a reality show. You can’t always anticipate your audience’s response. Some people’s revelations can only be described as cringe-worthy.
So how do you come across as human but still stay credible?
(1) It’s okay to be vulnerable … if you’re looking in the rear view mirror.
Psychologists have found that when a really successful person comes across as vulnerable, that person will be respected and appreciated. But if someone who’s less than successful uses the same tactic, it will backfire, especially when you’re trying to create a professional bran.
So when a movie star says, “Um. .. I feel a little scared,” she gets a warm response. A novice speaker would do better to come across as confident even if he’s quaking in his boots.
A seasoned professional at the top of his career shares stories of dropping his cell phone. Everyone chuckles, relieved to hear he’s human. A newly minted entry level person in the same field would make people wonder, “If he can’t hold onto his phone, can I trust him with my problem?”
(2) Anticipate the reaction of your audience to the various stages of your hero’s journey.
Your personal story often becomes your professional brand, as your audience remembers, “he’s the one who … ”
Struggle isn’t always seen as admirable. When you say, “I struggled for years…” you might be viewed as slow to catch on.
(3) Use stories to communicate your expertise in a matter-of-fact way.
One business owner wrote a story about buying a new car. She showed us she’s successful (not that anybody doubted) and she showed herself as a thrifty, three-dimensional person who’s not parading her own success by adding a few details (“first car in twenty years”).
(4) For social media, pick 3 to 5 areas that you’re going to post to show your personal side. Your audience will be relieved and eager to engage when you choose topics that stimulate conversation and even create warm and fuzzies, if they’re genuine.
I picked WNBA basketball, animal rescue and Philadelphia. Occasionally I talk about comedy or pottery. Some people choose topics like gourmet cooking, football and camping.
Travel can be a good topic but can backfire. Here you’re sharing your first class journeys to exotic destinations while your tribe has been trying to earn enough to upgrade their desktop computer.
Families, grandchildren and romance? A judgment call. Families come in different flavors these days.
(5) When you ask for empathy, you ask for energy. When you share stories of illness or loss, your readers may feel concerned and compassionate. But they can also feel drained. Then they feel guilty about not caring as much as they should, which is even more stressful.
If you’ve got a loyal following that’s already drawn to you, your news might be more effective in your ezine than your blog or social media shares. People who feel they know you and who think you’re a genius (see #1) will view you even more favorably. They don’t need to be sold on your professional brand.
Two years ago when my wonderful cat Ophelia died, I posted on my dog’s blog, but decided not to share with Facebook or even my email list. Most of my Facebook friends don’t know me that well and they certainly didn’t know Ophelia.
I did post some photos of our newest family member, Pumpkin, and suspect some readers might have wondered, “Where did she come from?” But nobody asked and I figured they got all the info they wanted and maybe more.
Looking for more ways to turn your personal story into your professional brand? Click here for a FREE report: 4 case studies of successful story branding .
And check out my Udemy course on storytelling. Get a significant discount with this link.