After I wrote the first draft of this post today, I checked my email. A marketing coach was advising readers who were uncomfortable sharing a story of personal trauma.
“People want to see you as a kind, caring person,” she said (well, not exactly – I want to add an element of disguise). “So go ahead and share. You don’t have to tell us everything but even a small part of your story will be helpful.”
Yep…that’s my daily dose of cringe.
Every day my email inbox gets filled with personal stories that would be better left unshared. Raw details of a bitter divorce. Episodes involving misplaced underwear. Family members involved in illegal activity. Dark moments when nothing seemed worth waking up for.
OK, I rarely get all those stories every day…but there’s usually at least one.
People who are otherwise smart, savvy, streetwise business owners somehow share these episodes…because they’ve gotten really, really bad advice. They’ve gotten advice from coaches like the one I found today.
When I was new to the online world, before I understood business storytelling, I got the same advice. “Let your readers get to know you. Show how you were successful.”
So I did. My first website was about career change. I wrote about my own career trajectory. I talked about being willing to move for a more appealing opportunity. My mentors were delighted.
Then one day, a reader commented, “You’re awfully brave! You’re willing to leap without a net!”
Um…not exactly. I do have a high tolerance for risk but I actually had safety nets in place every time I moved. I knew what I’d do if things went wrong and I usually moved with a job waiting at the other end.
If someone asked me about sharing a traumatic personal story, I would share 3 guidelines.
1 – Start by asking, “What is the purpose of telling a story?”
If you want to communicate your expertise, your story might not involve you at all.
If you want to create a lot of buzz for a book, your story might be truly cringeworthy.
2 – Periodically test the waters to learn how listeners are reacting to your story.
People listen to your message through filters and values. When I told my story, I used the term “free spirit.” Some people hear that as “certified flake.” Some people hear that as “independent.”
I have a course on understanding your clients’ motivation (use code CLIENT30 for a 30% discount).
3 – Maintain your boundaries. Use stories to support your brand and drop stories that don’t – no matter how juicy. You’ll get advised to bare your soul – and you can hold firm. Bare only what’s comfortable! The air can be chilly.
If you weren’t accidentally beamed up to another planet, you know the buzz generated by the Harold & Meghan story..or rather stories, mostly shocking, scandalous, and TMI.
There’s no shortage of explanations. Is Harry still processing his emotions? Is Meghan manipulating him for her own ends?
I’d say it’s due to bad advice. The ghostwriter wants dramatic stories. So do interview hosts.
Business people also can be encouraged to share stories by well-meaning marketing coaches…as well as podcast hosts seeking a good story: “Tell us more about how that relationship went south.”
Remember: you don’t have to say yes. Get clear on your brand before you go live. Share only stories that support your brand.
Even mid-interview you can turn away a question with a joke or even say directly, “That’s not very interesting. Here’s a story about how I helped a client…”
It can be so tempting: “This is an opportunity to get in front of a big audience. I don’t want to upset the host.”
Never mind. A big audience means a big opportunity to get the word out about your brand…and an equally big opportunity to get misunderstood.