The Ultimate Expert

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STERN WARNING

Not me. You.

OK, me. But it’s me, telling you it’s you.

But wait – before both our brains boggle themselves into total fritz-out, let me backtrack just a tad.

Last month, and against all common sense (it was just before Christmas) I ran my inaugural Content Marketing Strategy for Small Business workshop which, by the way, was a great success as well as being brilliant. Throughout the six hours we were together, I took participants through the basic principles of content and engagement: getting to know your market and audience intimately, and planning for the content that is most useful to them, at the best time for them, in a way that will also benefit the business. And content marketing is all about getting to know that market and audience, what with the customer profiles, demographics, buyer personas, and everything short of a palm reading for every customer who walks through the door. A pretty clear message. Or so I thought. Close to the end of the workshop, one of my awesome participants asked, “So… what kind of content should I have?”

My mouth dropped, albeit briefly, because hadn’t I just spent six hours taking her through the process of getting to know her market and audience, and the content she should provide for them? I had, and after checking in with her, I realised that she got it. So what was the issue? It was that because I was delivering the workshop, and I was the “expert” in the room, she thought I would know better than she did what her market and audience would need and want.

I don’t. That’s where my expertise ends. And if you are listening to experts telling you what to do with your business, you should know, very clearly, where their expertise ends and yours begins.

The cult of the expert is everywhere, and it’s easy to slavishly follow what the expert says. But take note that the expert doesn’t know your business, or your market and audience, like you do – unless you’ve hired her to do so.

A day or two after this workshop, I was on LinkedIn where a contact shared an article about how it’s vitally important that every business’s social media strategy be mostly composed of pictures, because graphics have so much more engagement. Every business, the article said. And there’s my LinkedIn contact innocently sharing the article, not taking into account that its subtext is, “I know your market and audience better than you do”.

Sure: people like it when I put pix up on my social media. They like them, and engage with them, but are graphics really what they want and need? And more importantly for my business, does it tell them anything about me, my brand, and my ability to do the job that they might one day want me to do? Because pictures may be nice, but I’m out there earning a crust as a communication specialist: people need to know that I can write and communicate worth a damn, that I have a couple of brain cells to rub together, and that I can come up with an original idea now and then. I know my market and audience – they’re my people, and I’ve spent considerable time and energy getting to know them – far better than the expert who wrote this article. So while she may well be an expert, she’s not an expert on my people and what they need from me. That, in a nutshell, is knowing where her expertise ends, and mine begins.

Where does my expertise – and that of other “experts” – end, and yours begin?

Do you know your people? Who are they? I don’t mean just as a market and audience, but on a real, human level? Have you taken the time to get to know them – if not all, then at least a goodly number – and to ask them what they need from you? Do you keep an eye on your stats and metrics, to check what brings people to you, and what makes them run away? Have you got some buyer personas that will help you create an accessible, engaging voice your people will respond to?

If you have, and you do, you’re an expert. And if you haven’t and don’t, then become one. It’s simple, and you know what? It’s a privilege to know your people so well. When you do, even if there’s a time that you need to bring the expert in, you can work as equals, shoulder to shoulder. And that’s good for you, and good for them.

Trust me on that one. I’m an expert.


 

Photo credit © everett225 via DepositPhotos
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An Opinionated Dame’s Advice On Absolutely Everything You Should Be Doing

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Dear Abby

 

Well. Almost everything.

And the opinionated dame? Me.

Here it all is: my best advice for 2015, shortened to a few words that will get 2016 cranking for you.

  • Unless you have trust, you’re dead where you stand.
  • If you’ve gone to the trouble of creating personas, don’t just let them sit there: tell their stories.
  • Cultivate your damn voice.
  • … unless you need to make something up to someone. If you do, don’t be a jerk.
  • Also jerky: either paying for, or offering, a $15,000 program for writing your own business book. Don’t do it.
  • If you don’t know why anyone should care about what you’re trying to say, you’re just being self-indulgent. Quit it.
  • It’s never too late to make a difference in someone’s life. Start now.

 

See you all in 2016! Happy New Year!

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Lies, damned lies, and Serena and Essena

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Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.35.50 pm

It was a week where Insta-famous teenager Essena revealed the reality behind her oh-so-perfect image: starvation, photo altering, depression, tanties, desperate approval seeking, et al. And Serena Williams proclaimed she was a superhero for hunting down the thief who stole her phone, until CCTV footage revealed that events weren’t as dramatic as she had described.

Lies. Damned lies. All of it.

Or were they?

I had a student who loved calling my course in creative writing, “Learning to tell lies”. He got this from something I taught the class, and that most storytellers will defend to the death: truth is sacrosanct, and facts are dispensable. And it is quite in order to sacrifice facts in order to get at a fundamental, emotional truth.

Forsooth!

Yes, yes, absolutely shocking. Until, of course, you fully understand that everything we tell and write is recreated. We can’t transfer experiences straight into people’s brains, so recreation it is, and while we’re recreating, we might as well concentrate on the details that are meaningful.

And people don’t find meaning in facts. They find meaning in truth.

Truth, not fact, is what will make most parents nod in sympathy when you say, “My kids are driving me crazy.”

Lookit: there are no facts in that sentence.

My – Not yours. Human beings haven’t belonged to other human beings since we abolished slavery.

Kids – They are children, not baby goats.

Driving me – How can you be driven? Are you a car? And if you can be, surely you drive yourself?

Crazy – No, you’re not, and even if you were, “crazy” is neither a legal or medical term.

But perhaps “The actions of the children I bore are making me feel as though my sanity is temporarily compromised” doesn’t quite cut it.

Metaphors, similes, hyperbole, idioms, onomatopoeia, exaggeration, omission, generalisation are tools of fiction that help us get to the core of truth of the factual thing that happened.

And the results are glorious.

“I was eleven months pregnant.” – Erma Bombeck

“The world had taken a deep breath and was having doubts about continuing to revolve.” – Maya Angelou

“When I go to the swimming pool, I take my glasses off, and I can’t even see where the WATER is. One time I almost killed myself in an unfortunate little incident involving a glorious swan-dive and a blue picnic blanket.” – Danny Katz

These are fictional sentences in non-fiction pieces. But if you’ve ever been heavily pregnant, or aware of witnessing an important event, or if you’re near-sighted, those sentences will make the bell of truth ring deep inside you.

Business storytelling these days is, well, big business. Many – me included – teach workshops and write blogs on how to do it, but really, it always comes down to this one thing: presenting your audience with truth.

Which is why the people looking at the CCTV footage of Serena Williams and going, “But it didn’t happen the way she said!” are missing the point, or at least suffering a chronic lack of imagination. Guys, guys, guys – she’s not a journalist reporting on the scene. She merely told a story, with an embedded metaphor, to reveal a truth: that we must all get in touch with the superhero inside. Stories aren’t for information – we read them and listen to them partly to learn something about the storyteller, but mostly to learn something about ourselves. Which is why, as I put on my Wonder Woman tights of steel, I don’t care to nitpick over whether Serena ran after the thief or walked.

What drives the truth home isn’t just the story, however: it’s being willing to stand or live by those truths.

And this is where Essena failed.

Unlike Serena’s story, Essena’s six years on Instagram weren’t an exercise in getting at an emotional truth for others’ benefit. They were an exercise in narcissism and self-aggrandisement. Very sad, particularly given that she started seeking our approval when she was only 12 years old, but narcissism and self-aggrandisement nonetheless. More importantly, however – because there certainly are, and have been, many narcissists whose stories we treasure – she did not live the truth of the story she told. Her message on Instagram was, “Love your body, treat your body with respect” while hating her own body, and mistreating it. There was no story there. Just lies. (That said, there’s been emotional truth aplenty since Essena has started to redress this imbalance.)

When you tell your stories, focus on the emotional truth. And make sure you and your business stand or live by those truths. Because Serena Williams may only be a metaphorical superhero, but we all know that she sure as hell could have pummelled that guy into the ground.

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