I had the opportunity this past week to speak to a group of entrepreneurs about personal branding. As you might imagine, I was delighted to share my experience and its significance with the large crowd. Much like a prizefighter, I was warming up back stage, as I was getting ready to deliver a knock out talk to a packed room.
Shortly after I began, an older man in the back of the room raised his hand with a question. He asked, “Is this personal branding stuff nothing more than me just setting up a Facebook page and doing some of the Twitter stuff?” I could not help but laugh to myself at the timing of his question. It occurred to me at that moment that the direction that I was about to head with my talk would have been a complete disaster. Why? I assumed that this group had a reasonable grasp on what personal branding was and were more so looking for some specific ways to leverage their brands to drive more exposure, attention and differentiation in the marketplace. I had planned to discuss and highlight all the great tools now available do build a bulletproof brand. I was fortunate to get that question early in my talk as I was about to take these folks on a road trip along an unpaved highway.
The majority of the group had no real concept of what personal branding was or why they should pay attention. It became even more apparent that there were quite a few folks who very skeptical about personal branding and its relevance for them. They showed up for one reason and that was to see and hear whether personal branding was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. That being the case, I guess I was David Copperfield for the day expected to dazzle people with one trick after another. Nothing against Mr. Copperfield but I was never a big fan of pulling rabbits from my hat. Instead, I did something a tad bit more provocative. I announced to the room that 50% of them would be out of business or barely in business if they continued to ignore personal branding. At this point, an eerie silence took over the room and I noticed that I now had everyone’s attention. I scrapped the slides, left the podium and went out into the audience to talk about the realities of the digital marketplace. It ended up being a great experience for me and the audience based on the feedback that I received after the talk.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. In my rush to tell the how and what related to personal branding, I almost forget to highlight the “why”, “why me” and “why right now”: Context is indeed king and without it, people are often not moved to act or listen. The idea of maintaining one’s personal brand may be obvious to some, but certainly not everyone. We still have some work to do.
It is about progress not perfection!