I’ve written a lot recently about the importance of empowering employees to publicly represent your brand. The authenticity and unexpected insight that results from giving employees a platform to discuss their experiences is reason enough to share their voices. While we often turn to seasoned PR professionals to deliver our brand messages, the truth is that our audience wants to hear from us.
Consider the TED Talk, which has emerged as a leading platform for incredible insights and viral videos over the past several years. While these talks are given by subject matter experts who are generally polished in their presentation, every TED speaker has a firsthand experience to share. The humanity and relatability of these speakers is what makes their message so compelling.
What does this mean for business leaders (and our employees, too) and the way we choose to share our work with the world?
It’s Time to Start Talking
As the popularity of TED Talks confirms, people love a good story. The ability to empathize with and imagine another person’s experience has been a feature of human consciousness since cave dwellers sat around camp fires. If you’re not using storytelling – real, true stories about your work and your experience – to connect with your audience, you’re missing out on an incredible opportunity.
I recently read a wonderful book by Chris Anderson, the “Head of TED,” called TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. Anderson is himself a skilled speaker (check out a video here) and writer, and in his book he makes a persuasive case for the importance of public speaking for anyone with a message to share. In this case, the message is primarily that presentation literacy (the ability to present effectively in public) is not a superpower, it’s a teachable skill. That means that all of us have the ability to make our mark.
Anderson writes that, “The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence, or smooth talking. It’s having something worth saying.” So we all have the ability to share our experience, and we all can benefit from connecting with an audience – whether it’s our employees, potential customers, investors, or partners, or the world at large. We all have something worth saying.
What is Your Story?
“There’s one thing you have that no one else in the world has: Your own first-person experience…,” Anderson says. It’s an empowering thought, and it’s true. No one else has access to our experience unless we choose to share it. So what kind of stories should we be sharing?
Innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders can start at the very beginning by sharing the “why?” behind their product, company, or initiative. These are some of the most compelling stories to hear because they provide the foundation for a brand’s mission and vision. What problem are you solving for people? What did life look like before your brand was born, and how is the future different now that it’s here?
(Get inspired by Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, Start With Why.)
Another bit of insight from Chris Anderson: “Your number one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and to rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners.” That’s the power of a great story. Spread your passion for the work that you do by telling the story of how it all began. Once that passion is alive inside your listener’s minds, you’ll have created a room full of freshly converted brand advocates.
Sharing the Journey
Think of the story you’re telling as a journey for your audience, with you as their guide. Where does it begin? Wherever your audience is now. Whether the goal is to educate, to persuade, to explore, or to inspire, that result is a gift you give to your listeners through sharing your experience. When does the story end? When you’ve achieved your goal.
While mastering the art of public speaking isn’t a requirement for executives or employees who act as brand ambassadors, being authentic is. And that’s actually the key to one of our greatest fears about public speaking. Instead of attempting to be Steve Jobs or Brené Brown, be true to yourself and your experience. Our nerves and fears of failure tend to melt away when we’re speaking simply and from the heart.
(Get inspired by Brené Brown’s TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability.)
Anderson writes, “As a leader… public speaking is the key to unlocking new empathy, stirring excitement, sharing knowledge and insights, and promoting a shared dream.” We all have powerful stories to share and the ability to connect with our audiences and achieve all of the above.
I’ll continue to explore Chris Anderson’s insights into presentation literacy in an upcoming blog. In the meantime, consider the unique story or experience you have to share and how it can complement your brand messaging.