I was recently chatting with an up-and-coming professional speaker about some of the best presenters I've seen on stage. I immediately launched into an unplanned sales pitch for Gary Vaynerchuk, or Gary Vee, as many of us know him online. Within minutes I was citing important milestones in Vaynerchuk's life, such as his pre-school move to the United States from what is now known as Belarus, his experience operating a number of lemonade stands when he was just eight years old, and his college years working in his parents' liquor store. After I walked away from the conversation, I tried desperately to recall when I had seen the best-selling author speak, or more importantly, if I had ever met him in person.
While I have chatted with Vaynerchuk a few times over Skype, I slowly realized that I have never been in the same room as him (but have watched quite a few of his keynotes on YouTube). Nonetheless, here I was, a thousand miles away from where the well-known entrepreneur lives, spouting off personal details about his life. Yes, Vaynerchuk has achieved a long string of professional milestones in his career, but what makes many of us feel as though we know him is the stories he regularly shares about his life, including moments like this passionate rant from his airplane seat 30,000 feet in the air.
For some, telling your story is an uncomfortable experience. I know I've always strived to keep my personal and professional lives somewhat separate, believing that few really care about where I grew up, how I grew up, and what drives me to succeed in business today. However, as I rifle through the entrepreneurs whom I admire, I recognize that for the most part I know a lot more about their lives than I've shared about mine. In other words, while there are many things we can all do to ramp up efforts on the personal branding front, often the last thing we think about is the important pieces that differentiate us all.
Arthur Germain, from Communication Strategy Group, refers to to storytelling to build a brand as brandtelling. As he explains on his site, "Brandtelling is built on the foundation of connecting people through a story that is relevant, real and repeatable." While this approach is often used to sell products, many of the principles can apply to individuals building personal brands. For the ultra private among you, this very action might be cringe-worthy. After all, selling yourself is not as easy or as comfortable or selling products and services. Nonetheless, it's fair to say that in an increasingly wired world, where first encounters are often online, a little personality can go a long way. A great story? Even better. Whether interviewing for a job or making a presentation, a strong personal narrative could be the one thing that keeps you on top.
Here are a few tips to turning on your personal branding story without turning off your audience.
1. Discover your story
Think about a few key stories that define who you are today. Write them down. These can be simple things that you remember from your childhood or entertaining stories from your adult life. For example, one of the questions people often ask me is how I manage to do so many different things (TV, writing, speaking, parenting). I could reply that I'm just gifted with an unusual amount of energy, but the truth is that working is something I started very early on in my life. My parents were property managers for a small-town strip mall when I was in grade school. To save money, they decided it would be a good idea to get my brother and me to help to clean up the (very dirty) parking lot in the mornings before the crowds came in instead of hiring a professional. Even in the middle of winter, when I was seven years old, my Dad, brother, and I piled into our truck and picked up pieces of trash—and then Dad rushed us home so my mom could feed us breakfast and get us out the door to school. While this might sound like a childhood nightmare, the opposite was true. I loved being with my family and thought I was lucky to be able to get so much done before most of friends were even out of bed.
2. Re-write your story
If you have your own website, and if you care about your personal brand like you should, it's important to share your history in your "About Me" section. Take a few minutes to re-write this entry to include a couple of personal stories. You can start small. Check out author and startup founder Tara Hunt's bio. Aside from a bullet list of her professional accomplishments, she has a short section titled "The Personal Stuff" to include a background information about her small-town cow-filled upbringing contrasted with her current love of cityscapes.
3. Share your story
If you're keen to build your personal brand, get comfortable telling your story. Whether you're including little tidbits of your life on Twitter or weaving anecdotes into various blog posts, if you can authentically share who you are chances are that your audience will feel a deeper connection. Don't get me wrong. I'm a firm believer in protecting your privacy, but every now and then it's a good idea to talk about what drives you to be the best at what you do. This doesn't mean that you have to share photos of your kids, your medical history, or your physical location. All it takes is a few stories now and again to help define who are you above and beyond dates on your resume, just like my online friend Gary Vee.
Want more personal branding tips and advice from the pros on working smarter? Check out Amber Mac's Work Flow series.
[Image: Flickr user Paulo Alegria]