Mastering The Uncomfortable Art Of Personal Branding

Whether interviewing for a job or making a presentation, weaving 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.

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]

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14 Comments

  • Cathlyn Park

    Well, there is that discomfort really when it comes to selling yourself as a brand. For those that have some qualms with a little bit of self promotion this can be a bother. BELIEVE me however this article is right, you have to write your story. People need to know you more if you ever hope to really get more connections, opportunities, and ultimately profits/sales.  More about this on this post here: http://adcreative.wordpress.co... . It is just all the more needed today.

  • Karen Dietz

    Great post Amber! This is one of the first issues I always have to work on with my clients.  I love the insights you've shared. Because your tips can really help businesses, I've added your article to my curated content on business storytelling, and then posted it to social media channels. You can see it here at www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it. Many thanks again and have a wonderful week!

  • William Arruda

    Amber, I love your take on personal branding.

    People want to work with people who are three dimensional - real,
    interesting, authentic.... Telling your story requires that you inject
    your personality and passions - if you want it to be compelling to those
    who read it. Thanks, Amber for another great post.

    Best.

    William Arruda

    Reach Personal Branding

    www.reachpersonalbranding.com

  • Joel Carter

    What a great article. I've often wondered how that really works and how to do it. With your tips I'll give it a try. 

  • Loraine Antrim

    Stories can be the lifeblood of a personal brand. But even more important than storytelling is having your initial elevator pitch. Who are you...what makes you tick...why should I remember you? Once you've got your killer pitch down, you can extend it with compelling and relevant stories. Loraine Antrim

  • Sunny Lam

    Amber, 

    Thanks for the wonderful overview on storytelling.  

    It's the same sort of thing I tell my clients when they're out their presenting themselves in the interview or on paper.  

    "What's the story that shows what you have done and can do again."

    It's the idea of painting the images into your reader's or listener's head while being personal and discreetly honest about it.  

    I do love point #2 - add something personal to go beyond just the "relevant successes"

    A particular funny and great example is Mark Sisson's bio on Mark's Daily Apple (he's also the author of The Primal Blueprint and one of two of my favourite paleolithic experts):  

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com...

    Definitely have to work on adding the personal touch to my own bio.

    In a recent talk by Jack Canfield (co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) on a teleseminar for Steve Harrison, Jack mentioned just how important it was for people (new authors and non-authors with a mission) to really turn on the extroverted side and get their story out there.

    Whether it's on social media or on speaking engagements.  

    And Jack credits much of his success in constantly learning to tell stories and being more extroverted.

    Well this piece was definitely worth sharing (scheduled in HootSuite) because it covered the core of what has to be done to build a brand.  

    Fair winds,
    Sunny

    http://shinobicareercoach.com

  • Amber Mac

    Hi Christopher,
    I like what you're saying.  Basically, keep it professional but let your personality shine wherever you can!
    Amber

  • Roberto E. Alonso

    That is a great article and a lot of help for us, we are trying to brand our new automotive service concept, Greenlube. We use 100% Recycled, re-refined high grade lubricants and coolants, creating a true closed loop system.The best part being the price of course, not to mention reducing waste(carbon print).Check us out at www.mrgreenlubecolorado.com

  • Christopher Knopick

    Amber,
    I've often wondered whether to mix business blogging and personal blogging, to have a site dedicated to both or one for each. I've ended up with this mish-mash amalgam of both in both places which probably doesn't do either all that well. I think focus on one (business or personal) but let enough of your personality come through to allow your readers to trust you. Participation and responding with the people following you is important as well. Good article. I've always felt I know Gary Vee as well.

  • Amy Cuevas Schroeder

    We're all about Personal Brand as Storytelling at DIY Business Association, and we love this piece by Amber Mac. 

    If you're on the artier-creative side, you'll like Dixie Laite's series called "15 Minutes of Dame" about mastering the art of personal brand here: 

    "Who the Hell Are You? 3 Steps to Get to the Core of Your Personal Brand"
    http://diybusinessassociation....