One of my recent posts on Authenticity generated quite a bit of great commentary, including a question about how to create authentic “material.” Since most of the comments came from my magician friends, I’m going to speak from my 30+ years as a performer.
However, my goal is to reveal techniques that are applicable to anyone who has to communicate a unique message (speakers, authors, leaders, educators, etc.).
The Epitaph: Your Wisdom Filter Message
Yeah, I know an epitaph is a dark image, but if it gets the job done…
I believe everyone has something unique to teach the world. We all have the ability to become a Wisdom Filter on at least one topic. To figure out what yours might be, try this simple exercise:
Imagine your epitaph is written in stone forever and fill in the blank:
[Your name] taught me _______________.
Assume you have a really big tombstone and be as specific as possible, but stick to one, main topic. It could be a skill (“how to be a great performer”) or a philosophy (“to live life to its fullest’) or anything in-between.
Your Hero’s Journey
I’m currently reading Trust Funnel, a new book by my friend Brian G. Johnson. It’s already hitting the top of the best-seller lists, and now I know why. Not only is it full of practical marketing advice, his writings on finding your voice are insightful, honest and founded on his own discovery process.
One of the things he reminds readers of is the Hero’s Journey. I came across this concept as a teenager when I first started reading the writings of Joseph Campbell. Brian had a different entry point, but the result is the same.
I’m not going to spell it all out for you. For that, please pick up a copy of Brian’s book. It’s a helluva lot easier to read than Campbell, and will teach you lots of wisdom that you can put into immediate practice in your business.
Here’s the gist:
Make a list of all the events in your life that have made you who you are, from childhood to where you are today. Intense and/or meaningful experiences. Horror stories. Education. Relationships. Wins. Losses.
Start your list today. Keep it close and add to it as you remember more.
When you want to say something important and meaningful, start with your list. The exact method of delivery doesn’t matter (magic trick, keynote speech, book or article).
Break the Mirror to Find Your Character
Now that you’ve got our mission and a list of topics, you need to be able to communicate them effectively.
But here’s the rub: we can never see ourselves as others see us. They can’t read our minds. They don’t know our innermost hopes and fears. They only see what we present to them.
As performers, we learn that building a “character” is important. But that’s rarely defined (and often confused with a caricature). So let me give you my definition:
Defining a Character: choosing which personal attributes to evoke, and which to disregard, so that your message will be received and understood by the most number of people.
Sounds hard, huh?
It is if you try to do it alone.
The good news is that you’re not alone.
It’s time to ask some candid questions of your friends. Before you do that, you need to be capable of hearing the answers. If your ego is so fragile that it might shatter if you learn what people really think of you, maybe you should pick a different career (apologies for being so blunt).
Case in point: I had been struggling with my performing character for nearly 25 years. I had bits and pieces and had certainly tried lots of things. But it took one friend, in one short conversation, to put it all together for me (thank you, Larry Hass).
If you want honest feedback, make it simple for them by asking just one, very specific question:
What three words or phrases would you use to describe me?
Get feedback from lots of people: old friends, family, coworkers, audience members, lovers, bosses, etc.
As you write them down, be sure to keep track of who said them. Each group will have its own perspective on you. Knowing that will be critical to making sense of their comments.
The last part should be obvious, though difficult. It’s time to be blatantly honest with yourself and take stock of what people said about you. To help you see things clearly, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to effectively communicate your message. It’s about the listener, not the speaker.
You will likely be surprised by some of your findings, but common themes will emerge. Those are things that people find interesting and unique about you… the things that open them up to listening to what you have to say. Focus on developing and utilizing those and Authenticity will come naturally.