During my time at Stanford I went to an event nearly every day: leadership conferences (why women are the better leaders), hero workshops (what you can learn from action hero marketing), food lectures (including a speaker who marketed her book named: 50 shades of chicken) and numerous mingling events which I usually left with a package of business cards and two offers to spontaneously start a business together. After a while I have probably heard all the reasons why not to eat meat but to start a start up. One particular conference I attended was called “Design Yourself”. It was specifically targeted to women, though half of the crowd where guys. I went there with a friend of mine and thought of this conference to be a design workshop where you could learn how to make better slides than with PowerPoint. I was wrong.
The conference was about how to design yourself in a digital age. (I forgot to read the small letters after the huge “Design” sign) Though I am usually not a fan of giving unsolicited advices, I want to share some of the insights I gained from this conference, because I found it intriguing and helpful for me. And I also want share why I think it was helpful.
My initial thought was: Why do you need to do that? Why designing yourself if I am neither a PR agency nor a celeb who needs to attract the media’s attention?
So here is why: Because you are always your “brand”! Think about it: If you are not defining what you are or stand for, others will do. And in the end, it’s always better to leave this job to you. So there are three steps involved in this process.
1.) Physical presence
Physical presence is what you stand for in the view of others, including your online profiles and the topics you talk about. Ask yourself the questions: Imagine that you can listen to two people talking about yourself. What would you like them to say? That’s the thing you want to create. But it’s not only about the things you convey by talking. It’s much more about gravitas. 80% of one’s presence is not about what you say but how you act. I will talk in a later article about my view of gravitas in a digital age but for now, just assume that gravitas is one’s ability to attract others.
2.) Mental presence
This is what you represent in the inside. The questions you should try to answer are: What do you do and how do you do it? And most importantly, how do you treat yourself when things go wrong. It’s also about your mental presence in a social setting. For example, I know it’s hard to be present all the time while taking with others. I can’t think of any other person who gets easier distracted than I do. You could talk about giving me a million dollar out of generosity and the very moment a bird flies by I am mentally gone. It’s really bad. But unless you are Kate Winslet, if you are not present you lose your authenticity. They feel rather than see that you are not authentic. And when you are not authentic, others won’t trust you.
The contribution is our personal “value added”. Everyone is adding a specific value but most of us don’t know it specifically. For example, I always thought that my value is that I am very nice and open. So people like to hang around with me. However, that was not the value I added. The real value is that I bring sunshine. You are probably asking yourself what that is supposed to mean except for trying to make myself a compliment. Well, the overall question you need to answer is: What is the weather you bring with you? What are you contributing by the way you are doing it?
So, why do I think all those questions are important? To be honest, I actually don’t think they are important. You can easily be successful without asking yourself those kinds of questions. But let’s face it. We are not special. There are a lot of us everywhere. I do agree that everyone is unique but on a macro level, we are not special. The people perceived as unique are not born as unique. They turned into it. I know, it kind of defies the romantic view of just to be who you are and the love will come. But in order to be who you are, you first need to know who you are. And this is actually more important today than it was thirty years ago. We have so many options and get distracted easily. We tend to keep all the doors open out of fear that we otherwise might miss something. But this also leads to confusion and bad decision making. We get lost and confused easily and this causes, borrowing from marketing, “brand confusion”. So the questions might help to find out who you are, but the more important task is to start finding out what you want stand for in general.
Successful people have one main competence: the ability to judge their incompetence. So, ask yourself: What is the weather you want to bring with you? And prepare the others to bring sun glasses if you decide to bring sunshine.