In April 2016, I was asked to present at Leadership Day at the STC Rochester Spectrum 2016. Every year, the conference chairs choose a theme and ask presenters to speak to the theme. Leadership day is a conference addition that happens the day before the main event. Leadership day presenters are expected to stay within the theme but to focus on an issue of leadership. As a presenter, it’s a fun challenge to think thematically about your expertise and construct a presentation that suits your purposes as a presenter and fulfills the thematic goals of the event while still providing a solid learning opportunity for attendees.
In 2016, Spectrum chose “Mastering Tech Comm: Harness the Power of Story,” which, for me, is a self-evident proposition. We tell user stories when we plan how we’re going to document a product. We tell stories about ourselves (to others and to ourselves) every day about who we are, where we’re going, and why a customer should choose us over our competitor. Here’s how the conference chairs described the theme for Spectrum 2016:
Told effectively, there is great power in a story that resonates with people and compels them to action. As an experienced technical communicator, you are aware of this power and harness it every day to benefit your customers, employer, and yourself. Spectrum 2016 is a perfect opportunity for you to hone and share your stories.
When it came time to create my presentation for leadership day, I decided I would tell my story.I’ve founded two companies, one for profit, one non-profit. I’m constantly trying out new ideas and I work in a segment of the industry that requires not one but two stories to be convincingly told and accepted: first, that single-sourcing of content and multi-channel publishing is critical to business success; and second, that the product I work with is the right one for the job (if the situation warrants). You can’t have the second conversation first. No one understands the product I work with unless they understand the underlying problems that present it as a potential solution.
Early in my career, it was exceptionally difficult to explain to people what I do. I’ve had to figure out the path for discussion, to figure out how to relate to a potential customer and tell a story that resonates (or discover that there isn’t one). Year after year, I told stories. I collected stories. Success stories. Failures. Long-term customers and new ones. I’ve even got a presentation that was frequently requested in professional circles and at conferences about “Where are they now” where I told stories of customers who were 5, 10, 15, and 20 years into their single-sourcing projects. It helped bridge the gap and explain the circumstances wherein what I do and what my product does applies. After 11 years leading my own company, I’ve gotten good at telling stories. And at Spectrum 2016’s Leadership Day, I told my own:
The Never Ending Interview Story
If you want someone to hire you, you need to be able to tell your story: who you are, what your plan is, and what defines you. There are key points to address at each point in the story you in order to gain customers. Just because you go out on your own, doesn’t mean you’re not constantly interviewing and telling your story. For example, how do you pitch a co-founder? What’s your customer profile? We’ll talk about all this and more.
Whether you’re a CEO or an independent consultant, you’re constantly telling your story. Every day is an interview. Every day you’re proving yourself. Every day, every customer, every prospect, you’re reinforcing the picture you present to the world. Truth be told, I didn’t really expect anything to come out of the presentation. There was no pitch for my services or collateral, no obvious tie to a sales channel for me. It’s always good practice to present and I like to tell stories, so I did.
At the end of the day during the general round-table discussion with all the presenters and all the attendees present, the audience was full of questions for me! What was even more interesting was that they wanted to ask compare and contrast questions with me and another presenter. We fill similar roles but told two very different stories. Our approaches to leadership, corporate organization, employee relations, couldn’t be more different. The audience was extremely interested in how to understand those differences in the context of their own goals, aspirations, and future career paths.
After it was all over, several people approached me to ask if I would sit down with them and answer their questions. They had questions! Now, I’ve always had a good support system. A coach. Good friends. People who will call me on my crap and tell me to straighten up and see reality! After my experience at Spectrum’s Leadership day, I looked back and noticed that over the years a lot of people have asked me to talk things through with them when they’ve been considering rising up the ranks or going out on their own. I’ve had those conversations fairly frequently, when I think about the last 11 years running Single-Sourcing Solutions. And ever since Spectrum, I’ve been getting more and more calls and requests from even more people in the months that have followed. I just hadn’t realized.
Personally, I look on my own story as a story of growth, of understanding how to look at an idea from someone else’s perspective and how to find a way to connect–to tell my story. So I created the TC Dojo Conclave to make a safe space for other professionals to have the same opportunities that I had. Somewhere we can all grow together. It’s leveraging the expertise that lies beyond your subject matter expertise. It’s the business acumen that you need to continue to advance your career after a certain point, whether you want to rise up the ranks or to go out on your own.
In the TC Dojo Conclave, we know that we are stronger together than we are alone. We know that each of us has things to learn and things to teach. We’re the leaders in our profession, always looking to expand our experience, our expertise, to be better for ourselves and our customers.
It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re ready, so are we.
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