Unleashing Your Voice Blog


I have this recurring dream where a large group of people I’m working with are mostly milling around in this very large, efotolia_120436866ntirely concrete building. All of them have come to me with important messages or ideas that they started out really excited to develop and share–but something is stopping them from doing that. Instead of working, they keep going back inside and sitting down in one of the building’s many small, empty, windowless rooms.

The rooms have thick, strong walls that don’t allow any sound to travel through. They’re gray and colorless, with nothing in them to fuel inspiration or imagination. They look a lot like cells, except for one thing. The rooms are entirely open in front, with no barrier at all to prevent anyone from walking right out and back into the world. Most of the people in my dream stay right where they are, though–inside these rooms with their ideas inside themselves, unexpressed.

It doesn’t take a dream analyst to interpret what’s going on for me here! My vision is for everyone to unleash a voice in the world–and to work in places and on teams where it’s heard and appreciated. I’ve always thought this dream was meant to remind me of what it looks like and feels like when that doesn’t happen.

Why don’t we let our voices be heard?

I never expected more concrete business information from a dream, though, but that’s what happened recently when I had a much longer version of it. This time, I was able to start asking people who were still in the rooms what was going on and why they weren’t excited about sharing their messages any longer. I always heard one of three things:
  • Some were deliberately reining themselves in–deciding what they have to say is too big or too bold so they have to scale it back, and killing their enthusiasm in the process.
  • Others had given up because they didn’t have a “perfect” message–they’d tinkered and tinkered with in, and ended up stripping most of the real life out of what they wanted to share.
  • A few people had sought out and taken too much input from other people–now they didn’t even recognize their own ideas or feel much of the passion that had fueled them in the first place.
So, I woke up and realized I needed to share what I learned from this dream. And before this turns into a bummer of a blog post, let’s flip what I found out was holding others back into really positive lessons for getting your own voice heard:
  • Lesson #1: Let your biggest, boldest ideas shape what you share. Those big ideas are what motivate you to act; get them out there and into the world if you want others to pay attention.
  • Lesson #2: Don’t overthink what you’re burning to say. The most important part of starting a dialog with real life in it means getting the conversation going.
  • Lesson #3: Find your own authentic point of view. Sure, it’s nice to know what other people think. But it’s your own point of view that sets you apart and gets you heard (even when others don’t agree with everything you’re saying).

I need to share more boldly, too

So, it turns out this dream wasn’t meant just for my clients. There’s a powerful message for me in here as well (after all, I was the dreamer!). I’ve got some ideas of my own that I may not share often enough or loudly enough, one for each area of my work life (branding, employee engagement & team/culture building, and leadership/professional development. Here they are (and look for blog posts on each topic in the coming weeks):
  • Branding: Great branding and messaging starts out as inside job. It tells your story in a way that invites others in–and its main objective is to create resonant aliveness with others.
  • Team/culture building and employee engagement: Workplaces need to start letting people bring their whole selves to work. Mostly, we let people tell half their story at work, and it’s the half about performance and what they do (not presence and who they are).
  • Leadership development: We need to start looking for authentic advantage in our workplaces-not competitive advantage. Competitive advantage says “I need to move as fast as I can and outmaneuver someone else and by doing that I’ll win.” Authentic advantage says “I have gifts and talents and ideas and intuitions that other people don’t, and if I contribute them we all get to win.”
Do you have a big idea to share? An unfiltered message? A passionate point of view? Join the ranks of the self expressed and tell me about it!  Post a comment or send me a tweet @storybrander.

And if you haven’t taken the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey yet, check it out here to find out who you are in the story you’re most moved to unleash in the world: http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.

One of my favorite stories is about an apocryphal tribe where villagers say every child has a unique and special song. During a pregnancy, the mother-to-be and her friends go on their equivalent of a planning retreat–spending time in the woods until the unborn child has “taught” them his or her song. At birth, the entire village greets the newborn with that song, and it’s repeated on every milestone occasion. In this society, it’s said there is no legal system. When someone is suspected of wrongdoing, the tribe simply surrounds that villager and repeatedly sings the birth song–believing that no one goes astray if they remember who they really are.Handsome businessman with guitar singing in office

I love that story because it says so much about human identity.  It also says a lot about the potential power of branding.  If you give voice to something that’s deeply true about yourself or your organization, and that others can recognize as compellingly true for them as well, you can start to stand for something that’s indelible and uniquely you.

At the heart of a brand is an identity that’s real and matters. I believe every organization, every individual–every product and service–has a a unique and animating presence that defines what they’re meant to stand for in the world. (Okay, is anyone humming “Make Your Own Kind of Music” yet?).  Maybe this makes me a branding Pollyanna–and I’ll certainly admit to being a branding Idealist—but wouldn’t the world be a better place if people and organizations had an authentic sense of identity that shapes how they show up in the world?

So, how do you develop a “song sheet” for yourself or your organization?  Since no one is going out in the woods to find it for you, you’re going to have to do what Jennifer Warnes sings about in a song I often turn to for inspiration: go to “The Well” (listen on YouTube here: http://bit.ly/2chXhfp).  If you look deeply enough, here are three things you’ll find in your personal or organizational “well” that add up to a brand voice worth hearing:

1.  Know your own story. You can’t sing a brand to life if you don’t understand the story you’re meant to tell. Your story captures what’s most meaningful and motivating to you—and what’s most likely to draw others to you as well.  If you want to explore this further, take the free story typing survey on my website.  It will identify one of 12 great characters you or your organization is most like: http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/).

Defining a story is based on a startingly simple but powerful question:  Who are you?  We don’t ask this question enough of ourselves, and we certainly don’t ask it enough of each other.  In most workplaces, we spend a lot more time on another question:  What can you do?  The problem is that question shifts much of our focus to enhancing performance in ways that encourage people to leave their most important gifts off the table.  When we focus on performance to the exclusion of presence, we leave half of ourselves behind (and much of what energizes and activates us).

So finding an empowering story isn’t just about branding (personal or organizational).  It’s also a foundational component for developing leaders, engaging employees, building teams and creating cultures where people want to participate and contribute.  That’s because defining an authentic storyline captures what people have both the capacity and the will to do (and be).

2.  Explore your own unique combination of strengths and values. Your brand “song” should always be based on what’s best and most distinctive about you—the strengths that shape what you can truly offer the world and the values that connect you with others.  This is what makes for great stories in the first place.  The characters in them use something they’re good at (their strengths) to realize something that matters to them (their values).  It’s this dynamic combination that fascinates us and imbues a great story with both meaning and motivation.  Brands that are built on this pattern do the very same thing.

3.  Articulate your purpose and your promise. We all need inspiration and purpose to keep us invested in our journeys.  Purpose captures our very reason for being; it offers the fuel to enliven and motivate us.  So, after you’ve answer the question of who you are, you also need to explore why you’re here at all.

Finding your purpose is an inspiring and empowering journey.  But there’s another one question that has to be answered if you want to activate your purpose in the world:  What makes anyone else care?  Every great brand needs to get to the happy ending; the outcome you can always be counted on to deliver that matters to someone else.  It’s the energetic fuel that helps you engage others.

Ultimately, a great brand “song” captures your passion and purpose in a way that’s so alive others can feel it, see it and hear it.  If you want to create a brand that’s both inspiring and authentic, listen to yourself and also listen to the things that move you.  Then deliver on a promise that helps those you’re meant to serve drink from the well also.  As Jennifer Warnes sings, “The wild world is speaking, let’s go to the well.”

Who do you get out of bed in the morning to be? This isn’t the first question that most of my clients expect me to ask.  It may not even be something they’ve ever thought much about.  But if you want to really unleash your voice in the world—if you want to be heard and seen and appreciated for something that will get other people interested in you—it’s the first question you need to answer.

Traditional branding strategy says you should start by understanding your target audience–and knowing what they care about is a critical step if you want your message to resonate.  First, though, you need to understand who you are and what you’re passionate about offering up to the world so that you can have a vibrant, vital, authentic, arresting conversation about it.

Defining and articulating the essence of who you are is what unleashes your authentic voice, and allows you to engage others at the human level where real relationships grow and flourish. It’s what connects others to you in a lasting way, gives life and shape to what you have to offer, and provides a foundation for inspiring messages. When you understand yourself, you create the kind of zeal that gets attention. Your success can then be enhanced by shaping what you say in ways that are relevant to others.

What’s the best way to do this? It’s all about seeing your organization or yourself in the context of a meaningful and motivating narrative.

Doing that allows you to take the three most critical steps for unleashing your voice:

  • Step one: Defining and sharing the great story you’re moved to tell in the world
  • Step two: Fully stepping in to the role that helps others most understand and connect with your core purpose
  • Step three: Shifting your communications away from informational and promotional content to messages that connect and motivate

So if you’re a non-profit, it’s great for me to know you have 452 programs for helping those you support—but you won’t touch my heart until I see you as a Caregiver who recognizes and develops the potential in all. If you’re a government agency, I do want to know that you have the world’s largest database of critical scientific information—but I won’t feel a strong connection until I understand you as a Sage who uses that information to answer tough questions affecting my quality of life. If you’re a food manufacturer, it’s great to know that your nutrition bars have eight superfood ingredients—but I won’t feel much loyalty until I see you as a Hero on a mission to reshape healthy eating in this country.

Caregivers, Sages, Heroes—they’re all characters in great stories that people love to her and share. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we all have an essential story we were born to tell that features a compelling character. The strengths and values of these characters can shape our organizational or individual purpose, and give us the courage to stand up and stand out in the world.

I get out of bed in the morning to be a Creator. When I build my business and my professional life around Creator gifts and talents, I’m at my most effective, productive and fulfilled. When I’m acting on my Creator mission—to help others understand and express who they are in the world—I’ve got a lot to talk about. Often, I find that the right people, partners and clients are listening. So, how about you? Who are you in the story you most want to tell?

I’m excited to let everyone know that now you can download my new, free eBook–Bringing Your Message to Life.  In it, I offer some very easy-to-use tips for creating messages that will really get heard.  And, I share some simple, story-based communications tools to bring real life to the things you have to say.

Here’s one of the most important tips in Bringing Your Message to Life People deeply relate to characters in the stories they love. If they see you as part of a story that really matters, they’ll relate to you, too. So take a look at the eBook if you’d like to know more about how to cast your organization, your business (or yourself) as the central character in a story that moves your audiences.

There’s lots of other material in the eBook as well, like a compelling framework for creating messages at every rung of a four-step communications ladder; help with focusing your messaging on the “happy endings” that mean the most to you and to others; and pointers on how you can harness the power of your most under-utitlized communications resource–the people who work for your organization.

Of course, that last one only works if those people are really part of your story and want to share it.  In addition to getting this eBook ready, I’ve been using a lot of my blue sky thinking time this summer to focus on internal branding and employee engagement and what they really mean.  Here’s what I know for sure about that: if  you look at your organization through a story-based lens, you can see what gives your culture life (or why it’s dormant).  If there’s a powerful purpose and compelling promise at the core of your enterprise, you’ve got a premise that starts to engage your workforce.  If your people can see how their own stories align with the organization’s, you’ve probably got really passion and commitment.

I’ll be sharing some new tools and resources on the front soon.  Meanwhile, take a look at Bringing Your Message to Life–and please share your thoughts!

I live in a 30-year-old townhouse on the shores of a lovely lake outside our nation’s capital.  It’s a small community, a single lane of 22 Cape Cod style homes clustered along the edge of the water.  When we bought our new home, I didn’t realize the community had a name.  I thought it was simply a street; a pretty, peaceful and appealing street, but not really a place with an identity of its own.

It is a real community, though, with a name and a homeowner’s association and a board of directors.  And a couple of weeks ago, after gathering a lot of input from the people who live here, the homeowner’s association put up an entry sign for the first time in our 30-year history.  It’s quite a nice sign, carved from natural wood, with a heron rising over a shoreline into the sunset.  A spotlight shines brightly on it, defining the entrance to what was once a street but now seems like a place.

We have told the world who we are, and the sign says quite a lot.  It creates a role for our little neighborhood as a kind of refuge; a place where the world is a little more serene, a place where access to nature and wildlife and sunsets on the water can be found. That sign creates a vision of what living here could be; it makes a promise about what should be expected.  It also offers guidance about how to find us, providing a meaningful landmark where once there was only a street sign.  When people visit me now, it feels more like I’m inviting them into my world; less like they’re just stopping by my house.

Okay, at the end of the day, it’s only a sign.  But it got me thinking about how few of us remember to claim our own identities and put up the kind of signposts that help others see who we really are.  We turn 30, 40, 50 years old without defining ourselves and creating our own metaphorical signs.  Because of that, we miss a huge opportunity to be known and appreciated for what’s best and most inspiring about us.

So, how do you change that?  Here are a few steps that are part of the personal branding process I recommend for my clients (which can be used by any organization or group as well):

1.  Establish your defining identity and role. The best way to understand who you really are is to think of your life as a story you were born to tell—with you as the central character.  For help with this, you can take a free “story typing” survey on my website here:  http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.  You’ll find out which character from a universally known story you’re most like.

2.  Create a vision based on that role. From the perspective of that character, think about your vision for the world.  What do you want the world to be like because you were here?  What do you want to share with others about that vision, and how will you share it?

3.  Make a promise that defines what others can expect from you. When you’re most “in character,” what can others expect from you?  What promise can you make that will help ensure your vision becomes a reality?  What can you do to make sure others see that promise in action?

I’ll talk more in future posts about how to make sure you’re really shining a light on your new “signpost” and what you can expect if you do that.  In my neighborhood, we’re all a little bit prouder, the flowers seem brighter, the kids even cuter.  Well, okay, the kids were always really cute.  But you get my point.