2016, Entrepreneur, Mindfulness, personal branding, Uncategorized

Brain Dates Expose More Heart than Brains

Note: This blog piece was written June 1 2016 but has been migrated onto a new site.

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Imagine a space where you are challenged to intimately and freely exchange expertise and vulnerabilities with strangers. Not just that, but the space itself is comprised of non-traditional seating arrangements. Two swings where knee bumping is inevitable. Rocking chairs. Salon chairs equipped with hooded hair dryer bonnets. Red and white pods. A swinging picnic table. Hammocks. At one point, even the staircase as the other space filled up. This was the crown jewel of the conference and they called these: Brain Dates.

What is a brain date? Every attendee has access to the “HUB” where you have the opportunity to write a little bio and set-up offers and requests. Offers are things you are open to talk about for 30min with people who are interested. Requests are simply you putting out a request to get some advice on a specific subject. My offer was this: “How do you turn a personal brand into a business?” I received 16 requests to speak on that topic and ended up “brain dating” with 14 of those people (I didn’t want to miss out on Martha Stewart talking about pot brownies and her homeboy Snoop).

From my previous posts and watching my weekly Vlog, you already know that online dating is a constant source of inspiration for me when it comes to personal branding. So the idea of brains from all over the world going on “dates” tickled me.

14 dates in 3 days and this is what I learned:

  1. Value does not have an age attached to it. We know this. At C2 you feel it. I spoke with people ranging in ages from 30-65 and often the biggest age gaps meant the best conversations.
  2. Seating had a huge effect on how the conversation went:
    • Swings: Our knees bumped immediately which meant we had to acknowledge a breach of personal space before anything else. Our conversation was playful, bubbly, and nostalgic. We are now collaborating on a project to integrate play into the way people network and learn.
    • Leather footstools (no backing): We both automatically leaned in to talk. Our conversation was brisk and to the point. We spoke in bullet points stopping only to check the time. She walked away with a to-do list.
    • Rocking chairs: Both of us took a minute to breathe and rock before jumping into the conversation. Most of the time was spent exchanging personal histories. We ended up having dinner together and talking about motherhood. We are going to be working together to bring some branding workshops to Toronto for both entrepreneurs and workplace teams to work together better.
    • Salon chairs: The conversation started with a joke about getting perms. Our conversation was driven by humour but relaxed and neither of us felt the pressure of time. We were getting perms after all. This meant I felt comfortable enough to tell him I wanted to meet with him because the language in his profile annoyed me. It was full of “this many start-ups make this many mistakes” and “you should do this”. I wanted to talk with someone who would challenge my more fluid approach to business. This conversation was honest and incredibly helpful. We’ve already connected again!
    • gliderPicnic table glider: You will certainly detect this in my tone – but this was by far my favourite brain date. I actually told this story to Tara Hunt who was part of the social squad for C2 and we totally bonded over it! Just goes to show how the momentum of one great event can lead to another. I added a picture below of a rocking picnic table to eliminate any confusion around how it works. Bill and I sat down and very quickly realized two things. One, we were actually sitting quite far apart. Two, we had to work together to keep the rocking movement of the bench smooth so it wasn’t distracting. This meant we had to not only listen carefully with our ears but with our bodies too. The best way I can describe our conversation is that we took out all our insides and showed it to each other. When one of us became vulnerable or passionate the other immediately felt how it disrupted the flow of our rocking. It meant that I really felt the excitement or nervousness, shared in it, and adjusted to its rhythm. Our brain date ended with big bear hug and a commitment to finding a space to work together in the near future.
  3. Console the broken hearts. E-180 Labs, the wonderful humans responsible for running the brain dates came up with a clever and thoughtful gesture of offering a chocolate with a small “sorry” note to those who had been stood up by dates. It acknowledged the personal aspect of the dates by appealing to the heart via its heart medicine: sweets. It helped set the tone even if you didn’t get to fully participate. Maybe next year we can convince them to hand out mini containers of Ben & Jerry’s instead.
  4. People want to share their expertise with you. Sometimes I met with someone and either because of social exhaustion, heat exhaustion, or in my case, a strong desire to take my 2pm nap, the conversation wouldn’t start out strong, You’d forget what you were there for or dance around a subject hoping the other person will pick up a thread and go with it. This was never a bad thing. Everyone was committed to actually adding value and expertise. The space itself had a lot to do with that. There were just enough rules and guidelines in place to make everyone feel safe, but the playfulness of the environment meant we were energized and motivated to be ourselves and show off our uniqueness. We understood what was required of us when we stepped into either of the roles in the brain date. Maybe I was just very fortunate but everyone I spoke to was committed to either finding value in you or giving something of value to you.
  5. Lastly, I learned that business cards are much more valuable as a token of thanks than an actual means of contacting someone. Give your business card at the end, not the beginning of a meeting. The “HUB” meant we had a way of following up with everyone we met without exchanging business cards. When someone gave me their card right away they set the tone for a specific kind of chat. One which I wasn’t particularly interested in. The kind where they were going to sell to me. When we exchanged cards at the end of the date, it was because we wanted to give the other person a token of acknowledgment for the value they added to our day.

 

Stay tuned for more posts on C2 as I untangle my thoughts and feelings.

2015, personal branding, Social Media

Wrecking Ball: Miley Coyote

Note: This blog piece was written October 20 2015 but has been migrated onto a new site. This particular piece was part of a series of blogs by guest writers on their social media personas. This one is mine.

My first experiences with social media were limited to adding university pals much in the same way I collected passport stamps. Then, like an intelligence agent, sifting through the photos my camera-happy friend tagged me in. Other than that, my timeline was a bit of a ghost town.

In fact, I resisted social media at every turn. I thought it was vain, superficial, and most egregiously, gave us a false sense of connectivity with other humans (and the occasional cat).

Now, I spend my days blogging about the importance of an online presence and even worse, I help people find their inner twitter bug. Gross!

So I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am a huge judgmental naysayer. On the other hand, I am incredibly motivated by our interactions via social media. It has become a huge source of information for my consulting and I think, made me a little braver. With that inherent rebelliousness and a now an actual business need to use social media  – I’ve decided to give my social media persona a name. Her name is: Miley Coyote. The meaning of social media is not love or hate – its those rare moments where the two come together to share a new meaning altogether.

The 9 Golden Rules of Being Wile E. Coyote: Committed for Life

The creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Chuck Jones, had 9 golden rules when producing each episode. Stay with me. To understand Miley Coyote we must first look at the coyote (moon howling is obligatory).

  1. The Road Runner cannot hurt the coyote.
  2. No outside force can harm the coyote except the backfiring ACME products.
  3. Coyote was driven only by his fanaticism – otherwise he could stop at anytime.
  4. The only dialogue is “beep beep”.
  5. The Road Runner can only be on the road.
  6. All the action can only take place in the setting of a generic southwest American desert.
  7. All materials, weapons, tools, or products used must be purchased from ACME Corp.
  8. Whenever possible, make gravity coyote’s biggest challenge.
  9. The coyote is always humiliated by his failures rather than injured.

These rules not only dictate how the world of this cartoon works, but also how the characters can be expected to behave inside it. So why is this cartoon so engaging? Is it because each episode is predictable and therefore we don’t have to use our noggin or is it for some other reason? Before we explore that further let’s look at a creature far less appealing with a seeming disregard for anything shaped like a rule.

An Unlikely Advocate

Miley Ray Cyrus has been dubbed a social media dominatrix. Her behaviour on and offline is not dictated by the social rules set forth for any of the “normative” roles she is partakes in: female, pop star, fashionista, celebrity. Like a horror movie, we enjoy the gore, fear, and suddenness of it all.

But wait! A dominatrix follows rules as well, she just creates them herself and enforces them on willing participants. A horror movie still scares us even though the genre is as predictable as an episode of The Road Runner. Why? Because both require two things:

  1. Willing submission for the pleasure of involuntary reactions
  2. Suspended disbelief

In horror movies (you can make the kink comparison yourself I’m sure), despite us knowing whats waiting for us, we allow ourselves to fall into a space of submission. We want to be startled, scream, see gore beyond what we could handle in real life, and feel the suspense and fear of the characters themselves. In order to have these reactions (in fact, which we pay money to have) we have to suspend our disbelief. We have to believe the coyote will continue to hunt the Road Runner despite numerous injuries and a track record of irrefutable failure. We have to make room for the irrational decision of the lead character to go into the creepy basement where the noise is coming from.

So how does this apply to social media?

Credibility Isn’t Cheap

Coyote is the masochist to Miley’s sadist. Is social media not just the same thing? A balance between pain and pleasure, love and hate, appropriate and inappropriate? But how did these two characters become credible sources of this behaviour? Consistency. Sure, Miley flaps around like she makes her decisions via magic eight ball but the truth is, her social media persona is as formed, as branded, as committed as Wile E. is to the rules of Chuck Jones. The credibility of a persona relies on key indicators that amount to an authentic being. The most important one being consistency.

This is no easy thing. Yes, sometimes being on social media can feel superficial and disconnected. The way I see it – it’s a costume in a play. I ask people to give me willingness to submit and I ask people to suspend their disbelief. But I do it in exchange for a story. I use my persona or character as a vehicle to communicate complex relationships. Even if it is to demonstrate the complex relationships we have with ourselves. In the space where Miley and Coyote come together we learn about the similar truths existing in seemingly contradictory characters.  Some of the most abstract art produces the most authentic feelings.

Sometimes I rant, sometimes I share content I feel strongly about, sometimes I laugh at the very things that inspire me, sometimes I choose to leave out a very specific element of myself to make the story stronger. My in between truth – I am an explorer. I do not sit comfortably in the middle. I need to engage every part of myself on every platform available to me. I just don’t like to do it all at the same time.

My brand is Miley Coyote. Whats yours?

2015, Clients, Entrepreneur, RedBrick Rooster

Crazy Little Thing Called Clients

Note: This blog piece was written July 20 2015 but has been migrated onto a new site.

Let’s crack open the elephant egg in the room – clients. You may want to buckle up, because we are going to talk about this via my favourite source of inspiration – online dating.

Why, you ask? Two words: personal branding. Online dating was a moment of confidence and clarity in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. So when I was faced with doubt and anxiety at finding clients I turned to that experience for help.

Spoiler alert! Despite my best efforts to avoid being a poster child for anything conventional (convention, yuck!), I am a poster child for online dating. I joined on a Tuesday and on that Friday I went on my first date with the man I would end up marrying 2 years later. And ladies, this is not some Cosmo bull$h*t on how finding a husband is like climbing the corporate ladder. This is instead about a trend we should take note of in terms of how we connect to people online and offline.

Personal Branding

Your typical online dating site works using a three-pronged system; photos, match %, and a descriptive profile. While I could easily draw conclusions about the use of photos and personality-based metrics, for the sake of space I will only focus on the third-prong: the personal description.

Lets start off by filling out a profile on OkCupid and along the way I will show you how in meeting my husband, I learned an incredibly important lesson in branding and client hunting.

Fill in below and find love instantly…

Below I have copied the sections from OkCupid that they ask you to fill in. As an aside, this was no random choice. I am not just a fan of this site for delivering me my husband (express): I am a fan because they really understand what connects people. The questions below may look fairly standard but in them is a goldmine of critical information. You just have to know how to read it and then write it.

* If you are interested in doing this personal branding exercise – scroll to the end of the post and print out the detailed list. I encourage you to try and fill it in before reading the rest of this post and then again at the end of reading this post. Please feel free to share some of your insights in the comments section.*

  1. My self-summary
  2. What am I doing with my life
  3. I’m really good at
  4. The first things people usually notice about me
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food
  6. The six things I could never do without
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about
  8. On a typical Friday night I am
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit
  10. I’m looking for
  11. You should message me if

Step 1: Who am I?

Imagine for a minute that you are doing this exercise for the purpose of dating. You may see self-summary and think, “I will list all my relevant experience to prove how valuable I am”. You begin with a list of your schooling, dating experience, relationship skills, and end with an account of all the high-fives you’ve received in your climb to being an excellent partner. We do this when we look for work so why don’t we do this in dating? Because we know that this is not how real connections are made. Entrepreneurship relies on the relationships you build with customers and clients. So why do we forget that when we enter a professional situation?

There is evidence all around us of the things we are good at. That evidence doesn’t just take the forms of certifications, awards, recognitions, and degrees. Open your mind and think about all the things that you do well: all the moments in your day/week where you feel particularly strong. Here are mine:

When I first did this exercise (as in, when I decided to go off on my own) this was my list:

  • Video production
  • Project management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Team work

The list goes on but I think you get the idea.

Now I will show you my list after I decided to open my mind and take away those pesky boundaries that are reinforced in resume writing:

  • Meeting new people
  • Connecting friend groups
  • Hosting parties
  • Public speaking
  • Caring for pets
  • Communicating my boundaries
  • Getting people excited about something new

I look at that last list and see a few themes pop out at me. One of those themes is nurturing. So how does that translate into my work? It is important for me to feel like I contribute to the quality of life of the people (and animals) around me. So maybe instead of presenting myself as a digital media service, I should talk about how I love to: nurture projects, understand each clients needs, and help clients develop a work environment that strengthens the type of work they do.
Boom! I am good at that! It is my authentic self. “Nurturing Toni” is going to attract much better suited clients than “video production Toni”. Why? Because not only is it authentically imbedded in my sense of self, there are way more access points for a conversation about my skills as a nurturer than my skills in video production.

Step 2: What are my tastes?

Ira Glass says it best when he says:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”

Your taste is important because it foreshadows your professional thinking. Even in online dating, this section can be the most revealing if you know how to read it. Some people will list EVERYTHING they like. The “cover my bases” thinking is counter-productive. If you want someone to taste a new wine, you don’t drown them in it, you give them a small glass of something you’ve carefully selected based on their palette. Under ‘what books I like’, you might only put those you read as part of your high school curriculum. This could mean you aren’t a big reader, or perhaps you fear admitting you don’t like to read (or, even worse, that you secretly only like to read trashy crime novels). But imagine going on a date with someone who is super into literature and was attracted to your profile because you like the modern classics. Well by lying you’ve not only become unappealing but also untrustworthy. If you’re not comfortable with your own taste (or you’ve misrepresented it), how is a client expected to trust the choices you’re going to make for them?

Step 3: Are you my taste?

Clarifying your tastes will also help reveal the type of client you want. Filtering out the incompatible types is often a self-reflective exercise in business. It is about understanding your authentic self to attract the right fit. I am in no way suggesting that you are responsible for attracting shifty clients or dates; even the best of us can encounter people who misrepresent themselves. This is certainly not some sideways argument on short skirt means open invitation.

“I’m looking for” and “You should message me if…” exists for good reason. If you can define yourself, you can define your ideal client. If you can define your ideal client, you will have a point of reference to begin your search.

So here’s the deal – there is no way to get clients without doing the modern day door-to-door; talk to everyone you know about what you’re doing; cold call companies you’d like to work with; look for other small companies where you might compliment their services. However, if you have the tools to describe exactly what you do, how you’d like to do, and with who you’d ideally like to do it with you are sure to hit the target more often.

The Exercise

Now look at the questions below, fill those suckers in, and tell me what you discover!

  1. My self-summary – I encourage you to fill this in last. Treat it as the section on your website or Facebook page where you would describe who you are and what you do. You’ll need more info before diving into the belly of the beast. So come back to it!
  2. What am I doing with my life – What you are doing with your life in a combination of what you are currently doing (for real) and what you are working towards.
  3. I’m really good at – Take a look at Step 1: Who am I?
  4. The first things people usually notice about me – These are usually aesthetic. Start thinking about how your personal style reflects your business personality.
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food – Taste! Check out this video for more of Ira Glass’ supreme wisdom. Don’t just think about your favourite things – think about your favourite apps, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers etc… and figure out what it is you like about their work so much.

  6. The six things I could never do without – If you are finding that what you need to do relies too heavily on resources you cannot yet acquire, think about shifting your offered services to reflect more accurately what you could immediately do. This will save you a lot of grief and self-doubt.
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about – Your aspirations, fears, academic obsessions, etc… Knowing what you want and what you are afraid of can put you ahead of the obstacles you are going to face.
  8. On a typical Friday night I am –translate to – how do I imagine a typical/ideal work day?
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit – “Willing” being the key word. This doesn’t mean share beyond your comfort zone.
  10. I’m looking for – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?
  11. You should message me if – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?

Until next time!