A few months ago, I gave a talk about how to tell your story through your marketing to an audience of business mentors: people who were actively counseling start-ups. All of these experienced executives knew their stuff. But this story business? I saw the quizzical looks as I came to the podium. But I have to say, most of them came along with me for the ride, and got it in the end. It was a great opportunity, and really enjoyable.
In fact, I had a handful of great conversations after my talk—people telling me theyhadn’t thought about “story” the way I articulated it, or that they appreciated the tools I’d just given them to help pull stories out of their mentees.
But, you know how there is always that ONE person who comes to talk to you, and you feel the negative energy drifting toward you? Yeah, THAT guy. Allow me to reconstruct the conversation that followed as best I can. (Technically, there were only two of us in the conversation. But it felt like there were three: him, the Judi in my head, and the actual polite Judi.)
Him: So . . . I took a look at your web site while you were giving your presentation.
Me, in my head: Way to give me your undivided attention.
Me, in reality: Oh . . . ?
Him: And, you know, the minute it loads, the first thing it says is: “Disconnection sucks.” I found that off-putting, you know?
Me, in my head: Everyone is entitled to their opinion, Judi. Just breathe.
Me, in reality: Okay . . .
Him: Now, I kept reading, and I see that you’re talented. But that just threw me. I mean, what are people going to think when you say something like that? It doesn’t seem professional.
Me, in my head: Clearly, my site is doing its job, because the two of us would not be suited to work together—so the fact you are off-put by plain language and my point of view is exactly right. Thank you for confirming this for me.
Me, in reality: Well, that’s a fair point, but it does represent what I think—that disconnection does suck . . .
Him: <interrupting me> I mean, just think about the image you’re putting out there. I just wouldn’t say that on a web site. I think it could be costing you clients.
Me, in my head: Only the clients I don’t want. Like you.
Me, in reality: Well, thanks for your thoughts . . .
He walked away with a smug smile, and unsubscribed from my list the next day. Which is exactly as it should be.
The Gift You Didn’t Even Ask For
Now, coming up to someone after they’ve just poured their heart into a talk to criticize them is something I would never do. Because while I do want to be a person who calls it as she sees it (saying things like “disconnection sucks” and all), I’m also very cognizant of time and place and, well, mean-spiritedness. Plus, I believe that “calling it as you see it” is often just code for hearing yourself talk and trying to feel important. And that’s of zero interest to me.
But it takes all kinds in this world. And sometimes the people who just want to hear themselves talk offer you a gift, especially if they are people you don’t resonate with.The fact that they are criticizing you—specifically, a choice you’ve made about your message or your brand or your voice—lets you know that you are on the right track. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel harsh to hear it. Or that you don’t go to a defensive place first (I only gave you the PG-rated version of the conversation in my head; the real version probably wouldn’t make it through your spam filters). But it actually is a gift—the same way that truly constructive criticism from people you do respect and resonate with is a gift.
When I first started writing copy for companies and helping them with their brand messaging, I didn’t have much of a brand myself. I didn’t have that strong of a point of view, because I was still formulating what I thought about stuff. But now I know that I have a certain kind of person and a certain kind of company that I want to work with, and they are not afraid of plain language and a strong voice. In fact, it’s what they want. They listen as much as they talk, and they are more interested inengaging people than talking at them. They are not afraid of an outside point of view. They find it refreshing to listen to someone who doesn’t know all of the lingo about their industry. Of course they want writing that is professional and appropriate, but they don’t confuse having a point of view that provokes a bit with being unprofessional.
I’m clear on this now. So I can see pretty well when someone doesn’t come from this place. The problem is, sometimes that person can’t see it. Hence, they think it’s their job to tell you what to say to appeal to them. They don’t get that you don’t want them as a client. I say: let it be what it is, and recognize that it isn’t even your job to explain it. Just smile and move on (or write a newsletter about it).
Your brand is your best filter. So use it. Use the constructive feedback you get from people to make your message better, and the people-who-just-want-to-hear-themselves-talk negative feedback to reaffirm that you’re on the right track. Thank the cosmos for delivering this gift to you, right to your doorstep. And then move on.