I can't tell you how many times I've heard people tell me, "I hate writing bios," or, "I don't like talking about myself to other people." Even writers and extroverts have a hard time with this. So what's the big deal? Why do we loathe self-explanation?
There's a peculiar event happening tonight* called the Mixer Match, put on by I Heart Art: Portland. It's a non-traditional structured networking environment with a speed-dating vibe and specific expected outcomes—participating artists run the gauntlet through 20 arts professionals with a scant two minutes to pitch their work to each one.
The whole point of the evening is to break people out of their comfort zone, add some stress into the mix (I should mention that I'll be there calling time and generally being annoying through a megaphone), and give the artists an opportunity to meet these arts professionals in the hopes of sparking a connection.
But what's interesting to me is not so much the event itself, but the way in which it forces otherwise introverted personalities out of their shell and up onto a stage with a stranger—in two-minute increments.
That brings me back to talking about yourself. The key to the Mixer Match event (or any networking situation) is the elevator pitch. The principle is rather simple: what would you say to someone if you had their attention during a 30-second elevator ride? Could you really encapsulate what you do, what you love, and why someone should care into such a short amount of time? The short answer is yes.
Beyond the elevator pitch, we find ourselves in situations every day that give us the opportunity to share our ideas and goals with other people. It might be through a website bio, a LinkedIn profile, or a casual meeting over drinks in a crowded bar. But more often than not we're caught unprepared, unwilling to talk, and unsure about what we're saying and we end up hiding behind understatement, vague details, and pedestrian small-talk. Or, in the case of a written bio, we end up with writer's block.
These situations are opportunities! We know we've been told to market every day, to practice our value proposition, or to get out there and evangelize about what we're doing, but we hold ourselves back. Why? What stops us?
First, a lot of us are held back by our own self-confidence. We are human beings who want to be accepted. Stepping out beyond the bounds of perceived "normality" and embracing our passions could lead to rejection. What if someone doesn't like what we say? What if they think it's stupid?
Second, we worry that we might be wrong—that somehow, that we should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque and done something different with our life. We fear that we're kidding ourselves, or that what we're doing is so foreign and scary that it's not safe to talk about openly with others. Or we're afraid that speaking with confidence or passion will come off as self-centered or close-minded.So how do we combat low self-confidence and fear of failure? Practice. Forcing ourselves to step outside our comfort zone. Something like our own personal Mixer Match event.
Simon Sinek says, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do serves as the proof of what you believe." When you talk about yourself, it's your story and your passion that speak louder and with more power than whatever it is that you make. The problem is, the why behind what we do is too often the last thing discussed.
This is the point where I put you to work. Grab a scrap piece of paper, a pen, and a kitchen timer. No cheating with a computer because physically writing it on paper will better help you remember. I want you to write down the first question below, then set the timer for one minute. Then get writing. When the timer goes off, put your pen down mid-sentence. Trust your instincts and don't over-intellectualize it. Then repeat the process for the next question, and then the last question.
- What do you do? (i.e. what is your product?) [set the timer and go!]
- How do you do it? (i.e. your process, materials, labor) [set the timer and go!]
- Why do you do it? (i.e. your inspiration, philosophy, guiding force) [set the timer and go!]
How's it going over there? Does your brain hurt? That should have only taken about five minutes if you account for writing the questions down. How do you feel? I have a feeling the first question was pretty easy, the second question was a little harder, and the third question gave you the most to think about.
What You Do
It's important to know what you're offering to the world, because what you offer should be a direct product of what you believe.
How You Do It
The process feeding from passion into product is a physical manifestation of why you believe in what you do.
Why You Do It
The root of all belief is what keeps you up all night when you're on a roll. It's the euphoria you feel when you finally take that leap into the unknown. It's your driving force. Why you do it is your whole reason for being.
Now read over your scribbles one more time, starting with the what, then the how, and lastly the why. Grab the thickest, blackest, permanentest marker you can find and blot the what and the how into oblivion. Let the dark ink bleed through the paper and leave the why to stand all by itself.
Then read the why aloud to yourself three more times. Next, set that timer for three more minutes, think about what else you want to tell people about your why and free-write. When the timer's up, put the pen down.
You've just found your fuel. Read these points over and over and over again until they are engrained into your ambidextrous brain. Talk about them with your friends, family, and lovers until you are so comfortable in your own skin that you could talk about it for hours.
Talk About Yourself
Do you still need to write a bio? Start with the why words and fill in the blanks from there. And why fret talking about yourself in the third person? If it's more comfortable for you, use "I" when you talk about yourself as if you were talking to your best friend.
The next time you meet a stranger who asks, "What do you do?", ignore the what and tell them why you do it first. No need to rephrase the question, just launch into your why. I guarantee they'll like it. And I guarantee you will, too.
*If you're in the Portland area and are interested in seeing what this Mixer Match business is all about, feel free to drop by and feel the buzz of excitement. The first floor of the venue will be dedicated to casual mingling, and there will be complimentary food and beverage. Mixer Match for Visual Artists and Galleries: Wednesday, April 25, 6–9 pm. Hosted by Design Within Reach, 1200 NW Everett Street, Portland.
UPDATE: I realize now that I'm focused here on introspection and self-motivation, but there's an interesting conversation developing on Google+ about where why value is found and if it has more to do with what others value in your work. Feel free to to chime in!