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4 Ways to Get Laughs on Stage (even if you’re not that funny)

Of all the people you’ve seen get up in front of a room to speak, how many do you really remember?

Very few. And chances are the ones who made an impact probably made you laugh, too.

Solid content gets a nod.

But funny gets rave reviews.

Funny gets asked to speak again. And again.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to be a standup comic to get laughs. Or a joke writer. Or a ham.

Quite frankly, you don’t even have to think of yourself as funny.

Some people may are particularly gifted, sure. But other, I’d say most, great speakers get laughs because they work at it; they learn to use humor as a tool. And when you see it that way, you can learn to use it like anything else.

I interviewed evolutionary psychologist and humor researcher Gil Greengross, PhD, for a piece I wrote for Women’s Health magazine. And he explained that humor is not usually something made up by one person and consumed by another; it’s how humans relate. It’s something we participate in together.

“Humor is a fundamentally social phenomenon,” says Greengross. When you share laughter and humor with other people, says Greengross, you build up trust and camaradie with others.

He told me about this study, led by neuroscientist Robert Provine and published in the International Journal of Behavioural Biology, which found that in 99 percent of the cases observed, laughter functioned more as punctuation at the end of statements, in response to mundane statements, and nothing that would be deemed funny outside that context.

Aha!

That means humor isn’t always mass produced by pros—it’s made by hand, in the moment. If you’ve ever tried and failed to explain to someone why something was funny, after the fact, then you know this is true. “Guess you had to be there,” you say. Indeed.

This is great— because it means that you, too, can get great, real laughs in your talk, too.

Think your subject matter is too serious for laughs? Think again. A speaker who deftly handles a difficult or serious topic can actually earn big laughs—because in so doing, he gives the audience the much-needed chance to relieve tension.

So how can you get more laughs on stage? Here are some techniques I’ve used, observed, and put into practice for myself and others I’ve coached.

  1. Don’t try to be funny. (Be honest instead.)  

    You know who gets the most pained pity laughs ever? The person who is trying too hard. Please promise me you won’t do this. Instead, try being just blatantly honest. I know it works because I do it all the time.

    I happen to think that people who are tagged as “so funny” are often just more honest than the next person. They say things other people would filter out. Fact is, I am a speaker who also happens to perform stand-up comedy—but doing stand-up didn’t teach me to be funny; it gave me a forum and format for what I already knew got laughs: Say things other people wouldn’t. I’ve been doing that forever.

    This, by the way, is why a little self-deprecation goes a long way to winning over an audience.

    When you make a comment or joke at your own expense, you’re showing the audience that you don’t take yourself too seriously; that you’re no different from them.

    Because you’re going to appear high status on a stage, taking yourself down a peg or two makes you more relatable as a person. As opposed to an insufferable blowhard.

    For instance: I joke in my TEDx talk (“Stop Searching for Your Passion”) about how I was so down at one point early in my career that I spent every night sitting around in my underwear watching Seinfeld reruns. That got a laugh. Because the fact is, we have all done this. I still do it.

  2. Go for specific over general, every time.
    Note that in the above example, I didn’t say I sat around and watched TV. That would not have gotten a laugh. The laugh comes from the details: you can picture the person slumped there, staring blankly at the TV while Kramer comes crashing into the Jerry’s apartment. It works because you can see it.


    If you say in your talk that you were in such a bad mood and binged on junk food, that’s not going to get the laugh. But you know what will? When you admit that you started hurling unflattering epithets at the Verizon customer service agent while knee deep in a bag of Ding Dongs.

    Don’t just say a thing: Fill in the rest of the picture and include the details that give the scene weight, color, and dimension. The funny is in the granular. Always.We laugh because that’s where we see ourselves most clearly.
  3. Use pop culture references—carefully.
    What makes pop cultural references work is because again it lends specificity. It puts us in a place in time—a specific time, one we all shared and remember and perhaps are nostalgic for. It can get a laugh because it allows us to remember it and we feel included by it.


    My rule is this: Know what purpose that reference serves. Is it a cutting commentary on something happening in our culture? Is it a great comparison to show how far we’ve come or how far we’ve stayed the same perhaps?

    If you’re doing a talk that will be recorded and shared (say, a TEDx talk), you don’t want to make a reference to something or be too dependent on an example that’s exclusive or fleeting because then the talk has a more limited shelf life.

    My rule of thumb is that if you want to make a pop culture reference that isn’t lost on half the crowd or meaningless six months from now, use one that has stood the test of time, meaning, is old enough that people will remember. The more mainstream the better, usually.

    This is why a reference to Duran Duran is going to get more laughs from an adult audience than Drake. (Then again, it depends).  People love to be reminded of where they came from, their shared history, things they can laugh at now.Making just the right cultural reference, be it to older songs or movies, foods or fashions, or something we all used to be into but are embarrassed about now? That’ll get a laugh. Again, consider the crowd and what purpose that reference serves.
  4. Take a hard left turn.

    I said you don’t have to be a comic to be funny, but it does help to take a tip from the pros. I had the chance to study under comic Jim David, a very successful standup who has performed for decades. And he says that comedy isn’t a talent or a gift.He said joke writing is a mathematical equation, and anyone can learn it.

    Jokes are, he said, simply a series of hard left turns. You make the audience think you’re going one way and then you make a hard left; it throws them off, and quite often, will make them laugh.


    You see this technique lots of places, by anyone trying to entertain and engage someone else—so you see it in comedy sure but also compelling narratives and great advertising, novels, horror movies, you name it. It requires that you know what someone anticipates or assumes, and then–surprise!–go in a different direction.

    Think about what your audience anticipates, and then, hang a left when they least expect it. When done right, your audience will be surprised and delighted to be along with you for the ride, and they’ll remember you long afterwards, too. 

Want to learn how to crush it on stage? Join my FREE online training June 7 & 8 – “5 Steps to a TED-worthy Talk.” And start stepping up your game in ways that get you noticed—and booked to speak again.

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Unless You Haul Rocks for a Living, This Applies to You

If you spend most of your time at a keyboard, you can count yourself among the 60 million or so professionals known as “knowledge workers”—a term Peter Drucker coined in the 1960s to describe academics, tech people, analysts, essentially, anyone who didn’t work a physically demanding job.

You know. People who “think” for a living.

What a weird term, knowledge worker. It’s also kind of classist and obnoxious. Please. I know plenty of “knowledge workers” who don’t think about anything.

But what’s more, the term seems to imply that what we come in knowing is more important than what we learn while we’re here. 

Here’s why I bring it up: I spoke on a panel called “The Future of Work” at the Workfront LEAP 2017 conference in April, held annually for users of its project management software. Workfront CMO Joe Staples posed the question of how we thought the role of the knowledge worker was changing.

So I piped up and said that the real challenge of the “knowledge worker” has little to do with knowledge, and everything to do with getting anyone to care.

In his book The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin says that while we’re living in the new Connection Economy, we’re nursing an Industrial Age hangover. We still think compliance and efficiency is most important; it’s not.

We have machines that can gather, process, and evaluate information. The challenge, then, is for modern “knowledge workers” is to get over what they know, and instead, stay curious and engaged and empathetic. Because if they don’t, they won’t learn, or grow, or invest in any real way in the work they do, which is already happening.

Disengagement is one of the big threats to corporate cultures, productivity—and costs the U.S. economy somewhere around $500 billion annually. Meaning, far too many people just don’t care. And if you don’t care, how can you create trust, loyalty, value? You can’t.

Futurist Jacob Morgan says on Forbes.com that it’s goodbye to the knowledge worker and hello, instead, to the learning worker:

“This new movement is the age of the ‘learning workers.’ Yes, these people largely have college degrees and advanced training, but what sets them apart is their knowledge of how to learn. Instead of having a set of specific skills, learning workers have the skills to learn as they go, adapt, and apply their learning to new situations and issues.”

What’s far more valuable he says, is not what someone comes in knowing, but how they can adapt and get up to speed as the business landscape and demands evolve. It’s those who can adapt who will be more successful, but also more valuable, and the same goes for learning organizations who are stay light on their feet.

So rather than get hung up on what you know or don’t know, recognize that one of the most valuable skills you can bring to the table is your ability to be a quick study, to be truly interested and engaged. Do you have any idea how rare that is?

(Here are the slides for the session I presented at Workfront LEAP 2017 was called “Out of Juice: How to Reinspire Yourself & Reengage at Work.”)

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3 Life Lessons You Can Learn from Being on TV

If you’re smart, you’ll learn something new from every job. And given that you’ll switch, not just jobs, but careers several times over your life, your unique advantage comes from the wisdom you pick up along the way.

If you worked in customer service, you’ll know how to handle clients when you go into business for yourself.

If you used to work as a reporter, you’ll have a nose for asking the right questions when you start law school.

And if you’ve ever douched your own nasal passages on national TV, you’ll know how to, quite literally, go with the flow.

(True story. More on that in a minute.)

For years I served as a magazine editor at Martha Stewart—and part of my job was doing regular TV segments on hers and other daytime shows. I also hosted my own daily radio show on Sirius XM for years.

Media, I’ve found, is a pretty powerful crucible for learning how to think on your feet when it matters most.

And should you decide to pursue media as part of your career (say as a contributing expert or guest, or perhaps even as an editor or producer), here are some key insights that will serve you on the air—and everywhere else.

Lesson #1: Keep it moving

In TV, you have maybe 3 to 5 minutes tops, so you have to make the best of every single one of them—especially on live TV. There is no editing, and there’s no time to hit the brakes if things go awry.

One time on Martha’s show, I was demonstrating a series of meditation apps. They worked fine during rehearsal. But when we went live? No dice. There we were, and for two long seconds the balloons that were supposed to dance across the screen, didn’t.

Martha started asking, “Why isn’t it working,” and rather than dwell on it, I waved it off (“Who knows?”) and kept things going. I said, “Well, what you would have seen, had it worked, was…” and spent a second or two explaining it, rendering the actual demo unnecessary.

In Real Life (IRL): Don’t dwell on it. Doesn’t matter if your powerpoint slides wouldn’t advance, or why three people canceled on your meeting. We waste far too much time looking backwards, trying to edit the past.

Obviously, understand a problem well enough so that you don’t let it happen again. But there are some times when inexplainable blips occur and at some point, it isn’t worth revisiting.

Instead, think like a host who is on to the following segment: “Next up! Let’s find out how to juice kale at home!” It doesn’t matter why the world didn’t going your way. Just. Keep. Going.

Lesson #2: Make an impression

The people who do well as on-air contributors are not only clear communicators—they aren’t afraid to stake their claim.

The people I booked as experts on my radio show were those who brought their ideas and opinions to the table, not the ones who played it safe all the time.

IRL: The more you waffle and hesitate, the less impressive and less interesting you become. The people who stand out and get tapped for bigger opportunities are the ones who aren’t afraid to own up to what they really think, and stand by it.

Lesson #3: Be game for anything

There’s no room on TV to do anything less than 100 percent. Even if you’re nervous. Better to see it through than fail halfway.

I was about to step onto the set of Martha to discuss a series of natural flu remedies, including the neti pot, an ages-old practice of flushing the nasal passages with warm saline water.

The plan changed five minutes before I went on the air, when the producer said, “Martha wants you to demo the neti pot.”

Um, what?

“Get me a towel and a bowl,” I said. And I walked on stage and douched my nose on national television. It was messy and, yes, I was dying a little inside as I did it. But you can’t fake a neti pot demo. You have to go all in.

(You can watch that clip here—at the 1:50 mark)

The audience laughed, Martha clapped, and a clip of it ended up on some online video called “WTF is going on with daytime TV?”

That was a win.

IRL: Commit. You’ll get real props for trying something, whether it works out or not—especially if you fully commit to doing it.

Realize that you don’t actually learn much from doing things right. You learn from doing it period. Win or lose, the effort teaches you so much more, not only about what you have done—but, more importantly, what you can do.

Want to learn more about how to be a go-to media expert? Register for my FREE online training, “5 (Little-Known) Ways to Snag Media Attention…That Even PR Pros Get Wrong” on March 15 or 16th.

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How Knowing Too Much Is Holding You Back

My family is big into board games. At around 8:30pm on any given holiday or a night when at least two people are holding beers, my brother in law rubs his hands together and asks, “Who’s up for a game?”

Taboo is one of our all-time favorites. The goal of this game is to get your teammates to guess the word you’re given—without using any of the other words listed on the card. So if the word is Santa Claus, the words you can’t use are: Christmas, holiday, December, North Pole, chimney, or gifts.

This means you have to think beyond the shortcut references that you’d normally use to explain it and start fresh. In this case, I might say, “This is a man who comes to your house the same day every year to give you things you asked for, but you never see him.” Even that may be too easy.

The most frustrating thing of all is when your teammate says something like, “Oh! You know what I mean! God. C’mon! It’s that guy! You know!”

This is a losing strategy.

In order to effectively communicate the meaning, of anything really, you need to be able to explain it to someone who doesn’t have a flipping idea what you’re talking about. And it’s what so many people—entrepreneurs, business owners, even marketers—often get wrong.

In a Harvard Business Review article called “The Curse of Knowledge,”  Chip and Dan Heath (I have no idea if they’re related), address how vague, high-level strategy language is completely unhelpful, and does nothing to differentiate a brand or a business.

The curse of knowledge is, in layman’s terms, a cognitive bias that makes it hard for you to remember or imagine what it is NOT to know a thing, because you already know it—and so you forget that other people don’t.

I see this all the time when I talk to people about their brands or missions, and they tell me things like, “I want to empower women,” and “I believe everyone can live a healthier life.” They make big, high-level sweeping statements that do nothing to differentiate them. And they skip over the nitty gritty, specific things that are SO much more helpful. They assume everyone knows. Nope.

This has real repercussions: Particularly when you try to: stand out, attract clients, make sales, close deals, or get anyone in the media to return your calls or emails. That’s when it becomes clear that…something isn’t clear.

My business partner Paula Rizzo has worked for years as a TV producer, and so she’s pitched all day and night e by people who want to get on TV and who believe they have something valuable to offer.

And she always says, “If I’m confused, it’s a no.”

The value in being able to clearly communicate what you do and why anyone should care cannot be overstated.

And if you’re having a hard time, it’s not because you’re stupid—it’s because you know too much.

Your ability to adopt the mindset of someone who has no idea and zero context on what you have to offer will determine how effectively you can land that message and get results.

Here are three points to bear in mind:

  1. We all have our shields up. There’s so much info coming at us from all angles, we can barely see straight. Your job is to get me to lower my guard. If anything you say makes me work hard to understand, I’m moving on. Your job is to compel me, to pique my curiosity, to target my need so swiftly and clearly that I am willing to get in the car with you and drive with you a bit.
  2. Don’t assume I know, or care, about anything. It’s not that I’m willfully ignorant or don’t like you. I just need to be convinced, in seconds, to pay attention to whatever it is you want to share.
  3. Play Taboo with your brand or business. It’s a good exercise: How would you, Taboo-style, describe what you do without any of the usual terms or context you’d normally rely on? Try it. It’s not so easy. Talk about it with someone who has no involvement, or, frankly, interest, in what you do. That’s a great target to practice on! When you can effectively communicate and compel someone who isn’t sure they give a damn, imagine what you do for someone who does.

Want to get more media coverage for your book, brand, or business? Join our FREE online training, “5 (Little-Known) Secrets to Snagging Media Attention…that Even PR Pros Get Wrong”

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How to Ensure Your Pitch Scores

img_6501I had my first scrimmage of the season yesterday for the touch football league I’m in (yes you read that right). Gorgeous, sunny day in Prospect Park. New team t-shirts. Feeling good.

During one key play (I can’t use football lingo because I don’t speak football), I ran for the end zone. I had that spidey sense that it was coming to me. So I got as open as I could, right in front of the QB. He looked left; he looked right, and then, he shot it like a bullet straight through this converging wall of men who were closing in to block the pass.

It sailed right through—and directly into my arms.

There is no better feeling than that. Why did it work? I was in the right place at the right time, sure, and ready to receive it. And the QB did what a QB is supposed to do: connected with his receiver.

It’s obvious why this works. Seems simple enough. Yet how often do we miss in our attempts to connect with someone directly? Happens all the time.

I’m thinking of a lot of things, for sure, but specifically (and forgive me for mixing my sports metaphors) when we pitch people—our ideas, our businesses, our books, whatever. Specifically, when we pitch the media.

Fact is, the members of the media are also receivers; they’re out there, many of them, hoping to catch a fantastic pass, grab a great idea and run with it. But if the throw is off or not directly aimed at them, it ain’t happening.

Where do people tend to miss when pitching media? 

  • They send a blanket pitch, to everyone, assuming one size fits all;
  • They think about what THEY want to promote, rather than what would benefit readers and viewers;
  • They don’t give enough compelling reasons to consider it, and instead, make the producer or editor jump through hoops or make an extra effort;
  • They are unable to answer the only question that matters to producers: “Why should I care.”

Maybe I got lucky on that touchdown. But I’m far more consistent in my own pitching efforts when it comes to connecting with a prospect, a client, and the media, and I can help you do it, too.

My friend Paula Rizzo, a TV news producer and author, and I have created a course designed to help authors, experts, and entrepreneurs get the media attention they deserve. Why? Because 90 percent of people do it wrong, and end up in the “no” pile, which is not where they should be!

The applications to our course close September 23, 2016, but you can and absolutely should get on our list so we can keep you up to date and send you great free stuff about getting media attention!

 

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How to Make Your Work Matter

fistWhether you work for yourself or someone else, there’s one thing I know about you: You want your work to matter.

Even, or especially, if you’re afraid it doesn’t. Maybe your boss or clients heap praise on you. Maybe they don’t say a damn thing.

But you want it to be good, and you want people to notice it.

I just spoke at How Design Live (#HowLive), the largest design conference in the country. Five hundred people came to my session, entitled “Build Your Personal Brand On the Job,” most of whom were sent to the conference by their employers. But while that’s a catchy title, what the talk is really about is how to get your work to matter. Because when you do that in a way that’s uniquely yours, bam. You have your brand.

Because the point of having a ‘brand,’ a word that’s becoming annoying even to me, is so that people know what you stand for, what to expect, and why they should bother with you. Your brand connotes meaning, that is the point. And one way to make sure you mean something is to make what you do matter to other people.

Three ways to starting doing that:

1 – Think like an entrepreneur.

And by that I mean, stop making someone else responsible for what you do. Stop checking boxes with the hope that it’ll all add up to something, and decide to take the reins of your career. An entrepreneur, by definition, doesn’t wait for someone to say ok. They just DO. What can you go out of your way to do that would create more meaning, more value, where you are? You decide how you’re going to make things better around here, and be the one to make it happen. What are you waiting for? Initiators get noticed.(More about what makes a true entrepreneur.

2 – Give gifts.

Go above and beyond to give things you don’t have to, and you will delight, impress, and show that you are more than your job description. I don’t mean a fruit basket. I mean a piece of added value, an extra thing, a bonus, a bit of insight. Something of value to the receiver.

Ken Carbone, co-founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency said that when he’s bidding on a client, he always gives them something valuable for free—in his case, he says, “$100K worth of branding advice,” and it’s something so valuable he had it trademarked: His “unify, simplify, amplify” approach to creating a more powerful brand. Would you forget that guy? Not me.In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “The gift represents effort. Effort is separate from money, separate from job description, separate from capitalism itself.” You achieve the goal of being indispensable, he says, “by giving selfless gifts, and those benefit everyone.”

3 – Don’t wait until your next job interview to figure out what you were doing there.

How many times have you scrambled to cobble together a great answer to use the next day at an interview? Because you know they’re going to ask about your last job. Or maybe you’re struggling to update your Linked In profile, and aren’t sure what to say.

Don’t wait until your ‘done’ with a job or role to figure out why it mattered. Think about it now, while you’re doing it. The beauty of the Linked In profile is that it’s fluid and evolving, unlike a resume, which is outdated the moment you print it. You should ALWAYS be updating your profile—with new projects, new insights, new skills.

Here’s a tip: If your profile or resume reads like something I could post on a job board tomorrow, then you’ve written a job description, not a record of your contribution. Make sure that you show not just what you did, but what effect it had, and how what you did mattered. After all, if you don’t know, how will anyone else?

…Not sure what your brand is or why what you do matters? Maybe you need some help. I’m launching a live, online workshop this summer called “Why You” — it’s not up yet but it will be. Be the first to sign up (and get a hot seat, which means you’ll be in the spotlight) by adding yourself to my list here.)

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The Real Definition of Entrepreneur

Man jumpLet’s face it: There’s nothing sexier than describing yourself an an entrepreneur. It’s like a hot leather jacket that everyone is trying on for size, including me. If it’s not a fit, maybe you like this simpler style, called solopreneur. Or maybe this tiny little handbag, called micropreneur instead. Or, this briefcase-slash-diaper bag called “mompreneur.”

Point is this: We are bending the term to make it mean what we want it to, need it to. I defined myself as a solopreneur, even had a video show and podcast by that same name…and then Grant Cardone called me out on Twitter and was basically like, that term sucks. “It’s too small.”

He’s right.

(And forget freelancer. Don’t get me started on what a horrible term that is.)

So what IS an entrepreneur, really? An editor at Shopify reached out to me to ask me what I think (and he wrote about it in this thoughtful piece here).

Fact is, there is one definition of it, and it’s this: a person who operates/runs a business, and takes on considerable risk to do so. Traditionally, we think of the entrepreneur as a person who finds and exploits a need in the marketplace, and either invests his or her own money, or more likely someone else’s, to fund this vision, product, service, company, and if it goes well, everyone makes a ton of money. It traditionally entails hiring people and renting office space and negotiating big pricey deals with vendors, etc.

You May Be One Yourself

Fact is, entrepreneurship has changed so much in the past decade that you may not do any of these things. You may never have an office or a staff, you may never raise funds from investors or regular people. But chances are you, don’t do this all yourself. All you need is a laptop, an internet connection, and a bank account to do business and rightfully call yourself an entrepreneur, and many do.

So if I am going to take liberties with the term, or at least tease the nuances, I would say that an entrepreneur is less defined by the business she runs or the amount of money they raise, and more defined by vision, risk, and character.

An entrepreneur leads with the solution to a problem, not with just a need to make money. An entrepreneur doesn’t just “organize” a business in my mind, but fuels it, directs it, and creates it. I hesitated to call myself an entrepreneur for a long time because I thought you had to have a Harvard MBA. I was so wrong.

Entrepreneurs are: scrappy and disruptive, creative and unruly, strategic and unstoppable. Sometimes they make lousy students and difficult employees. Some literally propel themselves on the force of their personality and the appeal of their promise, and other people help them carry it out and make it happen.

I’ve heard more than a few people say that entrepreneurship means “freedom.” I don’t know that I agree with that as the defining element. Maybe you don’t want debt. You know who else doesn’t have debt? A homeless guy. Is that what you want? You know who has a lot of freedom? An unemployed person. There are lots of ways to be free, and in fact, taking on the risk and investing yourself in something the way an entrepreneur does may be exciting and empowering, but “free” is not what I’d call it.

You’re free of the constraints of a corporate job, sure. That’s what people love. Look, we live in the land of the Lone Ranger. We love the idea of this rabble rouser, out conquering a new frontier. That’s romantic, and yes, many entrepreneurs slave away in solitude. But plenty don’t. The smart ones never dream of doing it on their own.

The entrepreneur is a maestro, a leader, but knows the value of team, too, and can lead and inspire. To my mind, I am not so hung up on the “prerequisites” for being an entrepreneur. Because I believe most can’t help themselves. And that’s why they do it.

In this way, they’re more like artists: They are compelled to make, create, connect—and that is why we are in love with them, aspire to be one or be like one. I can’t think of a better reason.

So. Is that you? I’m thinking I’m liking the fit myself.

 

Interst out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center - applications due 5/23/16

Interst out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center – applications due 5/23/16

…By the way, if you DO dream of pursuing a business idea and becoming an entrepreneur, check out the Creative>>Founder Lab at NY Media Center. They’re accepting applications now for their 8-week intensive running June-July 2016. I’m one of the instructors, leading a session on vision and mission, which I’m psyched about. Check it out!

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Why You Need to Embrace the Haters

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 11.59.28 PMNot too long ago, haters were the domain of the rich and famous — or at least, anyone with a sizable platform. In fact, it was basically a celebrity tax: you want attention, get ready for vitriol.

But now it very much is our problem. Because now we all want attention, and, thanks to the astonishingly infinite reach of every post or picture, we can all get it. Each one of us, whether we have 25 blood-related Facebook friends or 100,000 Twitter followers, is a publisher, producer and personality in our own right. And no matter what you want to say, or share, or do, even if it’s positively saintly in its mission and intention, you are in a position to be snarked at. And you probably will be.

One thing I do is teach talent how to scale their personal media brands — and fear of haters often holds them back. They don’t want to offend; they want people to like them. They’re afraid of critics. And yet, what I tell them is what I’ll tell you right now: Embrace the haters.

I’m not saying you have to like them, but you have to accept them as part of the landscape, which they most certainly are. Because if what you want is large-scale, media success, you’re going to have them. In fact, they can be a sign that you’re doing something right! Because you’re hitting a nerve.

I also realize not everyone wants that much attention or to be a huge star. I get it. But if you do want to make a big splash in your own pond or even rise up through the ranks where you work, again, you’re going to have people who seem to work against you. Online and off.

Fact is, no one is immune to haters — not a movie star, not a Nobel peace prize winner, not your stable older sister and not you. Feedback is one thing, and by definition should come from some qualified source. But entertaining endless snarky, antagonistic or passive aggressive barbs is another. You’ve got to build resilience by expecting it and ignoring as much of it as you can.

For my part, I rarely read the comments section on anything I write, even this one. I’ll glance sometimes, but as soon as things get ugly, I click away. It’s just not worth getting sucked down that rabbit hole.

I give my writer friends the same advice, whenever they feel the urge to jump into the mud pit, dukes up, ready to defend their work. I say: Does Cate Blanchett stand outside some podunk movie theater and defend, or debate, the merits of “Blue Jasmine” (and she got plenty of hate for being in a Woody Allen film to begin with)? Nope. So you don’t need to defend your work, either.

Of course, you care for a reason: You’re wired to. It’s not a weakness; it’s part of being human.

We are mammals who thrive in groups. And so that innate fear of offending, alienating or even just ticking someone off trips a kind of evolutionary alarm that makes us afraid we could be ousted. This is very, very layman science, mind you, but I’d venture to say it’s why we hunger for praise, attention and recognition — and why a whiff of sharp criticism can knock us off our feet. And, arguably, why I walked around my high school in LL Bean knockoff mocassins from Macy’s worrying that I would be found out, and sometimes still do.

The Age of the Troll

Internet trolls are a fairly recent iteration of an ugly human urge: To tear down someone else just because you can. And while we can complain about Youtube and Twitter, the social media landscape didn’t invent the tendency; it simply gave us a borderless playground on which to enact it. But you’ll find plenty of haters in real life, too. Here’s what to keep in mind when facing down four of the most common kinds of haters:

1. The Cynic

She may be a friend from high school whom you only barely granted FB access, and you have lived to regret it. Or she may share your workspace. Either way, this person loves to pinprick every balloon of joy, hope or optimism you float.

She’s the first one to tell you it’s supposed to rain the day you’re going to the beach or to write “must be nice” when you post a picture of a lovely candle-lit dinner. You know why she does it: She’s deeply unhappy and unable to let anyone be happy, either. She’s likely endured some serious disappointment or setback, or just a general, decades long malaise. The worst part is that she thinks she’s wise, or funny, or both. She’s not.

How to handle it: This depends, frankly, on what kind of relationship you want or need to have. If this person is part of your everyday life and it behooves you to keep things on the up, it’s worth killing her with kindness, if just to neutralize some of the acidity. I’ve found what works for these people isn’t trying to out-cynic them (never works). Instead, when the cynic burps up another bit of soggy commentary, shift gears completely: Inquire about something that you know matters to her — her dog, her mother, whatever.

Authentic connection, stripped of any irony or snark, is the best way to prune that discussion. As for cynical FB comments? Skip them. Don’t get into a cynical warfare. If you want to be a little bit passive aggressive yourself, you could like every comment to that post but hers. But maybe that’s just me.

2. The Green-Eyed Monster

The day you came home crying from school, your mother said that that girl was simply jealous of you. And you didn’t believe her. But she was right. In fact, you probably still have a hard time believing anyone could be intimidated by or wish they were you. But trust me, someone is, and does. And that person has locked onto you as her competition. This can mean a weird vibe, cold shoulder, or even some not-so-nice stuff said behind your back. It’s really not about you; it’s about her own insecurities. However, you still feel the effects.

How to handle it: Online, this is usually not a problem, because jealous frenemies don’t tell you what they think of you; they tell other people. Or they just observe, quietly. But in person, well, the weird vibe is uncomfortable. As a result, you tend to avoid this person. I say, do the opposite. Hone in. Be interested. And ask for help.

I once worked with a woman who needed to one-up me all the time. Granted, she’d been in the department first, and I was the newbie, so she had some innate need to guard her territory. If I tried to offer her any kind of help or information, I got an, “I know that already.” I felt like I couldn’t win, and I realized I was going about it all wrong.

So I did the opposite: I went to her for help. And the day I did, the tenor of our relationship changed. Once she was affirmed in her role as “in the know,” which was important to her, she went out of her way to help me. I was no longer a threat in her eyes and the tension dissolved. It doesn’t matter if it was true; our relationship improved and we ended up becoming friends. Once that fear was gone, she could be herself and so could I.

3. The Noodge

Look, this person is harmless. But her comments always drive you up the wall. She takes issue with whatever you post, she gets everyone riled up so that your simple commentary on a recent news story about school uniforms turns into a whole big Facebook pile-on. Why is she doing this? Does she hate you? Because why else would she suck so much time and energy for no good reason? I’ll tell you why: Because she’s bored and your posts are irresistible low-hanging fruit.

As with the Cynic, it’s less about you than it is about her against the world, and right now, that means you. Whereas the Cynic believes she’s world weary and wise, the Noodge may at turns be morally superior, easily offended or both. She’s not so much popping your balloon as she is making an example of you and “all that you represent.” And it’s worth adding that she may very well be a Green Eyed Monster, masquerading as a Noodge. In fact, the only thing that separates a Noodge from a Full-On Troll is that she’s not malicious. She’s all bark, no bite.

How to handle it: Try to resist her Facebook bait. She’s trying to lure you into a thing to scratch an itch; if you give in, she wins. Fact is, even if you can resist her Facebook bait, your friends may not be able to, and as with any party that breaks out in your house, you’re at least partly responsible for making sure nothing gets broken. If you try to ignore, she may get louder, so best to just play moderator and add a “Good point, Stacy, we hear you” and keep on truckin. She really wants one thing: to be heard.

4. The Full-On Troll

Now this is where things get serious. A Full-On Troll is a perfect storm of all of the above, times ten: She (or he, by the way) is cynical, jealous, bored, resentful, even ruthless. Not to mention, usually anonymous, especially since Full-On Trolls tend to work the more public comment forums, from small blogs to major publications to Youtube, that buzzing hive of haters.

Usually you don’t know this person, but it doesn’t mean you don’t care, because they come in and crap all over whatever it is you’ve posted. While the Internet didn’t invent cruelty or hate, it certainly did spawn trolls, who, under the invisible cloak of inscrutable screen names, roam around swinging their snarky, hateful bludgeons, smashing anything in their path.

I saw comedian Tony Deyo perform recently, and he did a bit about his recent and first appearance on Conan. During the sweet afterglow of his late night success, a single jab from one YouTube commenter managed to inspire bitter defensiveness and rage. In response to Tony’s four minutes of fame, this snarky respondent wrote, simply, “Boo, bitch.” “That review was two words long,” recalled Deyo. “And in those two words, he managed to insult me twice.”

How to handle it: In a word, ignore. You will not win in a fight with a Troll. Sure, if you’re bruising for a fight, you can dive in, but chances are, you’ll regret it — and probably lose. The fact that you care about something, anything (namely that which you’re defending), puts you at a disadvantage. Because the Troll cares about nothing. You can even call in reinforcements. But is it worth it? What will you win or prove? Nothing. It will cost you a mega-dose of cortisol and adrenaline, and leave you spent and bloody at the end. There are better ways to spend your time.

Deyo says he fumed over his hater for hours, and went on to recount how he turned the tables on him by — how else? — Googling his hater and inflicting his own breed of trollesque punishment on the guy. This was his attempt to right the scales, to make things even. Which he did, and continues to do, every time he tells that story to a new audience.

And thus the toxin spreads and the hater disease continues to fester. Because the most dangerous thing about engaging with a Troll isn’t that you might get hurt or mad or both — but that you risk becoming one of them.

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3 Signs Your Brand Is Having an Identity Crisis

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Your struggle with branding yourself or your business comes from two conflicting fears:

  • You don’t know who you are;
  • You don’t want to ruin what you already did/created/have

This places you at the crossroads between ignorance and fear. A lousy place to be (and we’ve all been there). As a result, you are hesitant to put a foot forward, in any direction, because of where you’ve been and where you fear to tread.

By the way, this is true for everyone I’ve ever worked with who had a brand to create, build, or promote.

You can feel attached to an old idea of who you are, an idea you think others have of you, and limiting ideas about what you CAN do. And my very favorite thing in the world is to kick those ideas over like tables in a kung fu movie.

Here are the clear markers of a brand in distress:

You’re getting a lot of business you don’t want. This is what happens when you try to serve “more” people at the expense of a more focused approach. The fear of course is that if you limit or focus, you will exclude some people and “lose” business. Don’t think about it as losing biz, but as qualifying the business you get.

You’re doing what feels safe, instead of what’s compelling. Once you develop a comfort zone with your brand or business, it’s easy to stay there. This is big trouble in little China. Because you will convince yourself that you’re “fine the way it is.” Is it, though? I’m not saying you have to go out on a limb and do crazy, off-brand stuff. But where are you pushing the envelope?

You’re striving to be competitive rather than different. Sally Hogshead (one of my faves) says in her book, How the World Sees You, that someone will always be better at this or that. If you try to be “better” than everyone, you will lose. How do you know? You’re mimicking what other brands are doing, and then trying to be the same but cheaper. And you’re more concerned with if you’re as good as, rather than leveraging what makes you memorable.

The drive to be competitive is the drive to keep up. The drive to be different is the drive to stand out—which, let’s face it, goes against everything you’re encultured to think. It’s human nature to worry whether you’re good enough, whether you fit in, whether you can be taken seriously. But if you continue to make efforts to make your brand like the others, you will be like the others, an also-ran. That ain’t no place to be.