Work + Life
plus 3 exercises to help you ease into sharing more of yourself with your professional network
by Brittany Taylor
published August 29, 2017
updated June 5, 2018
¶ Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like one more person wearing Editor pants from Express? Or one more person dripping sweat on a fellow commuter? Or one more person trying to take a selfie while simultaneously sipping coffee? Do you ever wonder how you can make people remember who you are while you’re stuck in this mass of other people who sorta-kinda look and act like you?
I know how you feel, so I’m going to tell you something that I had to tell myself after a lot of fretting over my choice of slacks and deodorant and beverage receptacles:
You have a lot to give. I’m not blowing smoke up your ass—I do mean that. You’re smart. You have a vague sense of what you’re doing next. You’ve got a background no one else has, even if that background is heavy in French fry-tasting and light in things you think matter more than fried finger food. That makes you capable of doing this making-money thing, regardless of how you’re going about doing it.
Here’s the thing:
You’re here, which means you’re either going to be clicking the X soon because these words aren’t clicking with you or you’re done with keeping your head down and pushing on the way people-in-general tend to do.
So, what happens when you want to move forward in a way that’s a little bit different from the crowd? If you want to stick with something other than the status quo? If you want to, say, be recognized as a professional with more than just a job title—with a personality and a set of opinions and a point of view that all people everywhere might not agree with?
Well, what the hell are you supposed to do then? How do you make people remember you?
For as long as the internet has been around, people have published stuff on it. Decades later, we’ve got a lot of stuff to read, which is great if you want to find some niche fan fiction or a guide to restoring the floors of an 1862 farmhouse. It’s not so great if you want to publish something new, today, and have people read it and love it and share it and—here’s the kicker—remember it.
The tools are all there. WordPress, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, whathaveyou. Tools help you get the job done, and we have a bunch of good ones. It’s the people you need to worry about. It’s the people you need to break through to.
You know that networking trick, the one where you repeat the name of a new acquaintance the moment you meet them? The repetition of the name doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to recall it later when they rush you at the cash bar, bit memory experts argue that it ups your odds.
There’s another trick, though, and if you have spent any sort of time reading Lifehacker, you know this one, too: Associating a quirky fact or detail with the stranger in question helps you remember who that person is and a little something about what they do.
It helps if it’s something personal, like the Trekkie pin on their blazer or the roundabout explanation of their recent promotion that somehow involved fishing a rat—or a mouse? Something with a tail?—out of the executive toilet.
So. Repetition and personal details—two situation-tested tactics for getting people to associate your name with, well, anything.
Everyone wants a blog post with a zillion views overnight. But other than a temporary adrenaline rush if it all works out the way you’ve dreamed (which, between crashing servers and comment spam, it never does), one-hit-wonder virality will do as much for you as it did for Right Said Fred, minus the royalty payments.
Why? Well, think about it this way: Do you remember who published the last cute dwarf goat video you watched? What about where you first heard “extra” used as a buzzword? Yeah, me neither.
Viral content isn’t valuable if your visitors are coming in for one thing and leaving as soon as they’ve consumed it.
One-time visitors don’t become followers. They don’t build your network, they don’t join your community, and they don’t become loyal clients or customers.
One-time visitors don’t even know who you are.
I know. Ouch. Can we collectively get over the viral post yearning now? Instead, let’s consider it a happy accident, a bonus, like that Hershey bar Mom tucked into your backpack that you find on the bus ride home after a not-so-bad day at school. And let’s move on.
One of my favorite stories comes from Melyssa Griffin. In one email newsletter she sent during one campaign a year or a few ago, she told a story about a landlord she met while looking for a new apartment. The guy expressed his pleasant surprise that she, a young woman supporting herself, was bringing in so much bank by herself, through her own business.
I don’t remember the course she was selling, although I may have purchased whatever it was. I don’t remember the particular point of that email, if there was anything beyond, “Look! I did this for myself and you can, too.” But I remember that story.
I’ve also been a money-paying, community-joining, content-sharing, horn-tooting fan ever since. It was the story that converted me.
You need to get in front of people over and over again—seven times is the sweet spot, per many experts—and you need to capture them with stories that resonate.
Repetition. Personal details. Those are the two things that will make people remember who you are, what you do, and why they should be 100-percent on-board with following you wherever you go.
I like think pieces. I do, I really do. I also like giving advice and scripts and action plans, which is why there’s essentially another, separate blog post below that provides you with exactly that. If you want to think on what I said above, bookmark this post and come back to it when you’re ready to get to work.
And if you’re ready to get to work now? Well, here’s a three-step plan to help you do that. Each of the steps below can be executed individually or together, and each will help you feel more comfortable interacting with other people and with your own life as a professional person-with-life-stories-that-you-want-to-share-someday.
Ready to work toward making people remember you? Onward together!
To me, it feels awkward to go up to someone I know I’ve met and introduce myself again. I have to tell myself to get the frick over it, march across the room, and do the awkward thing. This is what I say once I’ve gotten the perspiration under control: “Kara, hi, I’m Brittany. We met a few months back at a happy hour. How are you?” Follow that up with actual conversation that goes beyond the weather and the weak drinks the bartender is serving.
The purpose of this exercise is to get over the quake-y fear in your belly that keeps you on the sidelines at professional community-building events. I know you know the one: The fear of whether or not someone you recognize recognizes you.
Don’t feel this fear? Good. Go reintroduce yourself, anyway.
And before you freak out about the boundaries between personal and professional, I’m not saying you need to talk about how you prefer organic cotton underwear to fancy seamless mesh unmentionables. So, you know, breathe. I’m thinking more along the lines of, say, funny call-backs to your first job stocking shelves at a 7/11 or how your mom used to work in advertising at that office building around the corner that your competitor just moved into.
Like Step 1, Step 2 is about finding a level of comfort with sharing more of yourself on a professional plane. Keep your stories low-key, low-stakes, low-risk until you’re comfortable enough not to. And, of course, keep workplace and industry norms in mind as you share.
I’m a person who naturally thinks in terms of stories. Still, this exercise is tough for me because I’m also one of those people who, when you ask her how her day was, totally blanks on whether or not there’s anything worthwhile others would want to hear about. So, you know, I shrug and say, “It was fine,” and then I’m the boring person at dinner. Sigh.
Sometimes, there aren’t stories. Sometimes, work is boring. Sometimes, work is so complicated that you can’t begin to condense your day into a story that’ll make sense in just a few minutes of idle chatter. Sometimes, you want to be the boring person at dinner who is finishing this glass of hard cider in the next 5 minutes, thankyouverymuch.
Most times, though, there are stories. We just don’t give enough thought to breaking them out, and then we forget about them. Lost stories make me sad because they’re wasted opportunities (and also, I’m a dirty rotten story lover). Let’s stop that, shall we?
This is a mental exercise. It’s all in your head. On your commute home, while you’re waiting at an intersection or for your mass transit vehicle of choice, walk yourself through your day. Go from the beginning and recount what you did, who you talked to, what you conversed about, what you had for lunch, where you walked on your break. Then, if anything pops out at you—weird note on the fridge? Absurdly pleasant call with a client?—dig deeper into that moment. Ask yourself why it was a memorable one. Ask yourself what you learned from it. Ask yourself how it’ll affect your work day tomorrow. And then review it. Play it back like a video clip, but this time, insert in all the mental discussion you’ve centered on it. Color it with your opinions. Add in any background details. Shape it into a story you could tell someone.
And then, cross the intersection. Hop on the bus. Go home and enjoy yourself, and if someone asks about your day, say, “You know, this funny thing happened…”
Practice makes perfect, y’all.
Psst! Dealing with shyness, introversion, or social anxiety? Me, too. I wrote down all of my best coping techniques here on the blog.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.