Please forgive me for mentioning the C-word when we’re barely halfway through November – but I’ve just watched this year’s Christmas advert from John Lewis, and it has made me cry (very unusual for me) AND got me thinking about what makes great communication (not at all unusual).
If you’re in the UK, you’ll know exactly the one I mean. Every year the JL festive ad is one of the most anticipated and talked-about moments in the run up to Christmas.
It’s always full of pathos, brilliantly produced and guaranteed to warm your heart. I have to admit that I still hanker after Monty, the beautiful little penguin that made his young owner’s life so joyous in the 2014 campaign – but this year’s ad is wonderful.
It’s a tale of random acts of kindness, and the real difference we can make to others’ lives through even the smallest of actions. It’s just what we need in a year when life has been tough in so many ways…a year when kindness became more important and valued than ever.
But what has this to do with business communication?
Well, it’s all about telling stories.
Your story underpins your authentic voice
If you’ve been reading our blogs over the last few weeks, you’ll know we’ve been guiding you through a number of steps to help you find and use your voice – which is absolutely crucial if you are to show others the value you offer them.
And if you’ve been working through these steps with us, you’ll be thinking much more about how to communicate with confidence and authenticity.
We talk a lot about storytelling here at Lucy & Emma, as one of the most powerful ways to build our confidence and authenticity. Actually, that might be a bit of an understatement; we live, breathe and sleep this stuff with every single one of our clients and colleagues, and with ourselves.
We are not the only ones, of course. Just look around you at the books, the Instagrammers, the influencers, the business coaches and so on. It’s all about the storytelling. Together we are moving into a much more authentic era, where personal stories are taking centre stage.
You know, for those of us now a certain age this feels like a huge shift. A welcome shift, but huge nonetheless. When I started my first job on a newspaper 35 years ago, one of the first pieces of advice I was given was simply this: when you come to work, you leave your life on the doorstep.
Now, on one hand I am so grateful for this early training. I think it helped me develop huge resilience that serves me well every day (especially in tough times), and helps me get up and show up whatever else is going on.
But, on the other hand, I know it has made me less tolerant in some ways; I know that in the past I have been less patient sometimes when colleagues have to prioritise their personal needs over their work.
Now I have (I hope) a more balanced approach – because I have learned that life is messy. And when we talk about keeping it real, we simply mean accepting that mess and managing it all the best we can.
(Covid has helped this too, I think, as it has forced us to blur the lines between our professional selves and our home lives.)
Some people have really championed this shift to authenticity. Senior leaders brave enough to talk about their anxiety, for example. Business people who can point to a trauma in their life as the pivot that made them choose a better life.
Social media is full of inspiration from people who have faced down and recovered from abuse, bullying, addiction, debt, loss…and so on. They share openly, and they show us that we can overcome all sorts of challenges to get the outcomes we really want.
But what if you don’t have a big trauma in your backstory?
A story just like yours?
What if your story is never going to evoke the pathos and the tears of that certain Christmas advert?
This is a subject close to my heart just now.
Regular readers will know that a few months ago, I co-authored a book called She Is Unstoppable (Vol.2). This collection of personal stories from female leaders and entrepreneurs included inspiring recoveries from extraordinary challenges – which is precisely why I nearly didn’t get involved.
I couldn’t imagine why, compared to such admirable examples of courage and determination, anyone would want to read MY story.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come up against enough prejudices throughout my life to understand a bit about what it means to live with them. However, I don’t have a tear-jerker of a backstory.
My story is about a combination of self-belief, fortuitous opportunities and bloody hard work, all of which led me to fly high and fast (in my early career in particular), doing some amazing things along the way.
But although aspects of my life have been quite extraordinary, on the whole you could only ever describe me as an average woman from a regular background.
In the end, that was precisely why I decided I would contribute my story to the book.
Because the chances are I’m just like you.
An ordinary woman with big dreams…willing to work hard and make things happen…an entrepreneur who is results-focused AND heart-led.
And if I’m right and I am just like you, I want to tell you this: you don’t need a big backstory, because whatever your story is, it truly matters to your business, your community, your customers.
It doesn’t matter if your story, like mine, is never going to rival the John Lewis Christmas ad that’s had me in tears (as usual) this last couple of days.
It’s a crucial tool in your armoury for communicating and influencing others. In fact, there is probably no better way to find and use your authentic voice than to share your own story.
And for your customers or your audience, what better way for them to get to know you, like you and trust you than to learn more about you? Sharing your story helps them understand you and relate to you. And all these are vital steps in their journey to really see your value and choose to buy from you or work with you time and time again.
So, please, know that your story is valuable and inspiring. And even if it’s not the sort of story that has your audience reaching for their tissues, you can bet your bottom dollar it will inspire and motivate them in some way.
Let your voice be heard and your story told!
In our next blog we’ll be examining a very common communication dilemma when it comes to using your authentic voice – and it’s a question that could make all the difference to the impact of your business messages.
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Lucy & Emma xx