This is a guest blog post by Daniel Brenton, a man on the road to find the meaning of existence. Raised in the American Midwest and now living in Las Vegas, he is the co-author of the science-fiction novel, “Red Moon” and writes a blog called The Meaning of Existence (and all that): The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Spirituality. He tweets at @DanielBrenton.
I gave a 25-minute presentation last year to a modest Wednesday night audience in a good-sized “New Thought” church; a presentation I had spent weeks writing, rehearsing, and “staging”–that is, defining what movements I would make and the props I would use to help emphasize my points.
At first blush, it would sound like a speech crafted in this manner would appear “canned,” or worse, feel like it was “phoned in.” In truth, most high-end speakers prepare similarly. Done well, the presenter seems glib and makes it look effortless. Done poorly, a speech prepared in this fashion can in fact look just as staged and rehearsed as it truly was.
How the presentation of this speech actually played out taught me something about using social media effectively that I might not have learned any other way.
A Quick Look at My “Audience”
The spirituality I hold dear is represented well by “New Thought” churches such as the Unity School of Christianity and the Church of Religious Science (please note, Religious Science has no relationship to Scientology). These religions are more eclectic than mainstream Christianity, and they make a point of embracing a vast range of thinkers and teachers beyond the philosophies of their founders, figures ranging from Emerson and Whitman to Mohandas Gandhi to A Course in Miracles.
We’ve seen a number of new voices enter the New Thought arena from the field of personal development–a recent example would be Dr. Wayne Dyer, whose career has progressed from the psychotherapy-based Your Erroneous Zones to his recent year-long study of the Tao Te Ching captured in the book Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.
A notable entry of late into this market is the personal development blogmeister Steve Pavlina, whose book Personal Development for Smart People has been published by Dr. Dyer’s publisher and mainstay of the New Thought community, the self-help and transformational book publisher Hay House.
Clearly, there is now opportunity for those with a vision, with something of unique value to offer, to potentially contribute through the tool of the internet (with the help, of course, of social media) to the range of ideas that fall under the umbrella called New Thought. In turn, the internet holds a two-fold promise: of giving those new voices exposure to the market, and expanding the ideas that embody New Thought to a greater audience.
Enter Social Media
There is the popular view–one that makes a great deal of sense to me personally–that a social media site can be compared to a networking party where professionals meet and take the opportunity to become something more than their shingles hanging in front of their offices.
For an individual such as myself, someone seeking to establish a voice in the ongoing growth of New Thought, social media has become a major part of my promotional energies. The internet has given me the opportunity to share my work with (so far) tens of thousands of people with minimal cash outlay, something that would have been literally impossible 20 years ago.
By internet standards, I don’t have a very large following, but I am heartened by the level of enthusiasm that my followers do express, and I think a big part of that enthusiasm is because of how I use social media.
It Comes Down to Authenticity
About a week before I gave the speech at that New Thought church, I realized something very important.
I have been a member of Toastmasters International on and off since 2002, and the Toastmaster activity that attracted me most was competitive speaking. I did fairly well overall, and enjoyed it tremendously.
To do a good job in presenting a competition speech, it has to be memorized to the point where it’s second-nature. What this means is that the presenter can focus on the audience, and on managing his or her stage fright in the process of presenting, rather than being worried about remembering the material.
A week before doing the presentation at the church, I recognized that I was approaching it the same way as I would approach a competition speech. I was focusing more on presentation skills than the audience, which meant, as meaningful as the message was, I would be to some extent hiding behind the presentation.
I couldn’t do that. Not with that audience. They would see it, because they know how to be real.
I realized at that point the more real I could be with myself on that stage, the more real I would be with the audience, and the more effective the message would be.
In the process of giving the presentation I recognized the areas that didn’t ring true, or fell flat–the forced quality of some of the humor and the mis-handling of some of the props I used–but overall my instincts paid off.
And, happily, the audience did in fact laugh, and cry, and love-bomb me with hugs afterward because I touched their hearts. It was a remarkable experience, but wouldn’t have been as meaningful if I hadn’t chosen to be as real as I could have.
Tweeting into the Audience’s Heart
Not having a great deal of experience in social media tools I think it would be presumptuous of me to claim any broad authority on the subject.
StumbleUpon has Twitter beat for sheer quantity of traffic it can drive to my site, but I believe my Twitter-based traffic is higher quality. I mean that Twitter traffic has a better sense of who I am and what I’m about, and would bring a higher level of interest in what I offer when they click that link to my latest posting.
For a very brief time I used an auto responder service to reply to those who “followed” me on Twitter, but I stopped quickly because I got the sense that most folks really don’t care for an automated response–and in fact might prefer no response at all to an automated one.
I find it much easier to enter into a real conversation on Twitter than it is on StumbleUpon, and I believe this is part of Twitter’s appeal. Because of the nature of Twitter, I think it’s easier to get a sense of the person on the other end of the tweet over time, and decide accordingly how far the relationship should go.
(Of course, there are phonies and con artists on Twitter, too.)
Going back to the analogy of social media being a networking party, think about this: who wants to get into conversation with someone who’s obviously phony? Or worse, who wants to stay in conversation with someone who simply wants to make a sale off of you, or isn’t even interesting to begin with?
Taking the analogy one step further, I think of my Twitter “audience” in the same way as that audience in the New Thought church. (This, I think, is an apt comparison; because most of my conversations are public, and I am potentially speaking to hundreds of people.) Though I can’t “feel” my followers (read: audience) in the same way I could feel a physical audience, because of the speaking experience I described here, I strive to be as real with them as I can.
Who we really are is something of immense value. When we share that, people can’t help but respond.
If you’re not sharing of yourself, start!