Your Friends Support You, But They Still Won’t Consume Your Content

If you’re my friend and a creative the reality is that I probably don’t listen to your music, haven’t read your book, am not regularly reading your blog and probably haven’t subscribed to your podcast. It’s not because I don’t like you. It’s not because I don’t respect you.  It’s not because I don’t believe in your talent and it’s not because I don’t want to help you succeed. In fact, you’re probably exceptional at what you do and applying your skills to create something amazing.

As a content creator, this is something that will frustrate you, leave you feeling concerned that you’re not good enough or that I don’t respect you. You’ll probably feel a bit betrayed and you’ll feel a bit hurt. I know these are all still emotions I feel regularly as a fellow content creator.  But, the reality is, it doesn’t make me a bad friend and it most definitely doesn’t mean your content isn’t good enough.  As a content creator, this was a hard lesson that has taken me a long time to come to grips with, and even longer to internalize.

It doesn’t matter what type of content you create – perhaps you’re a journalist, a photographer, a musician or book author. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with, and something that leads many creatives to abandon their projects while feeling a deep sense of hurt, is the reality that the audience you expect to be the most passionate and automatic – that of friends, family and colleagues will, more often than not, disappoint you.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

This blog includes a lot of advice. It includes a lot guidance, materials and assets which have taken me hours and a considerable financial investment to assemble. I’ve been running VirtualWayfarer since 2007 and post on a daily basis about the topics covered here – travel, photography, study abroad, videography etc. – and yet, not a month goes by that someone I know, usually fairly well, reaches out with a message to the effect of, “Hey Alex, you travel a lot right? Do you have any advice about X-Y-Z?”.   For most of my blogging career this left me exasperated. After all, I’d spent years spoon feeding that very information to them, doing everything in my power to make them aware of it, and expecting that they’d be interested, curious and support me. All of which was, by and large, utterly ineffective outside of triggering a vague association.

It hurt. It pissed me off. It was disheartening.  To make it worse, it also made an already difficult process a hell of a lot more difficult.

Why? Because getting content out there, discovered, and adopted by other people is hard. Like, really, really, freaking hard. The easiest way to leapfrog some of that is through the amplification of your social network. I have roughly 2,370 Facebook friends and an additional 400+ people following me. The vast majority of these people are people I’ve met in real life, know personally, or are travel bloggers themselves. Out of those nearly 3,000 folks how many follow VirtualWayfarer on Facebook? 379. On YouTube? No way to tell, but probably fewer than 50. If even 500 of those nearly 3,000 folks engaged with and shared one piece of my content a week, it would have a radical impact on the exposure and visibility of this blog. Especially because they’re very diverse people, spread around the globe, with very multi-faceted social networks.

But, there in lies the catch 22.  They’re very diverse people, with very diverse interests, with very diverse priorities, tastes, and commitments. They’re already busy in the midst of what they’re doing and they have pre-existing preferences which, at any given point, will only overlap with what I’m creating and doing periodically and in a specific way.

Reflecting on Ignite Phoenix

I had the pleasure of sharing the stage this past Tuesday with 16 incredible presenters.  Together, we all overcame our fear of the stage, of the spotlight and of failure to ascend one of the valley’s largest soap boxes for 300 seconds.  During the course of our 5 minute presentations we battled our nerves, time and the intense desire to ramble in order to share our passion with some 600+ attendees.

Truly, the Ignite Phoenix experience is a rare and incredible opportunity.  It is a synergy of random ideas and passions.  An assemblage that transcends genre in a way that has become rare and difficult to find. Ignite 5 saw presentations on Bats, Education, Gundam Action figures and Dance to name but a few – short of random links posted by particularly eclectic friends on Twitter, or social link aggregators like Digg/Reddit there are only a few events like Ignite Phoenix and TED/TEDxPhoenix which truly embrace random intellectualism and curiosity.

The thing about Ignite that really makes it that much more special is the pace. 20 slides, 5 minutes, 15 seconds a slide…what a rush! It’s a format that gives even the most experienced public speaker pause.  All the while it creates a platform which is incredibly audience friendly.  With the standard format typically consisting of 18 presentations, tuning out for 5 minutes if you don’t care for a topic or find it interesting is painless. It’s the exact opposite of the 90 minute lectures droning on about something that failed to catch our interest which many of us came to dread in College, Business courses and seminars.

A Presenter’s Reflections

Presenting at Ignite Phoenix pushed my comfort level and boundaries.  I’ve presented in the past to smaller groups, traveled the world for months on my own, delivered business pitches and successfully navigated social situations – but this was different. This was terrifying. It took me back to a time before I’d developed my current social competency.  It took me back to the first day of High School every year when the fear and anxiety of the High School social experience/social shark tank left me physically sick to my stomach. Heart racing, palms sweating, imagination running wild.

Applying to present was a challenge in and of itself.  I found 15 excuses every time I went to fill out the application. Was my idea good enough?  Was I truly passionate about it?  Would people care?  Why would I want to do it – after all, no one was forcing me to apply.  Eventually, I put aside my excuses, nervously re-read the my brief topic submission and hit submit. That action came with the same sensation I typically feel when making a big purchase online. Do I really want this? Did I order the right item?

So, in light of all that – why did I do it? Because it was worth every piece of energy I invested – both positive and negative.

Overcoming those challenges, those discomforts and those excuses was an incredible learning experience.  Sure, Ignite is about sharing your passion and knowledge with others but it’s also about something more.  For the presenters it’s about learning about yourself.  About building and internalizing your self confidence and belief in your self – and that alone is invaluable.  Making the decision to present was worth it long before I even took the stage and actually presented.  That was the icing on the cake – A lucky bonus and exciting opportunity to share.

What of the presentation itself?

There’s something special about the Ignite crowd. They’re happy.  That sounds silly, but in this day and age it’s significant.  They’re not there because they have to be, they’re not there because they should be, they’re there to learn and because they want to be! That’s over 600 open, supportive, eager eyes, ears and minds that want the presenters to succeed.  They want to learn, be inspired and captivated. That positive energy is a force to be reckoned with.  It is contagious and it makes presenting much, much easier. There is no competition, no back stabbing or anything of the sort. It’s just open, sincere cooperation, collaboration and sharing. That positive approach stretches beyond the crowd and was shared by the other presenters. There were words of advice, suggestions, encouragement, jokes, smiles, fist bumps, high fives and shoulder pats throughout the course of the evening.

Tips for future Presenters

I really hope this post helps encourage each and every one of you to submit a proposal to present at Ignite Phoenix 6. If you get selected, here’s my advice:

Go simple. Go big. – Your slides are the life of your presentation and an indication of how professional it looks and feels. Listen to the organizers and past presenters. Go with big, simple images and very simple statements or text. One lone word is best, 3 or 4 is good, more than that? Try and avoid it. There’s a temptation to feel like you need to read what’s on your slides. Even if it’s only a sentence to “remind” you. Don’t do it! Anything more than one word encourages you to awkwardly change from a conversational delivery to a quickly read interjection. This breaks your flow, changes topics abruptly and can be awkward. If you put more than two words on a slide IGNORE THEM – they’re for the viewers, not you as presenter.

Rehearse – Yeah, yeah. I know it’s a pain, but look at it this way. Your presentation is only 5 minutes. Running through it two or three times a day before you present is no big deal. Your presentation should change EACH time you present it. Why? Because you need to focus on the main points you want to share and get comfortable with your time frame – NOT with a memorized statement you’re going to regurgitate. Think about what you like in each practice run, then work on incorporating it next time. That way, no matter what happens during your presentation you can adapt and respond without getting stumped!

Warm Up! – Don’t present cold! For Ignite Phoenix 5 we began at 6PM. I practiced the night before, which was great – but you also need to practice as close to your actual presentation as you can. For me, that meant going through my presentation twice at 4PM before heading to the event. A cold start makes it MUCH more difficult to remember what you want to cover and leaves you less comfortable with the timing, slides etc. – it means you have to think more…and that’s the last thing you want to be doing.

Don’t Narrate – It wastes time! Pausing your presentation to say, “woah, here we go”, “whoops, that went fast”, or “umm….where was I” will throw off your rhythm, undermine your confidence, and tells people there’s a problem. Silence is golden and less expensive! You’ve only got 15 seconds a slide and 300 seconds total – don’t waste them!

Have an Intro Slide! – The Ignite Phoenix team will introduce you with an intro slide, but have one of your own! It helps make the presentation your own AND it gives you valuable time to get out there, look at the audience, get comfortable with them, and let your brain catch up before you’re performing at full presentation speed!

Above all, get out there and try it. Ignite Phoenix 6 applications are already open. It truly, truly is an incredible experience. One that everyone is capable and qualified to participate in. Go SUBMIT your idea now!

Want to learn more about Ignite Phoenix? Check out http://www.ignite-phoenix.org.

Lastly, thank you again to everyone involved in the Ignite Phoenix process. Those who made it possible, those who presented and the wonderful audience.

Ignite Phoenix 5

I’m very excited to announce that I will be speaking at Ignite Phoenix #5. I’ve been a huge fan of the Ignite series since I discovered it just under a year ago. It embodies a somewhat random, haphazard pursuit of knowledge and wisdom which I absolutely love.

Late last week I was informed that my talk “From Ballroom to Boardroom: Three Steps in the Right Direction” had been chosen as one of 18 presentations for Ignite Phoenix #5 which will be taking place November 3rd (tickets go on sale on the 16th!). It truly is an honor to have been selected, with over 100+ proposals submitted the diversity and range of ideas proposed were truly fascinating.

What is Ignite?

For those of you unfamiliar with Ignite Phoenix, Ignite is a series of events that have been organized by inspired, creative individuals in communities throughout the world. Some are location based (like Ignite Phoenix) while others are company based (like Ignite Google). I’ll have 5 minutes and 20 slides to present.  The catch?  Those 20 slides change automatically every 15 seconds!

From Ignite-Phoenix.org:
“Ignite Phoenix is an information exchange for fostering and inspiring Phoenix’s creative community. In one evening, you hear 18 passionate speakers from our creative, technical, and business communities talking about their current projects or favorite ideas for just five minutes. Presentations will educate and inspire you, and maybe make you laugh in the process.”

If you’re interested in viewing past Ignite Phoenix presentations check out their Blip.tv channel: http://ignitephoenix.blip.tv

Event Details
When: November 3rd, 2009
Time: 6PM-9PM
Where: Tempe Center For the Arts
700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
How: http://ignite-phoenix.org

Tickets go on sale Friday, October 16th at 10AM and will sell out quickly. The ticket price is $5. A limited number of tickets/access to a viewing room will be available on the day of the vent for free.

Interested in more on the topic I’ll be presenting on? Check out my blog post Ballroom Dancing – It’s not just social, it’s business. The post is over a year old, but expresses some of the foundational concepts I’ll be covering in my talk.

If you have any thoughts, questions or comments I’d love to hear them. Just post a comment below!