How to overcome your fear of being honest and open in your content

fear of being honest

I recently had a lot of joy spending two days in 20-minute Zoom sessions with blog readers. I did it for fun — just to connect with people from around the world. I’ll offer this opportunity again on a regular basis so be on the lookout for it!

Anyway, in these discussions, two different people told me they had trouble having the courage to add their own stories and views to their content. They were shy and afraid to reveal themselves in a personal way.

I’m here to tell you that when I started my content journey, NOBODY was more shy and chicken than me when it comes to adding my personal story to my content. Over time, I learned that it is ESSENTIAL to connect with an audience in this honest way.

So today I want to share

  1. My fear of being honest 
  2. Strategic authenticity
  3. My biggest risk of all time
  4. Why I continue to push forward

Here we go:

I had a fear of being honest

I come from a stoic German stock. We did not show our emotions. We did not talk about our feelings. We did not cry.

In other words, pretty dysfunctional … but that’s a story for another day.

When I started blogging in 2009, this buttoned-down tone was certainly reflected in my content. I tried to create something smart but it had no soul. And so, it wasn’t very interesting.

Then one day, a friend posted a video of her family waving at the camera from a Thanksgiving holiday dinner. It was so warm and friendly and inviting. It made me like her and trust her more because she was sharing this intimate moment.

Why couldn’t I do that? This fear of being honest hit me in the face.

How I got over it

I had an excruciating time sharing anything personal, but I could see the impact it was having on me when I saw it in others.

So I started to experiment — open up just a little. And something magical happened. Every time I said something personal, my readers would say something like “How did you know I was struggling with this same thing today!”  – or – “This helped me a lot to know I am not the only one having this problem.”

So the more I opened up, the more I seemed to be connecting to them and helping in a meaningful way. I felt good about it. I did not die from it, so that was progress.

Strategic authenticity

I am not a huge fan of the word “authenticity.” It seems to put a lot of pressure on people. I think it is more important to be honest than authentic, which is why I embrace a personal policy of strategic authenticity.

I don’t think the world needs to know everything going on in my life.

But if my audience is going to put their trust in me, they do deserve to know what I’m like and what I stand for. So I reveal enough about myself to connect in a meaningful way.

For example, about every four weeks or so I post a picture with my wife on Instagram. It sends a message that I am happily married.

I post lots of pictures of the outdoors because that’s where I prefer to spend my time.

Occasionally I post pictures of charity and volunteer work.

And I even talk about bad things going on in my life. I was pretty transparent about my experience with COVID, for example, or how I fail in my life every day.

So I’m not reporting every snotty nose and daily disappointments, but I open the door enough so people can see my priorities and values. That’s strategic authenticity.

My biggest risk of all time

Over the years I became more comfortable sharing my story but my biggest challenge and opportunity came when I wrote KNOWN.

KNOWN is a book filled with inspiring stories of people who started at the bottom and followed a system to become “known” in their field and find success.

I was one of those people … but I had never told my story before. When I started creating content, I was at the lowest point in my life. I thought I had lost everything. And the act of creation literally SAVED ME in many ways. I had to write about this.

If you’ve read the first chapter of KNOWN you can probably imagine how hard it was to write this narrative. I put that story in the book and took it out of the book 70 times before it was published. Ultimately I left it in and I’m glad I did. In a literary sense, I was putting my arm around the reader and saying, “I started at the bottom, too. Let’s do this together.”

Why keep pushing forward

To stand out today, you must be original. And to be original, you have no choice but to add your own story to your content. There is only one you. That is your most valuable resource and your secret weapon.

Great branding is about building an emotional connection between your audience and what you do. You won’t accomplish that by simply spouting about Twitter tips and how to write better headlines. Anybody can do that.

Create something that ONLY YOU could create. When you start doing that, you’re on the path to standing out in this crowded world.

It’s still a struggle to add my personal story. It is not easy or natural for me. But it’s also part of my job and I want to do my job well for you.

Fear of being honest — Further reading

I’ve written a lot about this idea of finding the courage to tell your story. Here are a few other posts to help you get over that mountain:

One of my favorite posts describing the stress of appealing to an audience: Why building an audience strains your soul

A very moving Marketing Companion podcast episode about extreme sharing and vulnerabilty

A speech I only gave one time: How blogging saved my life

I hope these ideas help you overcome a fear of being honest and encourage you to add soul to your content.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

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