The Story Economy Blog

It Doesn’t Have to Get Lost in Translation

Walking down the steps of a tiny Tribeca restaurant earlier this year, about to meet Seth Godin for the first time, I wanted to die.

Sweaty palms, dry mouth: the whole deal. I’d been reading his stuff for a few years, and I had an idea of who he was and what he was about. I’m not sure if I was more nervous that I’d say something stupid to him or that I’d be disappointed if his brand in person didn’t live up to his words.

But there he was at the bar. “Hi, I’m Seth,” he said as he stuck out his hand. Of course you are.

And that was it. Everything about him in person was exactly who he is in his books and on his blog. A sharp kind of charm. A troublemaker. A guy who notices stuff and then points it out in a simple, but raw, way. There was no gap in the voices—and I noticed.

The reason I noticed is because I am judgmental.

I confess: I am. Terribly so. I pass judgment on a daily basis. I have not evolved beyond jumping to conclusions with minimal information.

But honestly, it’s a good thing I have this ability to make snap judgments, because I would be lousy at what I do if I couldn’t.

I’m a writer, so my judgment is focused around people’s written words. I don’t mean their individual word choice or grammar (I’m not one of those people).

Rather, I mean the energy of their words. The feel of the copy. The voice of it. Basically, I judge the effect the words have on me when I take them into my brain and piece together the story around them.

This story creation happens so fast. Fight-or-flight response fast. I want to make sense of what I’m reading and understand how it figures into my life. Seth very clearly tells me the story of what he’s about. But if you don’t tell me, I will invent it.

And then I will judge whether or not I want more of you and your company— whether you are selling wellness, design, coaching, embroidery kits, or a worldview.

I make a judgment regarding what you’re about, based solely on what you are saying.

Now, not everyone does this. Like probably half of the world doesn’t.

So that just leaves a few billion people.

Prove Me Wrong . . . Please

Here’s the thing: my judgments—and the judgments of the few billion of us who do this—are often wrong. For me, they’re wrong because I come from this place where I think everyone must care about words and understand their effect as much as I do.

So when they do, I get proven right, as I was with Seth Godin. And it’s awesome and warm and fuzzy. But I think I actually love to be proven wrong even more. I hope for it, in fact. Because it’s a huge opportunity to help someone make their words matter more.

For example, last week, I met some potential clients over coffee. They’re a lovely husband-and-wife creative team. Before our meeting, I had looked at their site—a very, very well put-together site that did everything right except tell their story. My wired-for-judgment brain immediately created a narrative: this is just the same old story about WHAT. I believe they are good at what they do, but I don’t know why to care.

But the minute I sat down with them in person, I felt¬† . . . at ease. Good. Warm. Engaged. I immediately knew they were my kind of people: people who care about the stuff they care about—a lot.

When they started telling me their story of why they do what they do, I suddenly saw their talent in a whole new way. I saw WHAT they do so much differently after I got WHY they did it. I had context.

I wanted more of them.

Now, I loved that they proved me wrong in person. (And if the stars align, we’ll be telling their story on their site, so they can start proving people right . . .)

In today’s story economy, we attract and retain business via words and images and consistently showing up to be what we say we are.

I’ll leave the pictures to the designers, and the showing up revelations to the coaches.

But I’ve got the words covered, and I’ll tell you this: You have to translate what you’re about into words. And then you have to put those words in the places people go to read about you.

You might as well take your web site down if you don’t.

If you’re not on board with this message, you’re probably pretty sick of me by now. (Seriously with the stories and the video, Judi . . .)

But if you are on board and you’re ready to do a much better job at translating, you might want to check this out. It’s for you.

Let's get translating.

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