The sun was shining brightly and for some odd reason I was starring directly into it. Shielding my eyes with my hand, I found myself standing in an open field. To my right was an old, wooden barn, and to the left, a crowd of men and women were running, ducking, and dodging as they laughed, and shot brightly colored pellets at one another. We must be playing a game of paintball, I thought to myself.
Its odd looking up and not know where you are, or how you got there, but for some reason I had the feeling that everything was okay. I took a single step–Splat!–a can of paint exploded. Not a paint-ball, but an entire can of paint. And I was covered from head to toe in the brightly colored mess.
I must be out of the game, so what now? I wondered.
Unsure of what to do next, I headed toward the barn. A gentle tap on the double-doors caused them to creak open. Inside was a well lit, fully furnished, locker-room complete with individual shower stalls.
Normally I’m not a big fan of locker room showers. However, since the room was empty, and because I had to get the paint of somehow, I stepped inside. After completely undressing, I stepped into one of the private stalls, securely latched the door, and turned on the faucet. A spray of hot water splashed onto my face. I began to vigorously rub my hands back-and-forth across the paint and watched as it trickled down the drain.
After a few moments, the locker room filled with chatter. The game must be over, I thought. Then, much to my horror, I noticed that the door to my private shower stall had swung open. In a panic I pulled the door closed and refastened the latch. In those few second that it took to close the door, I noted that a crowd, consisting of both men and women, had entered the locker room.
Well this is awkward, I thought to myself. Nevertheless, everyone was going about their business as usual and no one paid any attention to me. With the shower door once again shut tight, I stepped back into the running water.
Swwoooosh! It sounded like a rushing wind, only many times louder. And whatever caused the sound was strong enough to not only blow open my shower stall door, but also the two, enormous barn doors as well!
There I stood, completely naked, covered in paint, with nothing to hide behind. I froze–terrified and embarrassed– waiting to see what would happen next. However, the men and women in the room continued to go about their routine as usual. Looking past the open barn doors and onto the field I observed two paintball players searching for a place to hide. They looked up… starred directly at me… and motioned at each other to continue seeking out their hiding place.
There I stood, naked and exposed, in the midst of an open field… and nobody cared. I decided that if no one else was bothered by this, then I didn’t mind either.
I continued scrubbing off the paint. Water trickled into my eyes and I blinked. Then I blinked again–only harder this time. When my eyes opened, I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. My wife Jenny was sleeping soundly by my side. This was the strangest, most vivid dream I had in years.
Too much pizza before bed, I wondered. Or, perhaps this dream had meaning.
As I lay there I thought about how I would soon be sharing parts of my story with the world–or at least anyone who would come across it on the internet. In a way, I would be, “messy, naked, and exposed.” Yet, in my dream, no one seemed bothered by this and most didn’t notice at all.
Maybe this is what being a writer will be like. Perhaps exposing my inner thoughts to the world, although scary at first, won’t be nearly as frightening as I’ve built it up to be in my head.
Believe it or not, this oddly detailed dream actually ties into the key lessons that I’ve been learning from expert communicators. Having an important message to share can be nerve-racking. A friend of mine often says that, “at a funeral, more people would prefer to be the person lying in the casket than the one standing in front delivering the eulogy.” While I’m not sure that this is entirely true, there can be no doubt that communication is not easy. I know that when I began writing I was most certainly nervous.
In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I was a whirlwind of emotions–excited about the message I had to share, nervous about sharing it, and anxious to see what would happen next. If you’ve ever felt this way before delivering a speech, or publishing a piece of writing, know that these types of feelings are normal. Although I was nervous, I also knew that it was time to begin building a social media platform, and this is what led me to connect with Adam Smith.
I don’t recall much about the initial blog-post that I read, but I do remember that at the end of the post Adam asked what he could do to help. With this encouragement I sent Adam an email and asked him to take a look at a piece of writing I had been working on. Adam responded quickly and was eager to be of support. He was positive and encouraging, which was especially important considering how nervous I was. And as a result, our friendship began.
I’ve heard it said that “others may forget what you say to them, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” I firmly believe that expert communicators are just as concerned with creating a positive communication experience as they are in sharing valuable information. Both information and experience are incredibly important. Sharing useful information leads to increased learning, and positive communication experience leads to lasting relationships.
This year, from Adam Smith, I’ve been learning the value of:
- Responding promptly to others.
- Being encouraging and uplifting–after all, sharing one’s message with the world isn’t easy and others are just as nervous as you and I are.
- Building a platform one relationship at a time.
While it’s a communicators dream to publish a book, write an article, or give a speech and suddenly have a following numbering in the thousands, I’m learning that most platforms aren’t built this way. The best communication platforms are formed one relationship at a time. Every time I’ve sent Adam an e-mail or personal tweet, I’ve received a thoughtful reply. Adam believed in me during a time when I was anxious about my own communication skills, and his confidence made a huge difference. Expert communicators build confidence in those around them by believing in others when others have a difficult time believing in themselves. Adam models the leadership qualities that I am striving to develop, and this makes him one of my communication heroes!
So what did I learn from the experts in 2014? I discovered that my favorite communicators have a lot in common. They:
- Make themselves readily available
- Invest in those around them, and
- Genuinely long for the best interest of those they lead
While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in all of these areas yet, this is the type of leader that I’m striving to be. This year, if you’re considering stretching your own communication skills but are feeling nervous, naked, or exposed, know that you are not alone. And, if there is any way that I can be of support to you on your journey,know that I’m here and glad to help in any way that I can!