One week ago today, I stretched way out of my comfort zone by participating as a vendor at the annual Women of Focus Trade Show. The one day event was the culmination of four months of expending time and money to prepare for my first big trade show.
Why would a writer exhibit at a trade show? HOW does a writer exhibit at a trade show?
The product I sell is my professional service, but not an easily self-explanatory service like financial planning, legal consultation, or even professional coaching. Putting my skepticism aside, I agreed to participate based on the value of the exercise and prepared to literally put myself out there.
Over the course of the late fall and this past winter, I worked with Susan Jefferson of TechCreative to refresh my logo and all of my branding.
Susan then pointed out the elephant in the room: “I don’t think [my website content] does you justice. I’m sure that as a writer, you aren’t used to writing about yourself and I know it isn’t easy.” Oh, the terrible irony of the writer whose website fails to tell her own story.
As the weeks passed, the content I wrote for my new website became the basis for my strategy at the Women of Focus Trade Show. Now that I knew what I had to say about myself, a new skepticism surfaced:
Why would anyone approach my table? That’s where storytelling comes in.
The activity I designed to engage visitors at my table was called “What’s your story?” I asked each visitor this question:
What have you either read or wrote that has been impactful on your life?
It’s a doozy of a question! Some stared off into space, groping for an answer. We all read so much in a day, a week, a lifetime—emails, newspapers, books, bumper stickers, magazines, social media posts, online articles, tweets, blog posts, letters, cards, recipes, instructions, packaging, websites….
After realizing that reading ‘stories’ is part of every day, it might dawn on you that someone had to write all those words.
The other side of the coin is a bit tougher. How much writing does the average person do outside of work emails, daily tasks, and social media posts? For some an answer came easy. For the really stumped, I asked, “What is the last thing you read or wrote today?”
In all, I collected 46 answers, nearly evenly split at 24 ‘wrote’ to 22 ‘read.’ Each one is the gateway to a unique story:
Blog post re: Ping Pong Balls
Blog post re: Valentina
Both of these reference my blog on this website. The first was a challenge I made to myself based on a compliment to my writing. The second post was a memorial to our dog, Valentina, a retired racing greyhound who crossed the rainbow bridge last fall.
Unexpectedly read an article about a writer who used to be a client of mine
The writer is Sonja Livingston, Rochester native and author of Ghostbread and Queen of the Fall, the latter of which is the 2016 Writers & Books “If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book”; the woman visiting my table was once Sonja’s hairdresser! Small world!
Comparison of Florence Nightingale and modern medicine
Which is more frightening to consider: the practice of medicine in the mid-19th century, or the practice of medicine today? Nightingale revolutionized nursing in an era when medical care was, what we would call from our 21st century perch, very nearly barbaric. What will our great-grandchildren think of our medical practices a century from now?
“Sometimes you have to make your own sunshine”
My visitor has a refrigerator magnet with this sentiment. Something she has seen thousands of times. But that morning it caught her eye just when she needed it.
A good book can have a lasting impact on a life:
Eat Pray Love, a book about how many of life’s stories impacts one woman’s life, which impacts every reader after.
Glad to Be Human, a meditative book written by someone my visitor described as ‘her future minister.’
A Course in Miracles, ‘A unique, universal, self-study spiritual thought system that teaches that the way to love and inner peace is through forgiveness.’ This is a 1,300+ page tome that has been around since the early 1970s…look it up for yourself. No doubt it is impactful stuff.
Quiet, a book about introverts that helped my visitor better understand people in her life.
The Five Love Languages, ‘was hugely impactful!’ on my visitor’s relationships.
Dark Places, a novel by Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl; my visitor highly recommended it, but cautioned that it is intense!
Expecting Adam, a book the author wrote about expecting her son who would be born with Down syndrome.
The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness, a book that encourages expressing gratitude in the morning and positive experiences in the evening; my visitor remarked that applying this practice changes her whole day!
An article in the newspaper, magazine, or in your newsfeed can be a pivot point for thought:
An article about the dreams of the dying; my visitor’s interest in hospice care led her to read about the therapeutic role of patients’ end-of-life dreams and visions. Heavy stuff. (My guess is it was this New York Times article.)
Article about Sound Healing; my visitor read and learned about this concept when searching for options to address a family member’s health. She is now a practitioner of sound healing!
Email. Can’t live without it:
My visitor keeps in her smartphone inbox an email from a family member featuring six little stories on the meanings of faith, hope, trust, confidence, love, and attitude. She re-reads again and again.
Women of Focus event day email! It was a long and important email with critical setup information!
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”- commonly attributed to Gandhi. That squarely hits the ‘personal responsibility’ button.
“Be present”- a single phrase that my visitor remembers from a book she once read. It’s clear that phrase has a huge impact on her life.
“All we need is there” is what my visitor said about Scriptures. The Bible has long been a source of inspiration and instruction. Even if you don’t identify with a religion, check out Proverbs. That is some really non-partisan advice!
Psalms and Isaiah 40 – The Psalms, technically songs or poems, can be a starting point for prayer when you just can’t find the words on your own. Specific Bible passages are a great comfort to many people.
A note to my Son – My visitor added a heart to her sticky story!
A real letter to a friend “not email!” – My visitor emphasized that it was a real pen-to-paper-to-US Mail sentiment.
Even the mundane has a story:
A reminder on a sticky note! – What was it?? Wouldn’t we like to know!
Shopping list – What’s for dinner?
Stories from Work & Careers:
Email to clients – Email represents you, your company, and your brand. Make sure it’s perfect before you click Send!
Farmers Insurance blog post – Connecting with present and future customers!
Blog post re: The Opera Unlock Code – My visitor makes jewelry for opera lovers, and explored the deep story of ‘why’ each opera lover is so captivated by this musical art form.
A LinkedIn post on Accepting Imperfection – If it were only that easy. (And, my reaction is the point!)
An article about yoga for Rochester Women Magazine – Connecting with present and future customers!
A presentation on the 8 ways to change to be more profitable – Connecting with present and future customers!
Information about essential oils – My visitor told me that certification in this field requires intensive coursework.
An article about local Sudanese Lost Boys and their outreach work – A fellow writer’s recent work!
A description of a ‘troubled’ house – A real estate professional was diplomatic with her answer.
Several books! – My trade show neighbor is the author of books in her field.
Stories from Studies:
20 page masters thesis to graduate! – An academic rite-of-passage.
College paper on Salem Witch Trials – A history major’s final paper was admitted to the college archives.
Masters paper: If we’re not careful, we’ll lose the computer development sector like we lost the auto industry – My visitor’s thesis, written in the 1990s, has proven true. Hardware and software development is now regularly outsourced to Asia.
Stories from Life:
“A ‘big’ story of my life” – My visitor is writing her life story, and was very enthusiastic about it! Then she tempered her answer by saying, “Well, it’s big to me.” I say, no tempering necessary.
Two poetry books – An accomplishment of creativity and perseverance.
“Don’t let life live you; live life.” – My visitor was awake at 4AM when this phrase came to her and she wrote it down.
Marriage vows (5 years ago) – I should have asked if she remembered them!
Marriage vows (10 years) – A answer that came quick; must’ve been some good vows!
A letter to Santa Claus that won a prize and was published in the local newspaper – My visitor’s eyes sparkled as she told me about this moment from her childhood.
A patent – My visitor dug deep into both her left and right brain!
A new comfort zone
The best way I know how to connect with people is through storytelling. In a setting where there were almost three dozen other opportunities for visitors to engage in conversation, I opted to ask each one about their story before telling mine.
I met a real estate agent, a belly dancer, an essential oils expert, coaches, an attorney, a travel agent, a tavern owner, a publisher, a senior care professional, a banker, a marketer, a freelance writer!, a soon-to-be financial services entrepreneur, a virtual assistant, a chiropractor, a psychotherapist, an audiologist, a jewelry maker, a nurse practitioner, a licensed massage therapist, and a laser spa owner.
They were interested in blog posts, professional biographies, literary journalism, website content, and business communication.
Well, really, they were all interested in storytelling.
Special thanks to my good friend Amy, the history major, for helping me with my booth!