“So, tell me what’s going on and how can I help?”
That’s how I greeted individual audience members who came to see me after a performance at the Toigo Foundation’s Groundbreakers Conference. They’d all just cheered and clapped madly for Fatima, the brave and vulnerable volunteer who’d joined me on stage.
Fatima walked away with a whole new, authentic, and memorable answer to the question, “What do you do?” The audience was amazed. Now many of them wanted a quick language transformation of their own.
So when their turn came, and I didn’t ask them to tell me about what they do, it threw them for a loop. The question above wasn’t the one people were expecting.
You might be surprised, too. Why did I change the question?
It has to do with Fairy Godmother. (Stay with me here.)
If you’ve followed me, you know that I love the Fairy Godmother and try to channel her any opportunity I can. #daytimesequins. Look what she did for Cinderella! The jazzy outfit, the dope ride, and the killer shoes, perfect for going to the ball and dancing with the prince. So fabulous.
But you know what? If Cinderella had wanted to go to say a jousting match, another outfit (albeit also totally fabulous) would have been more appropriate.
The point is, what the Fairy Godmother manifested was perfect because Cinderella had communicated where she wanted to go. The Fairy Godmother understood the challenge, aka “you don’t have transportation or a dress,” and the goal, aka “but you want to be dancing with the prince in a few hours.” Manifested the carriage, staff, a frock, and those lovely glass slippers.
For magic to be meaningful and not just a neat trick, context matters. 100%
The same is true for the lovely people who waited —for upwards of five hours—to talk to me.
On stage, demonstrating a clear “before” and “after” is my end goal. But in a one-on-one conversation, the transformed language I create is only meaningful in the context of the individual’s real-life goal.
That’s why I asked, “what’s going on, and how can I help?” Just like Fairy Godmother did.
I love it when people immediately decide to learn how to articulate their value after seeing me on stage. I believe it’s a critical skill in the modern workplace. It’s a skill I want everyone to start practicing, pronto.
But today, I want you to take a beat to consider this. What do you want transformation for? What happens if everyone is clear about your value and how your brilliant brain can help solve problems in the future?
I know these aren’t easy questions to answer.
Let Cinderella be your inspiration. She doesn’t get credit for it, but her agency had a lot to do with her fairy tale ending. She got clear about why she wanted to get to the ball. She was ready to receive the right help when the Fairy Godmother appeared.
Your career is your fairy tale adventure. You, too, should be choosing where it goes.
So instead of asking yourself how to talk about what you do, maybe you first want to ask, “Where do I want to go?”
Then, when you meet Fairy Godmother, whether it’s me or someone else, you can be sure you’ll get the jazzy outfit, the dope ride, and the killer shoes that’s just right for your magical adventure.
PS. There are many incredible things that people can do for you when they know how to talk about you in a room you’re not in.
Do you want them to be an advocate for you on a project and help you get other (maybe more senior) people to buy into what you’re doing? They can do that.
Do you want them to explain why you’re uniquely the most qualified and best person for the job? Do you want them to instill confidence in your capabilities? They can do that.
Do you want them to remove obstacles that others might have put in your way and need removing? Do you want them to celebrate an achievement? Do you want them to help justify the allotment of resources and get your project prioritized?
Yes, they can do all of the above.
These challenges are all equivalent to Cinderella not having a ride, a dress, or shoes. The thing you don’t want to forget as you learn to articulate your value is this: whatever you want them to say or do, there is a reason why. The “why” is connected to your goal.