As subject matter experts, it’s hard to leave our expertise behind.
We can be tricked into believing that watering down all the things we know is a betrayal of who we are, and we’re afraid that if we don’t show up with our full field of knowledge, our audience will get cheated.
“I don’t want to be like everyone else out there,” I’ve had clients say to me as justification for spilling all of their encyclopedic knowledge.
“This is just so important to my clients’ development and growth. I absolutely cannot leave it out.”
“The information I’m sharing is SO BASIC. If I can’t lead with this and attract the right clients, then I’m not sure I want to work with clients at all.”
As an academic nerd, I feel this pain.
It’s hard to water down the deep stuff when you’re living it day in and day out. It can be even harder to hide behind what has come to feel like simple, everyday know-how.
But unless you’re an academic talking to other academics, it’s also really hard to attract clients when you insist on hiding yourself deep in the weeds – because when we’re in the weeds, our audience doesn’t feel invited into our story. They can’t see themselves in the details we’re sharing, and they don’t quite know how to find their way to the solution we’re trying to offer.
I could get technical about all this, but instead, let me share a real-life parable that demonstrates all the feels that show up for our audience when we insist on hiding ourselves in the weeds.
I don’t know the exact day or the precise time, but I know the sky was perfectly blue and the summer day was perfectly warm.
My cousin Sarah and I were inseparable. Born just 32 days apart, Sarah and I were the best of friends, and while she was technically the oldest, we both knew I was the leader of our 2-person gang.
“You mom is telling my mom that it’s time for you guys to leave,” I told her.
We ran outside, 200 feet from the white farm house my parents rented from the local dairy farmer. Barbed wire fence behind us, hay fields stretched out for acres. We had mere moments to subvert our mothers’ plan.
“If we lay down in the field, they won’t be able to find us and you won’t have to leave.”
Moments later, we hear our mothers calling for us.
“Sarah!” “Lindsay!” “Where ARE you?”
We lived along a highway, and while it wasn’t heavily trafficked by today’s standards, cars were always constant and not always local. A year or two prior, Sarah and I had been riding our bikes to a friend’s, and just as we turned off the highway, a blue Chevrolet pulled up and idled next to me.
“Can you tell me how to get to Findlay?”
The question came from a strikingly beautiful young woman – maybe 28 years old, and her hair was a blonde facsimile of Daisy Duke. She sat at the wheel of the car, and while no one else was with her, the energy in the car didn’t feel like she was all alone.
My blonde hair wisped over my eyes, and as I pushed it back, my blue-green eyes caught hers. She looked shifty in her seat, unsettled, and I couldn’t understand why she would be lost with the main highway just a few feet in front of her.
“Go up to the stop sign and turn right. Highway 568 takes you right into town.”
She looked down at the map, mulling over my words, and then – “Can you get in the car and show me?”
This was the age of the milk carton kid.
Adam Walsh’s name was still all over the news, and I was well-educated on the gruesome details of what happened to kids who talked to strangers.
50 feet ahead of me, Sarah looked back – balancing her bike on the black, tar-bubbly asphalt beneath her right foot. We didn’t speak a word to one another, but she caught the signal in my eyes, felt the fear steaming off my skin.
Her entire body was screaming at me.
Run away. Get the heck out of Dodge.
Fingers tightened around my pink handlebars, butt on my banana seat, feet on pedals. I sped towards Sarah, and the lady in the blue Chevrolet disappeared.
I’m guessing our mothers hadn’t forgotten that story as they stood on the front porch, gray chipped paint beneath their leather strapped flip flops, voices growing strained with worry as they screamed for us over and over again.
Our plan had backfired.
Losing ourselves in the hayfield didn’t convince our mothers to stay longer or agree with our plan. Instead, it filled them with fear and confusion and (probably) a lot of justifiable anger.
“Here we are,” we screamed!
Sarah and I stood tall in the middle of the field, clearly visible to our moms as our blonde hair blew in the warm, southwestern breeze.
“It’s time to go,” my aunt screamed back. “And don’t ever do that again.”
Feeling stuck in the weeds and need help clarifying your message and reaching the right audience? As founder and owner at Storyhouse Fifteen, I help founder-led brands and small business owners who feel frustrated with their status quo and are trying get out of the weeds so they can grow or pivot their business or their career. I offer 1:1 coaching, message strategy, and listening tours. Learn more at storyhousefifteen.com.