This was the 10th Salon session and we celebrated 🎉 with a wonderful discussion of 13+ Salon participants talking about the difference between being a character and a protagonist.
The basis for our conversation was a YouTube film that I shared earlier with registered participants.
Indy started by referring to a saying in consulting: people buy people. Meaning that the person itself is often more valuable than the pure expertise. He also added the great twist that this may be even more true for knowledge and educational content. When people want to learn about something, they don't know more about the subject matter than the teacher. So the character of the teacher becomes even more relevant for building trust.
I realized from this conversation that the term character could be misleading. What I mean by character is the deep personality of a person and not a role that someone is playing. A protagonist on the other hand is only a shallow personality that transports the bare minimum for a story, e.g. in a short advertisement.
Angela shared her personal story about Ness Labs. She originally started to pay attention because of the topic, but was pulled in and stayed because of the people—the characters—that she met. This could point towards protagonists being enough to transmit the core idea of expertise. But for longer relationships, you may need to pay attention to the character that fits.
Josie pointed to a similarity between the what-how-why framework, where the character could be closely related to the why. It is typically the motivation of someone that reveals a lot about a person's character.
Lynoure told us about her multiple expertises, apart from her tech background she also dances and has a multi-cultural background. I pointed out how I would focus at the start on relevant expertise. In our connected world, we just have not the capacity to receive both, expertise and personal messages, from all our experts at the same time. That does not mean that you have to limit yourself completely but you should give your audience a chance to receive mostly messages focused on your expertise.
Ziga agreed that it could be hard to draw the line between how much to share. He decided to split his Twitter profiles into his personal and his expert account. He also pointed out how many successful entrepreneurs reveal a lot from their personality. People like David Perell, Casey Neistat, or Matt D'Avella are all very visible characters next to their expertise.
A character doesn't have to be your full private self. Think about characters like Mr. Bean or Borat, who are splitting up their public and private selves in a very visible way. Could it be possible that a knowledge entrepreneur invents a "stage character" for their public profile?
That's when Max surprised me with the question, whether I consider myself an authentic character or not. What a great question! 😁 I prefer to show my true self, as it is much easier for me. I read the book Lying by Sam Harris a few years ago and never lied ever since. Being authentic comes much more naturally to me than playing a role.
Fraser second the question of where to draw the line between public and private personas. We discussed how this is mostly your choice. Whatever you decide there is most likely an audience for that. But generally speaking, a transparent person will have it easier to form an authentic relationship with their audience.
Max recommended embracing your personality completely. You shouldn't limit yourself because of some agenda or goal setting. We supported him with that sentiment but also pointed out how this potentially comes with its challenges. If you communicate a lot about all your various interests, you may eventually only be a good fit for people that share the very same profile as you. As the world is big, there may be many like-minded people but it could be a challenge to find them quickly. Starting with one clear expertise could be easier at the beginning.
Josie added the great insight that you have to keep the goal of your actions in mind. If your goal is to explore, then sharing a lot of different topics can be fine. But if you found a niche, it might make sense for you to start specializing. In that context, Max pointed out an interesting communication design problem. There is just not enough bandwidth to receive all those different messages from many different people.
There we referred back to the garden of expertise metaphor. A garden should typically not be created by mixing all plants or even leaves wildly with each other. This would lead to fierce competition and it would be unclear what comes out of it. As alternative, you can put a different focus on different areas of your garden, where different topics can flourish.
Again Fraser brought up the relevant question of how to decide what to focus on. There Josie pointed to a wonderfully simple exercise: create a ranking! Take some time to write your different options and assign the expected value or outcome to each entry. Then prioritize the list and start from the first item. It reminded me of the saying, you can do anything but not everything.
As usual, some of us stayed a little longer for the fireside chat. That's when Max asked the question: "So what's next?". I was pleased by this question but didn't have a clear answer yet. How can I provide more value to knowledge entrepreneurs? What came to mind was a workshop format that I did with Farnam Street in 2017. So we brainstormed a little and even fixed a date: the weekend, February 20 & 21.
If you like to learn more, have a look at the Braintrust.