The importance of showing up: a lesson across 2000 years (Guest Blog)

  • I go into BizRev today or don’t I? It’s cold and it’s raining and I could just work at home in my slippers…

From ancient Rome to Sainsbury’s this weekend, here’s three lessons to help get you out of the house and into more business.

80 BC. Cicero was the father of rhetoric as we know it (and one of my heroes). After what seemed like several false starts on his career he took on a murder case in which the accused was said to have killed his own father – a risky case which could have led to very nasty ends for both of them. Cicero got the defendant off the hook and became an instant celebrity. After basking in his glory for a bit he took to his travels to improve his oratory skills – and was surprised to find on his return that people had moved on.

1995. My friend Keith tells me how in the early days after leaving the EDP as a staff photographer, they passed him loads of work as a freelancer. But with on-going redundancies and guilt about letting new friends go, the paper tends to give gigs to people who just left, and assumes those they don’t see anymore have moved on.

2013. My friend Eddie* is just a regular guy who does a job in an office, but he’s recently landed an exciting side-project. Back at base, people are asking where he is. The tone of these questions worries me, and the answers are worse: “I don’t know where he’s at” suggest all sorts of things. If the pattern holds true, soon the questions will stop altogether, and he’ll have been forgotten.

The thing is, working and personal relationships grow most strongly with the people who turn up.

When I do storytelling workshops I often talk of the supermarket story – the anecdote that people have told about you before, and which they refer back to as a snapshot of your character. Try it: when you bump into a former colleague in the shops, watch what happens as you walk away. Every time, they will be whispering to their other half, “She’s the one who…” But you have to go out and be seen, for them to even think of you and why you were memorable.

It’s a lesson we can learn the hard way, or we can turn back to the ancients for advice: upon realising what had happened, our old pal Cicero decided on the spot to be seen in person every day, and here we are talking about him 2000 years later. Social networking may offer a kind of virtual opportunity to show up in more than one place at a time, but there’s no substitute for the energy and possibility that open up when you connect with people in real life.

And it gives them an opportunity to point you out, and say “She’s the one who…” and remember just how terrific it was to work with you in the first place.

(*name changed of course)

Tracy Kenny consults with companies and trains to make their strategic communications inspire, persuade and inform. To find out more about how the stories we’re known for and how they influence more convincingly than traditional communications, join her at an open morning at Best Western Brooke Hotel in Norwich, first Friday mornings of the month at 11:00. It’s a free morning, but please register at www.whitedot.co/open  so she can keep in touch about any changes.