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June 30, 2010
How to Fame
Fame has a new meaning! It isn’t being celebrated; it’s being perceived. And so I am introducing a new term: “How to Fame.” In the last eight months, I’ve begun to produce a private newsletter on the topic for folks who’d like to learn about pragmatic notoriety. 

Face it. We are all known, and the way we’re perceived by people who know us affects our lives in tangible ways. Sadly, it doesn’t matter how fantastic you are if others’ perception of you is off.

For this reason, understanding "How to Fame" -- or how to use the tools of this speedy millennium to advance your objectives -- is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a must-have, and whether your current goal is to shape or promote your personal brand, get a job or a promotion, be smarter, or find a mate, your fame matters.

The point is not to be famous. Being famous for fame’s sake is a job best left to those who care about little else. This is about being an authority and using your fame to achieve greatness. It’s about getting what you want and what you deserve. And getting it right now.”

Here are some ideas to chew upon during those first weeks of summer:

Effortful online communication

In 21st century America, electronic communication is the new black. It’s everywhere, at all times, and always in vogue (can’t you hear Madonna echoing in the background, “VOGUE, uh huh, VOGUE”). The way the content of electronic communication, especially e-mail, is displayed after its trip through the virtual, online Twitter/Facebook/e-mail streams is terrible, and, we’ve grown so accustomed to its incredible level of mediocrity that we, too, have become lazy, believing mediocrity is now “accepted.”  You know what? If you want stand out -- to be different -- you can’t be lazy with your communication; you need to pay attention.

The lack of effort put into electronic communication presents an easy opportunity for you to Fame.  Be better than the mediocre masses. Treat your e-mails, IMs, texts, and chats as importantly as a proposal you’d present to a client and think of those you’re engaged with online as if they were right in front of you in the room.  You might have hated grammar and English in school over the years, but here’s where all that studying and pain-staking effort pays off (even in today’s frenzied, all-consuming social media world):  

  1. Spell-check. How much more obvious can it be?  Spell-check is built into just about every application, so why not use it? In our haste to type a quick message on laptops, tiny Blackberry keys or flat iPhone pseudo-keys, people still spell things wrong. For those who are using spell-check, don’t get too comfy because while not misspelled, there is a difference between their, they’re, and there! People notice; so should you. 
  1. Abbreviation. Sure you’re limited on character count on Twitter, but instead of editing an already short word like “you” with the absurd looking “U,” why not tighten your message up and be more succinct? Half the time I feel like I’m figuring out a cryptic jigsaw puzzle. Don’t make it hard on your readers. Be simple and to the point using real, unabbreviated words. A nice side effect is that it forces you to get more creative!
  1. Case sensitivity. Since when did it become okay to write, “mr. jones went to new york to see promises, promises on broadway??” Come on, give your finger the exercise and use the shift key. Capitalize words appropriately. This lack of attention to detail not only makes you look lazy, but, well, clumsy.
  1. Clarity. We aren’t clear when we are responding to questions. We ramble on, fail to address the right issues, or worse, get all cutesy with silly emoticons.  Envision your stern teacher over your shoulder cracking the ruler to correct you -- admonishing you for not being concise, to-the-point or communicating effectively. That’s one “chip on the shoulder” you shouldn’t brush off; instead, pay heed to the reminder.
  1. Hiccups. Sure, we all love technology. Heck, Apple comes up with new gadgets every day to prove to us there were things missing in our already techvoluted lives that we didn’t even know were missing, but don’t forget technology has hiccups, too. Take instant messaging -- or as Henny Youngman would say, “please!” No clearly defined rules exist regarding the protocol of conversations, so the impression we leave may not be what we intended. You could be having what you might call an important chat via IM, and at the absolute worst time -- just when you’re about to put the meat on the bones -- your network dies. That so-called engaging conversation is now nothing more than your blank face staring at a blank screen. The other person doesn’t know what to think. Did she “hang up” on me? What was the answer to the question? Be prepared for the unexpected, and dare I say? Pick up the phone!

Technology is wonderful and online interaction that can be a fabulous conduit to faming. Just don’t rely on technology as your be-all/end-all crutch; use it within your vast arsenal of communications vehicles. Imagine: You can actually bolster your public personality simply by acting human! How easy, right! 

Reliance on convenient communication

Beyond the poor implementation and presentation of electronic communication, there’s another roadblock to faming: relying on the easiest (not best) form of communication. This isn’t bad, per se. It’s definitely efficient, but it’s holding us back in our quest to be marketable, valued, and remembered. Whether we admit it or not, we all know that reading words on a page pale in comparison to actually talking to someone directly.

Before e-mail, we called, visited, handwrote letters, and faxed (remember that clunky monstrosity sitting in the corner?). Now, we e-mail everything. We order lunch from a Web site, we text message people down the hall, and we tweet updates throughout the day. Efficient and timesaving, maybe, but this continual stream of virtual interaction has resulted in our public personalities blurring together.  

Do you really want to be remembered for your static, motionless avatar instead of for your engaging (winning!) personality? No one can stand out from the pack when the sum total of our communication for the day is bland text on a computer screen. In order to Fame, we have to be something to stand out.

  1. Don’t be an e-mail drone. We’ve come to expect to use the same lowly form of communication for everything. Outlook to schedule meetings, gossip and FW: the latest joke making the rounds. Don’t fall into the trap of using e-mail for everything when you have other options; don’t let your inbox fill up with e-mails from others waiting on your response; and whatever you do, don’t write e-mails longer than a screenshot (who wants to read "War and Peace" on a four-inch screen, duh!).
  1. Put pen to paper. Want to impress someone? Take out your ink pen, or go buy one at the local newsstand, before that disappears. Write a handwritten letter. Put a stamp on it. Drop it in the mailbox. Seriously.  Handwritten letters rightly get much more attention today, simply because there aren’t very many. Also, you might get a thank you note from the Postal Service for using them! Handwritten notes demonstrate the writer actually cares enough about the recipient and the message to make an actual effort to stand out. Sure, one could fire off an e-mail in half the time, but how often do people blow off e-mails? How often do you skim and delete purportedly “important” e-mails? Pulling a hand-addressed envelope (instead of bills, junk mail, and solicitations) out of the mailbox is a welcomed change for anyone.
  1. Let your fingers do the dialing. The next time you’re about to write a long, detail-filled e-mail, pick up the phone and call. That’s right. Punch those numbers. What might take you 20 minutes to write clearly could take you 10 minutes to say over the phone.  Not only will you save time, but you’ll also have instant feedback and an opportunity to further your message, educate your colleague, and yes, the chance to fame.
  1. Seeing is believing. Make it a point to schedule an in-person meeting (lunch, coffee, dinner, or midnight scotch) once a week with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while or someone you met recently at an event.  People become so used to interacting by e-mail, IRL meetings have fallen by the wayside. Getting to know someone in person inevitably adds a new dimension to the relationship, not only do you find out more about the other, but they get to know you -- the real you.
  1. YouTube it. Don’t discount the value of this free (free!) communications channel. Do you still think YouTube is just for kids? Wrong. According to Nielsen, the over-55 sector is actually bigger than the 18-and-unders. Whether you’re promoting a non-profit cause, community event, or new business idea, YouTube should be part of your integrated strategy to fame. YouTube’s reporting function will not only help you understand viewpoints, viewer demographics, popularity, and community, but you can see how other YouTube users are interacting with your video content via ratings, comments, and/or favoriting. Get them interested in you by showing them what you’ve got! 

By simply communicating via methods that require some effort above and beyond Outlook, we distinguish ourselves as someone who is different. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Walk down the hall. Make the effort. Show people you are not an e-mail drone! Fame! 

Speech is more than just words

The big one. The single easiest way to fail at faming is to lack the ability -- or to appear to lack the ability -- to organize your thoughts into interesting, coherent spoken words.

Of all the forms of communication we use, the only one preinstalled when we’re born is the ability to speak. We’re given all the tools: the voice box, the lungs, the tongue, the ears, and the brain. Unfortunately, as other forms of communication emerged, we took less seriously our most fundamental skill: speech. Consequently, our speech skills have routinely paid the price because we aren’t using them as nature intended.

Beyond simple speech, the real issue is how we present ourselves to the world every time our mouths open.

  1. Speech is power. In order for you to successfully connect with your audience (whether it’s one dude or 100 staring at you), you must exude confidence and demonstrate your credibility. Just because you can get up and talk for 30 minutes doesn’t mean that you’re a good public speaker. You must not only read the words of your speech, you have to connect with your audience, and, even if they’re silent, make them think you and are talking to them individually. To connect, you need to be in control from start and establish familiarity. You know when you meet someone for the first time that you immediately formulate a first impression -- it’s not necessarily right or wrong -- it’s just instinctive. Make sure those first words out of your mouth are the ones that establish the impression you intended.
  1. Be concise. There is truth in the cliché “brevity being the soul of wit.” Nobody likes a long-winded talker -- or a close talker or a low talker (I’m going all "Seinfeld" here). We give away material that doesn’t need to be said, and consequently, our intended message slithers by in a stream of gibberish. Take two extra full seconds and figure out what you’re going to say and what you’re not going to say. What you leave out is just as important as what you actually talk about. Speak slowly and deliberately. Remember, you are not a word processor. Once it leaves your mouth, there is no backspace!
  1. Grammar is not a four-letter word. Sophisticated speech can be challenging, but it doesn’t require you to sound like a walking textbook. Simply avoid the most common grammatical pitfalls, and you’re on your way to standing out, because most of us don’t bother. Start with this: Never end a sentence with a preposition. Contrary to popular advertising campaigns, “Where you at?” is not correct, and frankly, it sounds like a lazy person trying to sound uneducated. To close the loop on this one, the question is: “Where are you going?” Not: “Where are you going to?”
  1. A picture’s worth a thousand words. Great public speakers are the ones who conjure up images with the stories they tell. Audiences should be able to visualize and relate to what you are saying.  Some use analogies, while others who are great storytellers regale us with relatable personal experiences. Ah yes, the vignette that supposedly happened to us but is actually borrowed from a pal!  In addition to speaking in pictures, you’ll want to use pictures effectively. Draw people in with your words, grab their attention, and make them want to hear more!
  1. Use the correct posture. Enthusiasm, hand gestures, eye contact, standing tall, and smiling all factor into your non-verbal speech aides. If you’re sure of what you’re saying -- really, really sure -- the message comes across much more effectively. Remember: Breathe, speak slowly, and pause. Rambling and speaking so fast that people can’t understand what you’re saying will not connect you to others; it will leave people baffled and confused. The slightest shift in how you present yourself will make all the difference.

As we come to the end of our tip session, sign up for the whole shebang at howtofame.com/details. It will be time you won’t want back. Also, here's one last thought: Remember that the best way to sound like you know what you're talking about is to know what you're talking about. Today, standing out means standing up and beating competitors to the punch -- doing homework and/or research. You got to do some choosing, so choose your words wisely, think about who you want to be, and understand "How to Fame" before your peers get it.  

None of the above is a maybe. The last to figure this out will be standing in the cold.  

Choose to fame this minute, and forget the celebrity type of fame since it means nothing. 

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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