Years ago, I stumbled across a fascinating story about Marilyn Monroe that I still think about once a week or so.
I was standing in the freezing cold of a Barnes & Noble in the high noon of the Florida summer, thumbing through a biography by a former photographer of hers, when I found it.
He’d been walking with Marilyn down a busy New York City street one afternoon, and to his surprise — as someone who was accustomed to his celebrity subjects being accosted wherever they went — no one seemed to recognized her.
One of the most famous women in the world (and now, perhaps in history) was strolling own a Manhattan sidewalk with nary an eyeball upon her hourglass frame. How?
When asked about it, she looked back at the photographer with a twinkle in her eye and said:
“Oh! Do you want to see me be her?”
Flipping the “Marilyn Switch”
Suddenly, her entire demeanor transformed.
Her eyelashes lowered, her hips began to swing, and she started to walk that classic Marilyn walk, spilling slowly down the concrete like good molasses.
And every head on the sidewalk suddenly turned to look at her.
“Oh my god!” people cried out. “It’s Marilyn Monroe!”
Immediately, they began to scramble to catch her, to touch her, to ask her questions and get her autograph.
And this is, to me, one of the most fascinating truths about one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century. That under it all?
There was Norma Jean — said to be a bit shy and sad, and a bit of a loner.
And then, there was Marilyn — all allure, sensuality, and sophistication from the top of her platinum head to the soles of her Dior shoes.
And, as it turned out, Marilyn could be flipped on and off like a light switch.
“Onstage I’m the Happiest Person in the World”
I think about this story because I find in some ways, especially in the personal branding space, each of us has a bit of a “Marilyn switch”.
There’s an ever-so-slightly enhanced version of ourselves that we step into when we’re on the stage, talking about what we do to clients, selling our stuff on our IG stories or, perhaps, filming our own YouTube shows. ;)
So much of showing up and sales, is, in some ways, performance (in the “even if I’m tired today, if I’m launching I’m gonna get online and find a way to be excited about what I’m offering” sense) because it is literally our job to make people interested.
Also, I find having this divide between the real self (who says “Ugh, I’m kinda tired today”), and the performance self (who says “Y’ALL! I’m so excited to tell you all about ___”) is actually deeply helpful.
Because there’s simply no way we can live in performance energy all the time, even if your performing style is less “ShamWow guy” and more “extremely chill turtle from Finding Nemo”.
The divide simply has to exist or we would burn out entirely.
Keeping It Authentic
That then begs the question: is this kind of performance inherently… inauthentic?
In an industry where authenticity is as prized as a pair of Marilyn’s Dior shoes, are we selling ourselves out to have an extra source of “us-ness” energy that we can flip on and off like a light switch?
This sounds like a question for… YER OLD PALS MARGO AND HILLARY, on the latest episode of HAMYAW:
Oh, But That’s the Irony…
Which, ahem, I didn’t get to share with y’all last week because I was… launching. ;)
Click here to flip on the episode where we dig into stuff like:
- Whether you have to be “excited” (or “over the top”) in your marketing
- What it means to “turn it on” (and is that inauthentic? And is that inherently a bad thing?)
- The skill of entertainment
- When “authenticity” is a form of hiding and avoiding turning pro
- How playing dumb about people’s perception of you isn’t authentic
Which Switch is Your Switch?
And while you’re over there, join the conversation in the comments:
Do YOU have a “performance” self?
What are he, she, or they like?
And do you feel it’s an authentic-but-enhanced version of yourself? Or perhaps something else entirely?
We wanna know all about it — and share our thoughts with you too.
So go catch the episode now, (where yes, we’re performing for you juuuust a little ;)) and I’ll see you in a sec.
I think there’s like no one.
I have a lot to say about this because you know to keep that energy up like it is performance period and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.
Don’t be confused though, we’re also trying to sell you something.
Welcome back marketing nerds of the world.
It’s time for another episode of HAMYAW and today we wanna talk about performance.
Basically, the experience during a launch cycle when you’re selling your stuff, when you’re showing up, when you’re doing it live, that you’re bringing an element of energy and element of theater and element of excitement that you may not necessarily feel in your day to day or it may be something that you feel like you have to sort of turn on as you show up to do the Instagram stories, to write the emails and to move the sales process forward.
The reason why we wanna talk about that is that there’s sort of a split between this idea of authenticity is showing up exactly as you are since you’re in the middle of a launch and you’re tired and you’re stressed out and you don’t really wanna be there today.
Maybe you just get on Instagram stories and talk about that.
But on the other side of the spectrum, it’s really hard to get someone excited to buy your stuff when you don’t seem excited.
Do I seem excited? So before we get to that, Margo? How do you perform?
Oh my God, well, I mean, I was an aspiring performer as a five-year-old.
I think we’re very confused about what authenticity means and what it means to perform and when you are out in the content creation world when you’re out in the sales world, you are inhabiting another sort of version of yourself. Like we are human beings with lots of sides to ourselves and one of them is the public-facing one. And I don’t think that it’s inauthentic, I think it’s one face of many faces. And my red flag goes off when people are like, “No, I can’t do that, it’s inauthentic,” I’m like, “But it is performance.”
I am not just sharing something with you that’s unpolished. If you’re inviting me to speak, if you’re inviting me on a podcast, if you are inviting me to do a workshop, if you are asking me to write a piece, if you are taking one of my classes there’s an element of it’s not just excitement though that is part of it. Energy and excitement is part of it but part of my job is to get you interested in the thing that I have to sell and there’s an element to entertaining.
I gotta keep your attention, I need to sustain it. What I think people don’t understand is that performance is a skill. What instead I hear people say when they say performance is they see it as like you’re lying, you’re deceiving, you’re being inauthentic, you’re showing a version of yourself that isn’t real.
Putting on a mask.
Putting on a mask.
And not for COVID reasons.
Right. It takes skill to be able to perform.
I want to elevate the art of performance so it’s not easy to just get on stage and be comfortable like that takes time and it isn’t necessarily how you feel in that moment. Right, it’s not a natural expression of how you feel.
I’m glad that you brought this up applying to not just like the sales process but also like podcasts and speaking engagements ’cause one of the first big speaking engagements I ever did was…you were there for the Copywriter Club when I went after Kevin Rogers, who’s a standup comedian, by the way, and had been doing a live event, I don’t know, probably longer than I’ve been alive.
And your slides stop working.
The slides didn’t work, oh man!
But as an aside, this was the first Copywriter Club conference. When it was like in the conference space of a hotel in Chinatown, it was awesome, it was so much fun. I went after Kevin Rogers on the billing, and he’s the man who knows how to work a room.
What can I say? He used to be a standup comedian and I went up and my slides didn’t work for 25 minutes and if I hadn’t been prepared to perform, ’cause I had spent weeks prepping for this. Like I knew what I wanted to say, I was working with my speaking coach, Laney, I had memorized the monologue, I had memorized the speech, I had memorized the slides, so when they didn’t show up, I was like, “I got it, let me just do this” and I was just able to recite from memory the conversation and then exactly when the slides came on again I knew what slide I had led up to. So I was able to find that I was like, go, go, go, stop, okay, back to work.
So I think that that’s part of the performance angle of sales is being prepared and knowing what you’re gonna talk about, which is so important because if you get caught unawares, caught with your pants down, you wanna be able to just continue the conversation as opposed to standing in front of the room like, “How you doing today?”
I do understand where people get concerned and maybe averse to the idea of performance in the sharing of information because you don’t necessarily wanna come across as somebody that you’re not, right?
You don’t wanna be the super excited high-energy character when in reality you’re pretty calm and you’re pretty straightforward.
But what I think is so important is that first of all, entertainment is part of how we consume information and maintain it. That’s why edutainment is such a genre, in the education sphere. But I think what’s also important to remember is the fact that it is possible to be entertaining and engaging and to be performing without being loud or being too over the top.
What matters most in this performance piece, which actually ties really strongly into the authenticity piece is that if you’re really connected to the work, you can come out and have the interesting conversations, you come out and come at things from different angles and share your point of view in a lucid and interesting and compelling way, but that takes practice and that takes a thought to performance.
Yes, I think a way that might be helpful for people to reframe is not to consider it in the, “I’m being authentic, inauthentic,” but consider it in the, “Am I connecting?”
How can I best and most effectively facilitate connection in this moment? Whether it’s a podcast, whether it’s a speaking gig, whether it is your launch sequence, and how you come off? And tone via email or in your Instagram stories. Like I totally understand and relate to that feeling that you need to be something that you’re not.
Like if I’m not sharing the hype and it’s like, “No I gotta be really excited or it’s not gonna work,” that’s actually not true, first of all. It’s not true that you need to be excitable. But it is true that you need to bring energy and connection and you need to make the case. You need to go to town on this thing.
Yeah. I experienced this a lot also. As somebody who, as we’ve talked about several times on the show, I do a lot of selling and content creation on Instagram stories and especially when I’m in the middle of a launch I need to be showing up in some way, whether it’s text, whether it’s me on video, whether it’s me just like sharing cool stuff, I need to be showing up every single day having the conversation. And I sell, especially with my Power Position coaching, I sell that quarterly. So every month I’m all up in your face on Instagram stories talking about exactly the same offer.
So this process is also learning how to keep it entertaining for me as well as my clients and this is kind of twofold: You’ve seen me do an experiment, if you guys watch my Instagram stories, you’ve seen me test some stuff where I have done a couple of times now, where I’ve talked about the offer while doing my makeup because people like watching me do both things.
I have used my kitten for sales purposes, holding her in the story so people have something else to watch. And I’ve also done a skincare routine while talking about
clients’ success stories. And the reason why I think that’s been so effective is because people are enjoying the performance of watching me do a routine ’cause there’s a whole reason why beauty YouTube is like a bazillion dollar industry, right? But they also like watching me riff in a way that doesn’t feel scripted.
Because it’s not. I’m very, very connected to the offer. It’s what I do every single day in my business, it’s what I love to do, so I’m able to just get on and come from that place of excitement and energy but I’m not like, tap dancing in front of you. I’m not like, “Okay, let’s raise the roof, Power Position is back open!” Like you’re at a Tony Robbins event and you’re looking around and you’re like, “Is this a call?”
It’s a call.
What’s been interesting about that process is when I first started selling, I thought I like had bullet points behind my phone, I had like notes about what I wanted to say but now I can kind of show up and it’s a little more free-wheeling but it’s still in some ways performance. Because have I had days in my launch where I was like, I’m pretty tired. I know I have to do Instagram stories today.
And I find a way around it. Either by finding a different way to talk about things that feel like fun and enjoyable or I will do a text-based post or something like that.
So I think what’s important to remember is that we don’t think in performance as being like high, high, high energy levels the entire time and just going, going, going until you’re spent. But I think thinking about the launch conversation, thinking about talking about your work, when you’re doing events, when you’re being featured and interviewed, thinking about it in some ways as a performance. And not meaning that you have to crank it up to 11 all the time, although we encourage you guys to do that too, but to be deeply connected to the work and be confident in talking about what you love about it.
‘Cause this is the opposite of Imposter Syndrome y’all, it is not confidence, it’s love. Being able to look at the offer, what’s exciting you about it? What thrills you about your clients? What gets you so stoked about the process? What do you geek out about? Like you wanna bring all of that to the performance and that is also where the authenticity lies.
Authenticity is not saying you’re tired when you’re tired necessarily, it’s finding that authentic connection to the work and bringing it to life in conversation in a way that people can connect with so they make that connection like, “Wow, she’s so excited about this, this sounds awesome, let me explore more.”
Yes, I love this so much. I wanna bring people’s attention to something you said about like having the cat or doing your makeup and like testing different things. I think we have this misconception about reality TV, that somehow it’s like more real because these people aren’t actors. And I remember the first time that I had a friend, like it was back in 2008, that like got on a show as an expert.
I know, vintage! But I remember the amount of little things I hadn’t considered, like getting permission from certain restaurants to be able to film there, the fact that there’s a lighting crew and a sound crew, and all these people that are like, literally, what does the Schrodinger’s cat? It’s like you don’t know it’s affecting the outcome.
The presence there is changing the dynamic so you can’t actually know. And then, of course, you have people like if something doesn’t film, you have to do it again. So even if it was realistic and authentic the first time, if it didn’t get audio that time you have to do it again. And so in thinking of that, that like our conception of reality is already being kind of warped, how people are responding to you. So you are creating the illusion to some degree of this is me being a real person and then actually being a real person.
So like both of those things are true so here’s where I’m going with this, my background. So how many times have y’all written in and been like, Margo fix your makeup? But you sit here and wax poetic about authenticity and authentically, I was in my kitchen, authentically.
But it makes a difference, it makes a difference to your experience of our show. You would judge this positively if I had a bookshelf and a poster of someone and then like maybe a framed front-page news story, I don’t know but I’m not gonna stand and pretend like those things don’t matter, that’s not authentic either. So playing dumb about what cultivates connection and what influences people’s perception of you and their ability to take in your information, unfair to the people you’re trying to reach and it’s disrespectful to the information that you’re trying to convey.
I don’t know if any of y’all have ever read “A Cognitive Psychology of Media.”
Yeah, exactly because it’s boring with a terrible cover and poorly written and never marketed but you’ve read, “Trust Me I’m Lying,” because you follow Ryan Hawk, it’s the same shit but you didn’t read the boring one, did you?
Why is that?
I’m just tired of people downplaying performance and I do think it’s a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is, we have a bias where people with lower ability tend to judge something, it’s like, “Ugh, I can do that”.
Like you look at modern art and you’re like, “You just drew a line”.
It’s also me watching dancers on YouTube and I’m like, “I could not do that, y’all, I can not do that at all”.
But I think you’re raising a really interesting point especially about your background,
which I love by the way, this is an Essie original, folks, on her right side in two places. I think that another piece of this which is so funny and irony of it all is that a part of this performance piece, part of you having the background is living up to client expectations and customer expectations and reader expectations. You have a certain idea of how two lovely lady marketers or the YouTube show should look and what their backgrounds should look like if we wanna be official YouTubers, you know what I’m saying?
But it would be, I think, a different show.
If you look at our first episodes and you look at our lighting, for example, at our sets, a part of me is like, “Oh my God, who let us do this?” But it was fine ’cause we were just starting out and getting our sea legs but the longer we’ve been around some of y’all are getting impatient for Margo to show YouTube her background.
Why is that? Is it authentic? Is it authentic for her to create a background for y’all?
No, I think that this is the cross-section ’cause this is where we have to exist as people in the public eye and as marketers. We have to understand the intersection between customer expectations and between the people that we are.
And this is the key and that’s actually the most difficult part and that’s where you get that sweet spot where you are engaging, where you are intriguing, where you are talking about things in a way that you’re nerding out about and make someone else excited to nerd out about it. But it’s not quite the “Da, da, da!” that you think about when you think about performance but that’s the spot you’re performing for, where you’re meeting client and customer and audience expectations but you’re also bringing your own takes, opinions, and ideas to the table in a way that fills you with energy and that you’re excited about.
Yes, I love this.
I’m reminded too of some things, I have some actor friends who have shared, that like, acting is not real. Like “I’m not actually sad in the moment that you’re seeing me crying on stage but that is part of the power and so it’s inherently deceptive to that degree but it’s also communicating a truth, a human truth”. It’s got a message, it’s got a purpose, it’s being done deliberately not for the sake of deceiving you or putting on airs but for the sake of conveying something bigger.
And so I think what you said earlier about the antidote to Imposter Syndrome, not
being confidence but love, that is such an important point here because they think that when you think about performance more as a skill, a skill of turning pro, part of leveling up, part of accepting that if someone pays you to go and speak, you can not show up on stage and be like, “I’m just not in the mood right now”.
People do though.
“I’m not feeling authentic,” and then people are gonna be like, “She was so brave”.
No, you weren’t, no, you weren’t, that’s not brave, you know what’s brave?
Showing up, doing the show.
Do it anyway, amen.
And this also kills me when I go to conferences too because you have people who are like, “Okay I’m reading from my slides and I’m just gonna talk” and then the minute you get someone up there with a little bit of performance chops, everyone sits up.
I have watched some of my videos where I’m trying to be authentic. Well, I’m not trying, I’m just like talking to the audience. I usually talk to them like people but there are times where I’m narrating, being like kind of cutesy and I look at it on stage, I’m like, you’re being annoying, they’re just waiting for you to get to the point. They’re sitting there thinking “What’s in it for me?” They don’t need to know why you were running late. Stop it! It’s self-involved!
Yeah, it is, and I think what was actually really exciting for me on the last sort of launch that I did is because I had a couple of my clients who are already in my program Power Position and they’re like, “Oh, it’s launch time, it’s Power Position TV, I can’t wait to binge” and I was like, “This is the dream”.
You want it to be entertaining, you want it to be something that people enjoy watching
even if they’re not really a customer yet or even planning to be so they can get to know you and know what you do. And I also had somebody, ’cause I’m not a natural teacher, I’ve had to put a lot of work into being a good teacher but I had one of my students likening it too, instead of watching me give a lecture at the front of the room, it was like watching a sports announcer ‘cause I was like, “Yes, this is the energy I’m trying to bring.”
I’m comfortable doing that because I’m very high-energy person naturally, I don’t know if you guys can tell but that doesn’t have to be it for you. But keep in mind that people aren’t just attracted to what you do and what you say, it’s also your flavor, it’s also the experience of you which often can be mistaken for performance.
If you find that you have to get on a day you’re not really feeling it and turn it on a little bit. That’s just part of the process and frankly, part of being an adult. But I think that having the conversation about, it’s not inauthentic to like have a cup of coffee before you start to write an email or get to talk about your offer or have a sales call. But I think where we can bridge into the inauthenticity is actually not something that damages your sales numbers but it damages you, because if you’re not a high energy person but everyone else is showing up that way, so you feel like you have to, that’s just gonna hurt your results because you’re not gonna be able to show up that way consistently.
So I think that’s on your mind too.
I love that point because I think at the end of the day people figure it out.
Okay, we can talk about trash TV all day long but I’ve been watching Bling Empire, which has a great premise but there are certain characters where you’re like they’re just playing a character and it’s so obvious that’s not who they are and they’re trying to manufacture drama and it’s not interesting.
So it’s fun on the superficial but it’s not sustainable. And so I think your audience isn’t stupid. You don’t have to be something you’re not but you do have to be able to turn it on, whatever on means to you. So if you’re not high energy naturally, you could still turn it on by being articulate, being thoughtful in your language, doing something with your tone or with your facial expressions or connecting or what Hillary was saying about, kind of engineering your background to be taken seriously, like things like that that you need to do.
I think the takeaway I would have here for people is to not poo poo on performance but poo poo on deception.
Yes, there we go, we always poo poo on deception here.
Always, if you’re not excited, don’t be excited but then don’t sell that thing.
Stop selling that thing if you’re not excited to sell it. And that’s also not to say that you’re gonna be in the middle of a launch of something that you love and you’re just kind of tired. ‘Cause maybe you’re tired, you didn’t sleep that well last night. I think that if we’re talking about how to think about how you’re performing and what you’re bringing to the table too, is just again by connecting to what are you excited about? What do you love about your point of view? What do you love about the experience of working with you? What do you love about what it is that you’re selling or thinking or talking about that day?
And that’s gonna help you connect to that energy, that’s going to make you more engaging, not necessarily super hyper but more engaging and comfortable showing up and talking and riffing and being you in a way that’s gonna make people excited to learn more from you.
Yes, I love that!
Okay, so to sum up, I love this reframe from thinking about performance as deception and inauthentic, to thinking about it as engineering connection and engineering engagement.
So it is a tool in your arsenal to cultivate that connection and that engagement from the person you are trying to reach and as an advocate for your content and an advocate for your ideas and the messages that you wanna get out into the world and to reach people and so don’t underutilize the tool and don’t hate.
You can show up any way that you want but again, if you’re gonna get up and be like, “Argh, hi guys, I’m really tired today so I don’t really wanna sell this but sign up,” guess what’s gonna happen, guys? It might be the most authentic thing you say that day but is it gonna get the results that you want?
Also inauthentic though, can you just make that argument for a second? Because if you want to really be authentic then we have to show up in therapy and be like, “I’m upset because the truth is I resent being here because I need to pay rent.” I bet we have a bigger conversation of problems that’s happening right now. So just don’t touch that with a 10-foot pole, take your work seriously, turn pro, respect your audience enough to show up for them.
And now I had to bring the performance, honey. Figure it out.
We want to hear from you, when have you felt really uncomfortable with this idea of performance?
When did you sort of notice that this was part of the game?
How do you understand it as a part of turning pro?
Tell us your experience in the comments below.
I am Margo Aaron.
And I’m Hillary Weiss.
This has been HAMYAW and we will see you in two weeks.
Performance. Bye guys!
Photo by Juliet Clare Warren