Hosting a livestream with my friend and former Army Ranger, Keni Thomas (who was involved in the battle of Mogadishu also known as Blawk Hawk Down), who talks about leading in uncertain times

Toward the beginning of the quarantine lockdown in my home state of Florida, like many others, I was feeling uneasy, reeling from changes in business, travel, schooling for my kids, and basically no fun places being open. I have a rule in life, “If it’s not at least 50% fun, I’m out!” And basically it seemed like a lot of fun had been removed from my world. I am no scientist and am not making any commentary on what was or was not necessary about the quarantine and the resulting shutdowns, all I know is that my world, like everyone else’s, changed overnight.

I had actually just returned from filming in Iraq a few weeks earlier, and the morning we left the first three COVID-19 cases had broken out in the country. We were glad to get out, but I really thought that the whole thing would blow over in a matter of weeks. Boy, was I wrong!

I usually only post pictures of my kids and my dogs, the occasional fish I catch, or some of my interview pictures on Facebook, but I got the urge to do something else. I knew how I was feeling, and I wondered if anyone else was feeling the same. So I posted a bit of a long text post. I started the post with “The Rhythm of Life Has Changed…” and I detailed what the days were starting to feel like and shared how I was coping with it, and some wisdom from one of my mentors that was helping me through the unique time, that I hoped would help others during this time as well.

I do check Facebook a few times a day, but it honestly took a lot for me to post that. Why? I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but it’s the same reason why I hadn’t started the podcast everyone had been urging me to start for years, or the Facebook livestreams and YouTube videos that everyone was telling me about and sharing how I was really missing out on a new world of opportunity. Sure, I was busy traveling and working on documentaries, running our agency and spending time with my family and friends, but I could have made time. Instead, I constantly shrugged it off.

It wasn’t until I read my friend’s book “The Bezos Letters,” in which the authors break down the principles Jeff Bezos has used to build Amazon into the behemoth that it is today, that it hit me. In the book, Steve Anderson talks about Bezos’ principle of “meaningful differentiation.” Essentially, Bezos doesn’t want to enter a marketplace where he can’t be meaningfully different from everyone else. And it hit me. That was my fear of getting deeper into publishing in many of the media outlets online. How could I be meaningfully different and not just part of the attention grab?

It took the quarantine to take a leap and try to figure that out. The reality was, my new form of communication was all going to be online, and how could I meaningfully differentiate?

What made me post that blog was the realization that I have a treasure trove of content from some of the most impressive people in the world that I’ve gotten along the journey of directing 60 documentaries. I’ve done thousands of interviews and they are all captured on film! Not to mention, I actually retain a lot of the wisdom I hear in my head and use it daily. So, maybe I could help others by sharing some of that wisdom?

So I did. Within 24 hours something interesting happened. The post got 105 likes (which I don’t consider to be very many), 36 comments (ok that’s some decent engagement) and 21 shares. 21 shares?! Hmmm, maybe people were interested in some uplifting content from some of the leaders I had learned from?

So, I decided to see how else I could share the content that I had access to. Within the next two weeks, I hosted five more online streams with Rudy Ruettiger (of the movie “Rudy”), two Astronauts for an “Ask an Astronaut” geared toward kids at home trying to get their school work done, a livestream to help understand addiction and how to recognize it and help others dealing with it during this time, as well as one on the rise of human trafficking in an all-digital world. All in all, I had more than 17,000 views and a bunch of shares and interactivity.

I had found a way to be meaningfully different. And it shouldn’t have taken me that long. I am the one who lectures, teaches, and repeats daily the fact that “your brand is your story.” The more you share about your story, the more your audience will realize the journey you have endured to get to where you are now, and you will show up as the only person in the world who is so uniquely prepared to serve their needs. If you need to, read that again ;). Your story is your unique differentiation, but only sharing it will accomplish that for you.

The bottom line is the leader they are looking for is you. We all have different and unique experiences and skillsets, and I’m also known for saying “when the message is more important than you, you’ll get out of your own way and you’ll deliver the message.” You see, I was being way too self-conscious, and hadn’t stopped to realize that my journey had put me in a unique place to serve an audience. And while I have a long way to go, I have continued to host live streams, turned them into podcasts (which are available on all the major platforms), posted the videos on youtube, and now I’m back to sharing stories and knowledge through blogs. (Actually, to be fair, my team is doing a lot of the technical stuff I don’t know how to do…but more on that below).

Within a couple of weeks of my first livestream, I even had one of the largest publishers in the world reach out and ask me if I would be interested in interviewing some of their authors. They then gave me a list of more than 300 authors to choose from, some of whom are household names! That was just luck, but it never would have happened without taking the chance and putting my first livestream out there. What are you missing out on….?

I’m not writing this to preach or brag, I’m hoping it’ll light a fire under you and help you to see a few things:

  1. You have a unique story
  2.  You need to share that story with your audience in any medium you are comfortable with
  3. You then need to step outside of your comfort zone and try a few other mediums
  4. You’ll be shocked at how your audience responds.

It will likely take me months, or even a year or more to really gain traction with the media I am sharing with the marketplace, but when I do, I’ll be that far ahead of anyone who hasn’t jumped into the publishing pond yet.

You have gifts that your audience needs, and if you don’t share those with them, they’ll never get what they really need. When your message is more important than you, you’ll get out of your own way and deliver it. It took me this quarantine to figure it out, and I hope it’ll inspire you to take action and share your story too.

P.S. If you don’t know where to start, you can check out this fireside chat where I share how I did it and how we are doing it for others who want to lead, educate and inspire their audiences through media. Click here!