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Author: Michael Defern

Mindfulness, Music & Marketing. I'm obsessively curious about what makes people tick and what makes us all feel more connected.

Free book for business owners / marketing pros
How To Connect - A guide to creating content that resonates with your ideal client

Check out Mike & Heather's music at ParkwaySouthBand.com and their content & production company is ZenMantis.com

How to Make Your “Why” Video

3 steps to always make the right first impression

“It’s all about relationships!” Man, that statement used to aggravate me early in my career. 

Because I didn’t get it.

I thought it was about hanging out on golf courses, schmoozing with people, and kissing ass to make a sale. And I had more integrity than that! So, I hunkered down, focusing on being better, technically, than everyone else. But I was completely in the dark about the relationship part, and I struggled to hit my numbers while I watched others in my industry work half as hard and make twice the money.

Because every move I made was transactional.

Because I didn’t have a why.

It wasn’t until a number of years later when I started my own business that I “woke up” and understood. I was now selling to other business owners, getting to know them – as people, not prospects. I saw how the service I was offering had the potential to make a difference in their lives. Not just helping their business, but helping them. I began to care deeply about what I was doing, and in turn, about what they were doing. And things started to click.

I had found my why, and I began valuing relationships.

It was never about glad-handing and fancy lunches, it was about getting out of my self. I needed something more important than ME to focus on.

But, I can’t really explain what my why is. Even now, I struggle with the words.

It comes across in subtle ways. It’s who I am – and it comes out in how I show up at meetings, how I talk on the phone, and how I write emails.

Except on the days when my own selfish agenda and desires overshadow my why, and in that moment, the person I’m talking to never gets a glimpse of the authentic me.

This is where video can help.


How to “Show” Your Why

Here’s the process.

1. Find someone to talk to

Pick a friend, colleague, partner … someone who really gets you, who you can geek out with about what you do for a living, and completely lose track of time.

2. Film the entire conversation

Hit record and talk for an hour. Ignore the camera. It’s ok to plan talking points and questions, but don’t script anything.

3. Play it back and look for moments

Look for the sections that stand out. Make note of the times on a piece of paper. You want your why to resonate without actually naming it, and often it’s a look or the way something is said that speaks louder than the actual words. It may be helpful for the same friend you filmed this with to review the recording with you.

This can be done simply using a phone or shot with multiple camera angles by a pro. It can be edited, adding in other imagery, your logo, music, etc or just kept raw. There are pros and cons to both directions. I go into depth about how to film a conversation, what to talk about, and what to do with it afterward in the short book, How To Connect: A guide to creating content that resonates with your ideal client

No matter how you do it, put your “why” video on your LinkedIn profile, on your website, in your email signature, and send it ahead before every meeting. Make your first impression before you walk in the room, and the real you will always comes across loud and clear.

Header photo “heart made out of camera lenses” by Heather Liebensohn at Zen Mantis

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Embrace Your Uniqueness

Marketing the ‘who you are’ more than the ‘what you do’

I talk about authenticity in sales and marketing a lot, and this Freakonomics episode with Malcolm Gladwell really resonated with me.

Malcolm says, “what people respond to as an audience is authenticity … so you want to be as unusual as you can – spend time thinking about ‘who am I’ … what is the image and message I’m trying to project, about the kind of person I am and how I see the world”.

He’s saying to embrace your unusual-ness.

If you’re a business owner, non-profit, professional, or artist, it’s arguably more important to sell yourself – you, the person – more than your actual product or service.

Think about it – what’s worth more money, something rare and unique or a commodity you can get anywhere? An original painting or a knock-off made in China?

Video is a great way to capture the realness that words don’t do justice. The little mannerisms and body movements. The pauses in between the words. And of course, the voice tone itself. Remember back when we actually used voice mail? Have you ever called and heard a person’s voice for the first time, and you immediately created a mental judgement about them. Do I trust them? Are they nice?

Many people resist being on video because they don’t want to show their flaws, or they don’t want to make it about “them”. But, people connect with people. And especially with today’s overcrowded landscape of ads and social media posts, if you’re not being real, people will tune you out.

It’s important to somehow capture the real you and put it out there.

The best way to get good video of yourself is to film a long conversation, then pull out the best moments. The result is a video that evokes a feeling of trust with the viewer – like they’re meeting the real person behind the business, not just a talking head.

The great thing is that there’s only one you. If you get a soundbite or two that capture some passion and feeling, with a touch of vulnerability, the right “buyers” will resonate with your personality and the wrong ones will be filtered out. You’ll do more business with people who are aligned with your values – people who are happy to pay what you’re worth, and the others are free to go be someone else’s headache.

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What Not to Do During a Podcast or Video Interview

Authenticity and truth speak louder than words

Last week, I was invited to be on someone’s podcast, which is something new for me. But, I didn’t think too much about it, because I knew the guy pretty well and we had a rapport. I didn’t prepare anything – I figured it would just be a conversation, and whatever comes out, comes out.

It was going to be taped over a video call. Of course me being in production, I started obsessing a bit over the scene, staging a nice shot so I looked good. I rearranged the room a couple times, and tested different lights and microphones.

The call was set for 4pm. My wife and kids went out so the house was quiet. I was having a great, peaceful day. I had exercised earlier and I was feeling pumped and ready to go!

Normally I’m the other side of the camera, not the subject. And I started noticing that old familiar anxiety showing its ugly head. It was only 3:30, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried to meditate and relax. What was renting space in my head was this idea that I was about to be interviewed as an author, like I’m supposed to be some expert!

That really messed me up. Instead of showing up for a natural conversation with a friend, I’m now worried about saying the right things. What if I screw up? What if I can’t remember the 3 steps I outlined in the book? I’ll look like an idiot and embarrass my friend who invited me on his podcast!

In spite of all my experience interviewing other people, and my mindfulness practice, here I was, full of fear and completely in my own head.

4pm came and things started off strong. I was able to put my thinking aside and just be present, answering questions and being myself. But, about halfway through I could feel my face flush and my ears turning red, a sure sign that I was beginning to panic. We had ventured into territory that I did not feel confident talking about.

What I should have done was to be honest that I didn’t have a good answer for his question. But, instead I came up with some bullshit just so I had something to say (now I know how politicians feel!) It wasn’t me, it wasn’t authentic – and my body was reacting, further compounding my anxiety, causing me to work even harder to “put on a show”.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. If only I had said, “You know, I’m not sure I can give a great answer to that question, but I can try.” That little disclaimer alone would have let some of the pressure out of my stress balloon and would have perhaps sparked a deeper conversation about it.

The rest of the interview felt like a disaster. I mentally checked out. I wasn’t present at all. I was completely in my head, replaying what I had said, judging it. He asked more questions and I did my best to give superficial answers, because I was no longer rooted, no longer in the moment.

I haven’t seen the final cut yet, so I don’t know how well it actually came across. It may have been fine. But, I have a feeling it lacks “soul”.

I believe, if the words come from beyond the mind, from a place of no-thought, from pure inspiration, then they will resonate strongly with the viewer, listener or reader. When the words just flow from a place of presence, I trust that they are right. But as soon as I get up in my head trying to script the words in real time, I kill all the life in them. They may sound good, but they lack power and emotion. They don’t make the necessary connection. And, what I really want is to transmit a feeling, not just words.

Above all, during an interview it’s critical that the two people are fully present, so that great moments flow out of true love and passion for the subject at hand. The guy who invited me on his podcast was awesome. I’m the one who checked out.

State of mind is paramount.

What would have made me more comfortable? I should have stuck to what I was absolutely confident about. Sure, I could have prepared answers to his questions in advance, but then I might have been preoccupied the whole time trying to remember my “script”. No, I want the words to flow from a place of pure inspiration and no-thought, because those words carry more power.

Header image, Dog Driving Budget Rental Moving Truck by Zen Mantis

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Practicing Mindfulness While Making Coffee

I like to practice being in the present moment as much as possible, but I hate just sitting there, trying to think about nothing. I’d much rather turn daily mundane activities, like making coffee, into a sort of meditation.

It took me 3 takes to make this video without laughing! I know, it’s a bit exaggerated and ridiculous, but this is all just to make a point. If you even did half of what I did in this video, you’ll get something out of it.

And the bloopers …

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What if My Job Was to Be Present?

My job is to cradle this cup of coffee with both hands and gently bring it to my lips, feeling every drop as it warms my insides.

My job is to bask in the glow of my tingling skin as the balmy breeze strokes my hair.

My job is to breathe in the air that invigorates my entire body, carrying nutrients to feed my soul.

My job is to run and play like a wild fawn.

My job is to be myself and unashamedly express who I am.

My job is to create the things that I want to exist in the world – art, music, ideas, and objects.

My job is to experience each moment without judgement, letting it all wash over me like a wave, knowing that the changing motions of the tide are part of life.

My job is to wash the dishes with passion, turning the scrubbing into a spiritual practice

My job is to vacuum with appreciation, knowing how many people came together to design and build just the plastic handle that I push against to clean the carpet that I’m grateful to be standing on.

My job is to type a message to another person, focusing on their needs, knowing that my own will be taken care of.

My job is to learn how to stay in the moment, to practice meditation, to bring awareness to my inner body and avoid getting swept away by random thoughts.

My job is to practice connecting with other people, putting effort into staying present in all conversations and activities. 

My job is to get better at living.

Not by mastering money so that I can retire young and consume more, but by learning to experience joy and peace in every moment regardless of the circumstances.

If I make all of these things my job, then those other activities needed to actually pay the bills become infused with new power and inspiration.

When I get paid to scrub the toilet at the restaurant, I’m fully present and grateful, knowing that better things are ahead.

When I get paid to assemble components at the manufacturing plant, I’m inspired with ideas to improve the process and my mind starts to put the pieces together on how I can either be promoted or start my own business.

When I get paid to answer the phone for the insurance company, my infectious attitude makes everyone around me smile, attracting opportunities and possibilities into my life.

When I’m on a roof getting paid to bang nails into shingles, I feel connected to the other workers. I’m part of a team working toward a common goal, with a sense of purpose.

When I’m constantly writing, baring my soul, and feeling vulnerable because it seems no one is reading it – then I get an email from one person who thanks me and tells me how I helped them – and I know it’s worth continuing.

We all have so much power – more than we realize.

We can change the way we perceive what happens around us and to us. By doing the little things we are already doing with more presence, with intention, and love, new opportunities start to appear. 

So, I say make it your job to be present, and everything else gets better.

Header image “Free Air” by Heather Prescott Liebensohn a.k.a. Omega Defern at Zen Mantis Video & Photography

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You Just Don’t Have It Yet

“You just don’t have it yet.” That sentence came from the mouth of legendary drummer and producer Steve Jordan – who was in the Saturday Night Live and David Letterman bands, and played with John Mayer, among many others. I heard Steve interviewed by Rick Beato recently, and this one line just hit me. It describes the creative journey perfectly. 

I was 21 when I wrote my first song. I had been playing guitar for years in cover bands, but I found myself in a situation which required something truly special. I needed to get my girlfriend to come back to me! I was so excited that I was able to channel my emotions into a real song, with lyrics and all! But, it wasn’t very good, and I didn’t get the girl. Although I got something better – the bug for songwriting.

Since then, I’ve probably written hundreds of songs, most of them garbage, but that’s ok – I was learning the craft, and enjoying myself along the way. After 20 years of playing in different bar and wedding bands while working day jobs, thinking some opportunity would just fall out of the sky, I decided it was finally time to confront the truth about my abilities as a writer. So I, with my wife and our three kids picked up and moved to Nashville. (Heather, my wife, is a songwriter too, so it wasn’t hard to convince her)

Heather and I had already put out an album which some people REALLY liked. Not everybody, but enough to plant a few seeds of hope. We had visited Nashville, and it seemed like the perfect size city – not like New York or L.A. – and had a super welcoming community of musicians. But, ultimately it was a little bar called Douglas Corner Cafe that sold us.  

It’s closed down now, another casualty of the pandemic, but every Tuesday night they had an open mic that down here they call a “writer’s round” (some venues, like The Bluebird, arrange the musicians in an actual circle, which is where round comes from.) To play at Douglas Corner, all you had to do was call into their old fashioned answering machine at 1pm and leave your name. Each week at 12:55 we hit the phones, calling nonstop – dial, busy signal, hang up. dial, busy signal, hang up – like we were trying to win Springsteen tickets from a radio station. The trick was to get on early while more people were in the audience.

Local legend, Donnie Winters, ran the open mic for years. After he did his sound check and went over the ground rules, he started calling people up. I was almost always nervous. Playing and singing my own songs without a band to a packed room was not something I was used to! The stage was set up with four stools and microphone stands, with beautiful blue hazy lighting. The front half had rows of tables and chairs for the serious listeners, and the rear was where the bar and networking took place. In Nashville, it’s all about co-writing, and this was the kind of place to meet other musicians you might have a connection with.

I remember this one particular Tuesday night when I was feeling especially good. Rather than my regular, “man I don’t want to do this, but I have to push through it,” I was cool, calm, and present. I was in the moment. Maybe because I knew I had a good song prepared, and because I had been taking voice lessons (Breck Alan’s and The Art of Body Singing is LIFE CHANGING for singer songwriters in particular, because he’s all about playing your voice like an instrument instead of just hitting notes). Donnie called four names and I went up on stage, plugged in my guitar, adjusted my mic, and waited patiently for my turn. I sang my song, “Oklahoma.” It’s a heavy song, recounting the great lengths I went to in my early attempts at sobriety. I felt like I had a good performance, and the audience applauded. I didn’t get any hooting and hollering, but it felt like a genuine reaction. You can feel the room when people are paying attention. And I knew I had them. But, it wasn’t until I got off stage that I realized how well it went over.

A few people stopped me to shake my hand on my way to the back of the room. My adrenaline was turning into a headache and I wanted to get away from everybody for a minute. Just before I walked into the Men’s Room, this guy pulled me aside and said, “Man, that song really hit me. I have a brother who is on drugs, who I haven’t seen in years. That song just made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.” I’m not great at taking compliments, but I gave him a sincere and hearty “thank you” and kept moving. Later on I realized how amazing that compliment was, and my insides began to blissfully jump up and down.

It’s interesting how music works. Oklahoma wasn’t a happy song. It didn’t make that guy happy, but it did stir something in his heart. Emotion – to be “in motion”. I think sometimes we just need to get our cold hearts moving again in whatever way possible. Maybe he just needed to feel a connection with someone who understands.

Back to the interview with Steve Jordan. The story he was telling was about a Rod Stewart track he was working on. They were trying to get the sound right, and it just wasn’t happening. Someone walked in and gave him some encouragement, “You just don’t have it yet. It’s alright, it’s alright, you just don’t have it YET.” So they kept tweaking things, and eventually, by moving one of the drum microphones just a few inches … BAM! It all came together. You see, I spent decades thinking I had to get good enough to go on stage in the first place, but I realized the stage is a critical part in the development process. If I wanted to get really good, to become a professional, I needed to get real world feedback, and not fool myself about how good I think I am.

Open mic nights are the perfect place to try out material, to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve watched enough Jerry Seinfeld documentaries to know that most comics “practice” their new acts at small clubs. I’m trying to get a reaction – not just a courtesy applause, but for someone to come up to me afterward and say, “I really loved that song.” If no one does that in a room full of people, how would I expect to get the attention of random people out on the internet? And if no one responds, that doesn’t mean I should quit, it just means I just don’t have it YET.

Music is about evoking a human reaction. You never know who is going to respond to what song. So, the secret, if there is one, is to keep writing and keep testing. Find out what works, and treat the people who love your stuff as if they are your soulmates.

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