By Miya Bernson-Leung
Within one eight-hour period, I gave my personal “elevator pitch” five times, joined my first live Twitter chat, Googled a stranger, cried on camera, and made a commitment to pivot in how I communicate online and in real life. It was one of my best days so far at HGSE. And I have the VOICE Program to thank (and to blame for the crying part.)
As a physician coming to HGSE to lay the foundation for a future career in medical education, I am already in the middle of a pivot. Grad school has been exhilarating, exhausting, and exhaustive in how many of my habits and assumptions it has challenged. I feel new worlds and identities opening up in front of me. So how can I possibly be expected to communicate who I am now, when I feel as if I am still figuring that out?
A dozen HGSE students and I had the opportunity to try to answer that question together in the Developing Your Personal Brand workshop on October 6, taught by Preceptor Matt Weber and supported by Teaching Fellow Iman Rastegari. Iman started the camera as six students faced a seemingly simple challenge: Matt asked to state, in one sentence, what you want people to know about you the first time they meet you. Six different people against the same blank background shared six completely different identities, and we cheered for each one.
Then, Matt asked, does their Internet presence reflect that statement? We divided into small groups and Googled our newfound friends. A few had personal websites, articles, or LinkedIn accounts that matched their real-life personas. Others had little or, in one case, nothing of a digital footprint (we suspect she is a secret agent).
I had already stood before that same camera earlier in the day: for Studio-Based Storytelling as an Approach to Teaching and Learning (part of the Double Take series). Matt and Iman listened to me tell a version of my elevator pitch, the surface story of why I came to HGSE. I had had plenty of opportunity to practice that same day at a networking event, but it still felt flat. “You’re a physician… Tell us about a patient,” Matt prompted. My mind immediately flew back to the night three years ago when I met the patient that made me choose to be a pediatric stroke specialist: a five-month-old baby with strokes due to meningitis. I’ve thought about her all the time since, seen her in the halls of the hospital, taught her case to students, and written a case report about her. But in front of the camera with Matt and Iman listening, as I talked about how her mother’s face looked that night, I started crying. Telling her story took me back to that night in a way that nothing else had, and took my audience there with me. I was surprised by my tears, and a little embarrassed, but I’ve since heard that many people telling their stories for this project are so moved.
I had found my story: the story that would make people listen to, and care about, anything else that I said after. Until HGSE, I hadn’t told a story this way in a long time, hadn’t shared my passion or my energy publicly. So, that’s my pivot: to start being publicly passionate about the things that drive me, to share all of who I am.
Back to the workshop. How important is it to you to have your digital presence reflect your identity, Matt asked us? I gave myself a 4 out of 5. And how much do you work on making sure it does? I gave myself a 2… Time to make a change.
Matt shared a graphic representation of his online presence, then Iman’s: two different ways to be themselves online, with no right answer. “So, just be authentic.” He then gave us five practical tips for how to go about it:
1) Assess and understand the platforms: There are so many out there, so learn how each might serve to tell your story, to “connect content to audience.”
2) Imitation is flattery: Whom do you admire who is doing this right? Be a sponge: observe what they do, then act.
3) Waltz with the audience: Start putting out content, and engage reciprocally with the audience to see what happens. Who likes what?
4) Curation is key: Keep feeding your presence. This is why #1 is important: you can’t keep feeding all the platforms, so be selective, and then keep curating.
5) Measure and make meaning: In terms of audience response, what is good enough? How many re-tweets do you set as a goal, and why? Quality of audience engagement matters too: what if only one person re-tweets… but it’s the Secretary of Education? Finally, we are learners as well as educators: what lessons did you learn, and how will you change for next time?
I took baby steps by doing something I had never done: I joined a live Twitter chat in a medical education community I respect. My participation was a flurry of “likes,” enthusiastic re-tweets, and comments with a lot of exclamation points. Soon, I hope to pick another platform and share more of my story. For now, you can find me developing my personal brand on LinkedIn and Twitter (@mbernsonleung) and in this blog post. How am I doing so far?
Miya Bernson-Leung, MD is a candidate for a Master’s in Education in the Specialized Studies Program at HGSE and a Zuckerman Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership.