Recently I’ve moved the Instagram app to a folder on the second screen of my iPhone. Just like many of you, I feel growing social media fatigue. Then again, I’ve never felt envious, sad or any of the other emotions so many news sites report to be the everyday reality for many. Personally, I do believe social media has been a great enabler for all of us creatives. My TEDx talk on how to use social media in a non-toxic way is finally live. If you have 15 minutes to spare, I’d love to invite you to listen to my thoughts.
March was my third month in a row of having almost no paid projects. The beginning of the year is usually quiet. Yet, I wasn’t expecting things to be quiet for that long.
For the sake of transparency, I should probably explain what’s been going on in that time.
On one hand, and right at the beginning of the year, I started talking to a Berlin-based startup about taking on a full-time job. After seven weeks, four rounds of interviews, and me handing over a strategy deck I’d usually charge almost €3,000 for, they declined and decided to look for someone who fits the profile of a social media manager. It was disappointing because I said in our first conversation (and after I was recommended to them) that I don’t believe social media is how one should attempt to build a business-related community anymore. In my opinion, social has turned into a one-way street and people are getting tired of it.
The second reason why I didn’t have much paid work was my TEDx talk at the end of February. I know that on the video, it always looks so easy. However, the reality is that it takes a lot of practice to get to that point. One (me) completely freaks out about the importance of TEDx, as it’s probably going to remain on the first page of Google forever and ever. I was stressing out about my talk for half of January and most of February with no mental space to try to do anything else but talk to that one company.
At this point, I’d really like to share something about practicing for speaking at TEDx.
A couple of weeks before the talk, I stumbled upon the famous TED talk by Amy Cuddy who explains the importance of body language. It does come with logistical challenges because how is someone supposed to go about trying to do the power pose while sitting in the audience and doing literally what they’re not supposed to be doing - reading the speaker notes.
As I was sitting there, I realized a musician was on stage and he started performing. I immediately got up and went to the back to join the team. Everyone was slowly moving to the melody of the songs, so I joined in.
The music got wilder. We started dancing faster.
The music stopped and it was my big moment to go on stage.
At that time, there was no more fear. Just joy. And relief. That soon this will be over.
But back to what was happening in March.
People always ask me, what one does as a freelancer when there are no paid projects.
In the past whenever I didn’t have any paid projects, I used the time to write the books that I published.
Now I know it was the right thing to focus on projects that filled my soul more than my pocket, as it’s thanks to these three books that I got a number of my clients, press coverage, and the reason why I was asked to speak at TEDx in the first place.
For years, I’ve mostly been following my curiosity and trying to make sense of things I wanted to know more about. Since last year, I’ve been working on a book about social food gatherings, which seems to be much more challenging for me than the three books I’ve published so far. It seems like the more experience one has, the more effort it takes to work on projects without having a preoccupied mind. It’s still in progress and I’m still not sure where this journey will lead me and who’ll help me collaborate on this, but I know writing these stories is filling my soul and helping me practice a different style of writing.
Not having much paid work also gives me the necessary mental space to re-think my habits, analyze what I consume, and implement changes.
Last year I decided to go vegan, which is easy to live by at home, but not so easy once you leave your door. If you’re wondering how someone goes from meat eater to vegan, it was mostly thanks to Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals that made me decide to quit animal products. But of course, implementing changes isn’t easy, so it took until the end of the year for me to buy a container to make my own lunches in the morning. I got one from Berlin Eco Brotbox and I’m so in love with this decision. It’s really been life changing and money saving at the same time.
I’ve also finally bought a can for organic trash and have been feeling incredibly happy every time I’d go downstairs to empty it. I realized most of what I consume can be recycled and I don’t actually make that much trash, given I buy most of my groceries at the farmer’s market (a change I implemented in 2016) and try to avoid regular supermarkets as much as I can.
I’ve also experimented with solid bar shampoos and found the most amazing one from Rosenrot Manufaktur, which was first gifted to me by Sarah Reindl from Das Gramm in Graz, who I met during the TEDx event. I also no longer use shower gel. Instead I’ve bought a soap bag made out of sisal, which helps soaps foam.
I’m sharing this here because reducing one’s trash and opting in for the more sustainable options is hard, takes effort, and often needs role models to even understand what’s possible. And of course, because it’s not that one doesn’t do anything when there are no paid projects. One can take the time to pursue personal passions and try to work out how one can live up to one’s values.
It’s been good.
But it’s not like I had nothing to do in March. It was the month I started teaching social media again at the New Design University. I’ve recently published a case study on how I’ve designed the curricula, so before going into much detail, I’d love to invite you to read it if you’d like to learn more about my approach.
Additionally, I’ve also helped the team at Vollpension submit a funding proposal for an exciting project they’re currently working on.
And of course, I was looking for projects, which is why I’m currently fully booked for April, but happy to take on new clients from May and June on. Last but not least, I’m currently looking for remote projects for the summer as I’m planning a bigger trip around Europe. But on that another time! Thank you for reading to this bittersweet end.
First and foremost, I’m still looking for projects. In the past, I’ve worked with online services, financial services, agencies, hospitality-focused businesses, design studios, and social businesses, and I’d love to find projects in those fields to help build their communities. If you know of someone who wants to create interesting formats to engage their customers and community members, please get in touch.
I’ve mostly spent February hiding in my home office. Given I’m teaching at the New Design University again in March, I’ve launched another small Kickstarter project to get an idea of how easy (or hard) it is to have people click on links shared on social media channels. I want to set up my students for success, so I like to test what’s realistic to ask them to accomplish within the short period of time I spend with them in the classroom. While last year I still thought having them launch a project on Kickstarter was a realistic option, I’ve decided not to do so this year. There were only about 240 views on my latest Kickstarter campaign within the two weeks it was live, which, compared to my first campaign that had over 4K views and was live for three weeks, is really close to nothing. The campaign was successful nevertheless, but it’s no longer something I’d say is as easy as I thought it once was.
However, I do need to recognize that it’s my continuous effort of creating and making that eventually got me on the TEDx stage this past month. Giving a TEDx talk was a great honor and gave me the opportunity to share my story and encourage others to create, regardless of whether one produces a best-seller, but just to give someone the necessary motivation to learn something new. With this latest side project of mine, I can at least say I know a lot about Berlin’s architecture having watched countless documentaries and written 50 short summaries to pass on some of the knowledge to my Kickstarter backers. Writing those descriptions was most certainly a really good exercise, making me think really hard how to tell a story with just a few sentences.
I’d also like to mention at this point that giving a TEDx talk is an incredible team effort; I got help editing my speech from the wonderful Rebecca Burton. As the TEDx organization provides everyone with a speaker trainer, I was fortunate to have worked with Tim Cox who trained me on intonation and the delivery of the speech. Most of all, I was very grateful for the teleprompter the team at TEDxLend provided me with, given there were some brief moments when I stood on stage and my mind felt quite blank. Luckily, my best friend said it was really good and no one noticed. We’ll see that in three months when the talk will be live on the TED website.
One of the highlights of the month was my trip to Helsinki. I went there to see where Restaurant Day started. I’ve been obsessing about community building and what role food plays in that, and have also slowly edited five stories for the book I’m currently working on. I should have them ready soon to publish on this blog too. All I can say is that there is a lot one can do to program interesting gatherings at about any sort of space or even within a company. Maybe also something that we could do together. What do you think?
I wanted to share something with you that’s been on my mind lately.
“So, what do you want to do next?” is the question I keep hearing since I publicly announced that I’m looking for new projects. In a way, I’ve answered it in my call for new projects. In a way, I’ve also not answered it. At least, not in a way that would lead to a great outcome.
Speaking with someone who works at an accelerator, you know they hear many good (and bad) ideas every single day. Yet what is it that distinguishes a good pitch from a bad one?
“I keep hearing a lot about solutions. I hear how people want to solve this or that. It’s almost as if the problem wasn’t even worth discussing. If someone is passionate about a problem and they managed to explain why they are the right person to solve it, I’ll listen up. Because then you know even if the first approach to solving a problem fails, they’ll go after finding another solution. And should that approach not work either, they’ll keep looking. Then it's just about them convincing you they're the right person to solve that very problem by sharing WHY they care.”
In the startup world, it’s become normal to try out different ideas, pursue different businesses, and even switch between industries if what you tried to do didn't work out as planned. Often, people don’t just go after a whole new sector. They also change the problem they want to solve.
After having spent the afternoon preparing for my TEDx talk, all my guiding sentences, my values, and ideas... everything I’ll talk about in Graz in February popped up in my mind.
I’ve always loved the internet because it’s an incredible platform to share what you’re excited about. It’s a platform to share those ideas and passions freely. And it’s a platform that enables each and every one of us to find and be found by our like minds. If we master how we tell our story, we’ll eventually find those who’ll want to listen, who’ll support us, and who’ll share our passions too.
In Work Trips and Road Trips, I wrote that one finds purpose if they decide on the community they want to serve and see benefit. And I still believe that’s one side of the coin. Yet, it’s also very much about the problem one wants to solve. I’ve always loved the internet for giving each and every one of us the possibility to become and be seen for who we want to be. It’s something I’ve been vocal about since I worked at Somewhere.com. It’s something I’ve been preaching in all my books. It’s something I’ll talk about at TEDx too. In my last post, I might have shared my thoughts and ideas on the formats in which I want to work, yet I’ve not acknowledged my guiding sentence, and what it is that’s deeply connected to my personal values.
Which brings me to..
Next time you have to decide what you want to do next, you might want to ask yourself:
Who are the people I want to serve with my work?
What is the problem I’m genuinely passionate about solving?
What’s the mission I see be the red thread in my work and how can I continue solving the problem I deeply care about?
Answering those questions might make it easier to tell your story. It will definitely be more comfortable to explain mine.
The biggest question I’ve asked myself in August was how do you organize an event where every attendee – even the shyest one – goes home with the contact details of at least one potential future friend. How do you create an unforgettable experience for 200 students?
Over the years, I’ve attended a number of conferences and have seen what experiences turn a conference into a great one. I believe there are three key things. To me, a good conference is when I go home with at least one new contact I’ll actually care to follow up with. Yet, in order for me to follow up with someone, I need to know what they are about. Thus, as a conference organizer, it’s key to make people connect over a task or a question that creates intimacy. Another key is making people laugh. And last but not least, you want people to have the space to chat freely, but you need to give them a subject to talk about or a question to answer to start with.
In August, I’ve been obsessing with icebreakers and team building exercises. I’ll definitely write a summary once the event I’m working on happens, but I do want to share one favorite exercise we found that we’ll definitely try. It’s called “the toilet paper game” and it works like this:
“The very premise of this game will get the group laughing. The group facilitator passes a roll of toilet paper around the room and asks each member to tear off how much they normally use when going to the toilet. After everyone has their tiles paper, ask them to tell the group one interesting fact about themselves for each piece of toilet paper they have.”
Please check back for the September summary to hear more about how the event went.
This past month, I’ve also worked on the activation strategy for an intranet of a global brand. As companies grow, the HQ needs tools to keep everyone on the team equally engaged and provide them with information and a loyalty program. Yet whenever someone introduces a technology, it takes time and effort to make sure people actually use it. Technology often feels intimidating, which is also a job of a community strategist to solve that challenge.
I was also asked to write a funding proposal to help a social startup get funds from the government. When writing proposals, what matters is putting the ideas into the social and societal context, which is where I usually step in.
One last thing I’ve worked on this past month was finally recording my Skillshare class on how to run a Kickstarter project. It’s framed for freelancers who want to position their business. I’ve gone in so much detail that everyone who’s planning to run a Kickstarter will find a lot of takeaways. At the end of the day, I did run five projects and not all of them went well, yet all of them succeeded. If you are planning to run a project or someone you know is, share the link with them. I don’t think there is any other resource as detailed as that one, besides, of course, the post Tim Ferriss shared in The 4-Hour Workweek.
As for recommendations, I was lucky to be invited to a Norn dinner, which most certainly was my favorite experience of the whole month. Norn is a salon for structured conversations on topics one doesn’t usually talk about the way the Norm team invites you to do. It’s incredibly insightful and feels intimate. I had the immediate feeling of belonging. It was lovely.
Last but not least, my inner panic monster has finally arrived and I’ve began writing my TedX talk. I cannot even describe in words how intimidating this feels and how long I’ve been procrastinating on this. The event’s on the 13th of October in Graz in case you want to attend and see me live.
I’m heading to the TechFest in Copenhagen and will also be traveling to London and Wales this month. Please reach out if you’re around and let me know what you’re working on. Would love to hear more about inspiring projects.