Being authentic

Thanks to my very good friend, Kerry Woo, I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend the first KEEN Digital Summit, held right here in Nashville.

KEEN was a three-day event that attracted an eclectic mix of people from across the country, discussing topics ranging from technology to food and beverage to travel. It’s not too often that you can attend a session about HGTV’s mobile strategy and head next door to hear a discussion with one of the pioneers at Apple on some of the secrets of Silicon Valley, then after lunch sit in on a panel on successful Kickstarter campaigns. But that’s exactly how I spent my weekend.

As an unexpected attendee, I went into the weekend not really knowing what to expect, considering the wide range of topics and large number of out-of-town attendees. But after diving in and immersing myself in the experience, there really were two key takeaways from the event.

The first is that Nashville is blowing people away in the best way possible. Every single person I talked to that was here for the first time found themselves captivated by all aspects of our fair city, from the food to the music to the climate (even though it was cold for a good portion of the weekend) to the growing technology community, and especially the hospitality.

KEEN breakfast club
We had so much fun at KEEN this weekend that a group of us got together for breakfast on Monday morning at the Southern. (Thanks to the amazing Ellen Petry Leanse for inviting all of us … and taking pictures!)

But we already knew all of that, didn’t we?

So, onto the second. And that was a message found within every session I attended, regardless of topic.

Be authentic.

Whether you’re a hopeful magazine contributor or looking to improve on your SEO or hoping to get funding for your startup, it’s all about being authentic. Being yourself.

Need some specifics?

Daniel Bear Hunley, who presented a session on Pinterest marketing, said that the key to a successful campaign is to develop a compelling and authentic story through a variety of pins. If you’re getting paid to place pins? Disclose that. Be authentic.

Erin Street, an editor with Southern Living, told writers hoping to be published in national magazines to forget about the pitch and think instead about building a relationship with the editor. Be yourself. Be authentic.

Cynthia Price of Nashville’s own Emma said that a key to email marketing is to keep messaging simple. Have one goal. Tell a compelling story. And yes, be authentic.

Meghan Anderson of HubSpot said in her talk about SEO that context, not just the keywords themselves, matter now. Search is becoming more and more human, considering things like context and intentions. One of the best ways to capitalize on that? Yep, be authentic.

And my friend Dave Delaney, who presented on New Business Networking (which also happens to be the title of his new book), said that a key to successful networking is to strike up natural conversation. Don’t be that person who’s shoving business cards in people’s faces. Instead – stop me if you’ve heard this before – consider being yourself and actually listen to the other person who’s talking. Which means, yes, being authentic.

Sensing a pattern here?

It’s not something that’s unfamiliar. In fact, we’ve all heard it a million times. But hearing it over and over again in a single weekend in discussions about a wide variety of topics was a powerful lesson to relearn – and, in turn, share here.

Thanks to Kristin Luna and her team for pulling off a really great first run of KEEN. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

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