Arts Innovation Day Recap: Why the Comfort Zone is Not the End Zone

Arts Innovation Day

by Amanda Young, Wadsworth Atheneum

“I specialize in taking people outside of their comfort zone…only to show them how powerful they can be when they get there.”

It was a rainy, dreary, muggy, dim, gloomy, [insert grim adjective here] morning in Hartford. My energy level was at zero minus whatever it is when you are doubting yourself and your life choices, not to mention your outfit. I was tempted to sit in my comfort zone of a dark corner at Tisane eating breakfast bars and chugging coffee rather than venture outside of that comfort zone to attend a session called Storytelling: Refining your Elevator Pitch at GHAC’s Arts Innovation Day. However, I made it across the West End just in time to hear Ann Kelley, 2nd Vice President, Relationship Manager at Travelers, utter the words above, which pretty much re-calibrated my engine.

As a Marketing and Communications professional, I thought I knew the concept of elevator pitches inside and out. For the 12 years I’ve spent as a publicist at various art museums, I have crafted tales and woven talking points on subjects too plentiful to recall.

Gorgeous oil paintings that appear to picture familiar landscapes and landmarks until you get up close and realize there are dead plants strewn about and mutant birds swimming in an oil slick? Which obviously speak to the fragility of our ecosystem? Nailed it.

A stone mason who carves solid marble into sculptures that look like soft and impressionable textiles? Which clearly serve as a memorial to the fleeting relationships between humans? Fuhgeddaboutit.

I can get you excited about an upcoming exhibition by an artist—living OR dead—in under 30 seconds. However, what I realized in listening to Ann was that I could not get someone excited about ME in under 30 seconds, which turns out is an—how do the kids say?—“epic fail” for someone in my position as a publicist, or for someone who is an artist, or for someone who is an entrepreneur. And what Ann stressed that day is that in order to hook people into continuing any conversation with you, you need to pitch YOU before pitching your product.

So we practiced our personal introductions, aiming to talk about what we do rather than identify our titles or positions. What came next was inspiring:

Rather than, “I’m an artist,” we heard, “I create portals to other dimensions.”

Rather than, “I’m a therapist,” we heard, “I am a soul coach.”

Rather than, “I’m a project manager,” we heard, “I create order out of chaos.”

Ann largely stressed the concept of impactful openings, such as the ones above. But after that she spoke of redirecting the conversation at the other person, focusing on the personal, “heart” story over the business, “head” story.

So I, along with 30 others, went on a voyage with Ann that took us out of our comfort zones, and into thinking differently about how we present ourselves in order to hook the other person and, in the end, seal whatever deal it is we are trying to make.

“I specialize in taking YOU outside of YOUR comfort zone…only to show YOU how powerful YOU can be when YOU get there.”

Ann’s final words have been ringing in my ears all week. Would it have been more comfortable to sit at Tisane and chow down on breakfast pastries while planning my next offbeat dinner party menu with peculiar recipes from the farthest reaches of the internet? Sure. But meeting Ann and having her take me outside of my comfort zone will likely have quite an impact on how I present myself at that next dinner party. So next time I’m serving a platter of Spam sushi and Kool-Aid pickles I think I will introduce myself as, “a purveyor of artists’ dreams,” rather than, “a publicist at the local art museum.” Wouldn’t you want to continue that conversation with me?

I would.

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