Danielle Di-Masi says your digital self matters online, offline, and everywhere in-between
When we connect with others, a specific choreography occurs. We trade stories, share contexts, explain ourselves, show our relevance, and then (hopefully) get interested in how we might overlap. This is true of how we meet clients just as it’s true of networking, interviews, or potential future colleagues.
As a digital communications expert, Danielle Di-Masi is inspired by the particularly human problem of how to be ourselves digitally. As a strategy for our online presence, Di-Masi explains that we frequently overthink the process and don’t get to the core of asking the right questions. “Whatever works offline, works online,” she reminds us, “We forget there are human beings on either end.”
“Whatever works offline, works online. We forget there are human beings on either end.” - Danielle Di-Masi
The crux of Di-Masi’s coaching about digital communications is that each of us can create our own narratives. “You can control what other people know about you,” she explains. “What are they finding?” Amidst the suggestions and details of how to build that trust and reputation, Di-Masi dives straight into science. “Biologically, this awareness comes from the reticular activating system. The system hears what you want, and finds just that. It’s a filtering system. Our brain filters out the noise.” (This is more than I learned from my 9th grade Biology class! Sorry, Mr. Cohen!)
After seeing her compelling presentation at Relate Live Sydney, I caught up with Di-Masi to dive more deeply into science, psychology, and strategy—how to present a complete version of ourselves to the world in person, and online.
Why do we have to create an online self and an offline self? Can’t we just be a self?
Absolutely. If you’re going to be a professional you need to know what your value is, what you bring to your business, your work, and your customers. You’re going to come off superficial otherwise.
But it’s no wonder we’re so exhausted with information and networking these days: we have so much noise coming at us. If we stop and become a bit mindful in our purposes, everything will be so much clear, offline and online.
What do you mean by becoming mindful in our purposes?
We’re not taught to think about how we show up in the world. Instead, we react.
We’re not taught to think about how we show up in the world. Instead, we react.
Think of the example of introducing ourselves at a networking event. We’re frequently uncomfortable going into a room of people we don’t know. And so we stumble through the explanation of who we are, what we do, and where we work. It’s exactly why we miss people’s names.
But what if you asked yourself: "What is my reason for being here?" and "What’s the outcome I want from this event?" Mentors ask us this; they’re really good questions we should be asking ourselves in all areas.
This is a simple conversation you can have with yourself on the bus to work. They don’t need to be questions you sit on a mountain and meditate on for six months.
Will those answers change? What if our outcome doesn’t align with what we expected?
That’s so important. Ask yourself the questions. Try it on. If the answer isn’t congruent with who you are, then stop. Try something else on. Anything that’s worth putting any effort into is always worth asking yourself: "Why?" and "How am I best to go about doing it?"
It’s true for planning a holiday. What would be the best route? The best ticket price? The best use of my time? But when it comes to who we are, we don’t get curious. That’s so much more important than planning trips or researching purchases. And all it requires is having a really simple conversation with ourselves.
Who is it that I want to be, and how is it that I want to go there? People think these are really big questions. They are—but they don’t need to be arduous to answer.
What has been your interest in understanding the brain, with the specific psychology and neuroscience behind awareness and our interactions?
I’ve always been a super curious person. In a Year 5 trip to Parliament House in Canberra, the teacher told me to stop asking so many questions, even when our tour guide confirmed: she’s asking really great questions! It’s just in my nature to find out details and seek correlation.
Working in a regulatory environment—like my 14 years in corporate finance—makes it hard to get curious. The only place I could actually control things was to look at human behavior, interactions, and relationships. The best way to channel my curiosity was to practice understanding the customer; how they thought, what they needed—and then shape the customer experience for them.
If we don’t understand what’s happening for us biologically when we meet people, then we end up missing a large proportion of the story.
So, on a simple level, what is the distillation of this experience in our brain? How does our biology affect the way we share who we are?
Our brain is a storyteller. It strives to find connections. But don’t just let it react to whatever it’s seeing, because that's just more noise. You have to control that, build that, make it directional and intentional.
Don’t just let it [our brain] react to whatever it’s seeing, because that's just more noise. You have to control that, build that, make it directional and intentional.
Communication is about the environment you create depending who you’re talking to. When I worked with customers, I always identified where they could relax and best hear my message. And you should ask the same questions of the people coming to your website.
Why are they coming here? Are they coming to understand more about you or the industry? There are a million reasons why people are interested. Find out: what are they sitting down to do when they access your site? Give them that, and make it easy for them to find it.
Understanding how our brains work—what we look for, what we see, and how we typically relate to things—gives us the power to reclaim control of our narrative and how we want to show up to other people.
One of the questions I had during your presentation was about the word “control.” You say: "You control the narrative of who you are." The language I've used around that idea is typically less direct, like "creating" the story. As the owner of my own story, what is the difference between creating and controlling the impact of my narrative?
Control is a more definite way to say create. It might be a harsher way to say it, sure. But when speaking or trying to illustrate this message to my audience, the word create is a lot softer. My question is: do you want to go softly, or do you want a more direct approach that evokes a stir within someone?
That’s not to say that control might not be too harsh of a word. The idea of controlling your narrative has come from the sense that people feel out of control around their digital narrative. People feel that it’s too big for them to take on. It's a larger-than-life persona when you're talking about your presence on the internet. At times, that feels unwieldy.
That's a great distinction: reclaiming your autonomy over your narrative. It also makes me think that "creating" something describes making it from scratch, while "control" really means working with what is already there.
Precisely. So many of us already exist on the internet, long before we become aware of the story our digital presence is telling.
And the best part is that you can also control your response to it. There are things happening to us in the world, everywhere. Our bodies happen to us; we have a brain that works in its own unique way. That's just biology. This is why I love the science and psychology behind human beings, because so much can be done once we understand what's happening. We can't control it, but we can control how we respond to it.
We live in a place where the digital world does feel a little out of control. It’s gotten ahead of us, and it's only continuing to evolve. Reclaiming the control is a kind of safety. It's the knowledge that we do have a part to play in this. The ability to take action and influence the way you are perceived is a definite and empowering thing to understand.
Whichever word you use to reclaim your own story (all of my words begin with c: control, create, curate, craft), Di-Masi's primary message is: just make it happen. Ask more questions that gather deliberate information, instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall and trying to read the tea leaves for data.
Do more than just open a social media account or digital space and fill it with noise.
The typical reaction of filtering is normal human behavior. But if we understand the narrative we want to put forward, we can reshape the outcome.
Be your own mentor. Cut through your own internal noise. Be simple with your questions, yet inquisitive with the answers.
If you can’t be your own mentor, learn when you need external resources. Come to conferences like Relate Live. Find the frameworks to help you succeed.
Danielle’s main takeaways can be distilled down to these four reminders:
As Di-Masi often says, this isn’t a story of technology. This isn’t a story of human change. This is a story of us. So we have to put ourselves back into the story of technology. “We are the market. We get to control how we use it. Technology is just a feature, but it’s for our benefit and we need to decide what that benefit is.”
Let’s break the script and connect.
Emma Sedlak is a Scottish-American poet, writer, editor, and singer: qualities that make her well-suited for a career as a medieval minstrel. She works in corporate strategy and as a freelance writer, invested in helping people create deep, intuitive content and narratives. She lives in Sydney, Australia. She spouts poetry on Twitter, and snaps cat-pics on Instagram.