My email inbox is full of pitches. I own a small brick&mortar plus e-com CPG business (it’s a bagel shop!) and from both fronts I get hit with hundreds of marketing emails a day.
Sometimes… SOMETIMES… the subject line will get me to open. Usually, I open by mistake (have you seen the “re: Your order” subject line… it’ll get you the first few times). Sometimes, rarely, I’ll open an email out of pure curiosity.
But that’s where it always ends.
I don’t want to meet with these people. I don’t care about their outrageous growth promises. I don’t care about their ‘proven track records’ or their ‘love of my website’ or any of the crap they try to pitch me. Why should I care? Why should I trust? Who even the hell ARE YOU??!
Your prospects are just like me. If they own or manage an e-com business, they are getting pitched from every Eva, Samir and Dick out there, all day, every day.
Yet email marketing works… Forbes still reports a 3800% ROI from email marketing. That’s $38 for every $1 you spend. But to get these rewards, you must get your prospects to open and READ your email.
That is why, as a SaaS focused email marketing copywriter, I start my emails with something people actually like reading, emails they feel good about spending time on, and copy that keeps them from hitting delete or unsubscribe. Instead of getting lost in the inbox of pitches, promises and tricky snags, my email copywriting strategy leaves prospects wanting to learn more…
My not-so-secret, secret for SaaS email marketing is starting every email with a good ‘ol story. I use stories to start cold outreach emails, automated emails, and nurture emails because people relate to stories immediately and they trust the voice telling the story instinctively. It’s the best way I know to hook a reader, deliver your message intuitively, and get them ready and excited to hear your full pitch.
Need proof? Have you ever tuned into news radio in the middle of a story? You listen long enough to see if the story interests you, right? If it does, you probably will stay on the station and listen to the end. You might even stick around to hear the next story. What you don’t do is say, “Who the hell is this person telling me this story?” because you don’t care if you’ve never heard of the storyteller before. You don’t need to know if you can trust them first, which is the first thought when you’re being outright sold to, you just want to hear how the story ends.
It’s the same with email. Tell a story that relates to your prospect, that speaks to the problem they are dealing with in their business, and they will be hooked.
But what if there’s lots of problems?
You know what else hooks people almost more than stories?
“Hooray!” They say, “A respite from my work! A little quiz I can spend 3 fun minutes on!”
Send out a quiz and figure out what issues your target market is dealing with, and not only have you segmented your list with a well constructed quiz, you’ve given yourself valuable information on exactly which stories to tell to these people.
You can also just send a really, really short email. Make the subject line about the prospect with something like “Question for you” and then just add one line of copy, no logo, no fancy signature just an open ended question that they are going to respond to. “What issues are you having with your XXXXXX (thing your company offers)?” Brilliant marketer Dean Jackson invented this little marketing trick, and he calls it the 9-word email. I’ve adapted it to SaaS, but the idea is the same.
Here’s some examples from SaaS companies I’ve worked with (note, this only works for an already warm list):
- What struggles do you face with influencer marketing?
- What troubles you the most about pricing?
- What issues are you having with your video production?
- What problems are you having with design?
Hit send. That’s it. Send those little email babies out into the world and see what responses you get.
BOOM. More segmentation. Better Targeting. Goldmine of story ideas.
How to convince them you are the solution
Here’s what most people try.
- Offer the prospect a demo
Maybe… That’s asking for time they may not have. Especially if they don’t know the pay-off yet. Demos are great, but you can’t lead with that.
- Offer a free trial
People love that you’re giving something away… it takes away almost all the barriers to entry. But, if you’re a SaaS company, there’s got to be a learning curve to your software. Will they invest the time necessary to utilize the free trial? By the end of the trial will they see benefits? Are you just hoping they forget to cancel their membership? Whatever happens, chances are your free trial may get them in the door, but you may not be building customer loyalty.
Instead, give your prospect something that takes relatively little of their time, engages them, and convinces them to take the next step (like engage in that demo, actually utilize their free trial) and ultimately is going to convert this prospect into a customer.
Give them a story that speaks to their struggles, the problems they face, the issues they are concerned about, and show how you turned it around for others. When you share a story of other companies who are using your solution, you make your prospect a little jealous that this company over here solved their problem. No amount of words describing your features and benefits can have that powerful an effect.
Kinds of stories that work in email
There are unlimited stories you can tell. There are short stories of a simple before and after. There are series stories with a cliffhanger at the end. There are special interest stories with seemingly nothing to do with your product, but they give a feel for your brand and your attitude, they are relatable. There are stories about a day in the life of a client, these just show how good things can be for your prospect if they make a change (this is called future pacing). There are stories meant to convey an emotion, an emotion that your prospect is having, and it makes them feel that emotion while reading your email, priming them for your solution. There are case study stories that get really granular, for the analytical mind to comb through.
And they don’t have to be dry, they can be funny. Think about how you are in an interview, the kind of work culture you promote, that’s how you should be in your emails. If you’re all business, and that’s what you want your clients to know about you, fine, do it very buttoned up. But if you’re a fast paced company, you’ve got new talent coming in and you’re an innovative place to work, a place that promotes creativity… then you can show that to your prospects in the way you write your emails, by telling stories with some personality. Your prospects are going to like you more.
This is a digital media world. People are used to being entertained and that’s where the heat is. So there’s no reason you can’t give that heat in a business pitch. The key is, when you use a story to make your case, it won’t sound or look like a pitch.
As a SaaS company you may be tempted to feature the benefits of your software solution as quickly and position your pitch right away in an email. The trend in SaaS is to keep everything short and get straight to the point. The problem with this is it blends into the ocean of email pitches… it’s not interesting at ALL to a cold audience, and won’t build trust in your company.
You want to take the message you are trying to convey and show it with a story. You deliver the same message, “our software solves problem A with benefits X, Y and Z” but instead of telling them, you show them that once upon a time, this person encountered problem A and these are all the things that happened as a result of that problem… until one day…” Get the idea?
Instead of this:
Influencer marketing drives significant results for your direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand, but it can also deliver program management headaches and reporting anxiety.
She only slept two hours…
Alicia was combing through Instagram and checking her DMs every three minutes. She found a compatible-ish creator… but their followers were obviously faked. Another charged 5K up front…
Her influencer marketing program was imploding.
This is just a moment in the life of a user of this particular SaaS company, specifically a moment in time BEFORE she adopted my client’s SaaS solution. But it gives you a picture of how bad it can get and it makes you see what the stakes are.
A story like this can work for a completely cold audience (as long as you’ve done your research and figured out what they are struggling with). A story like this can definitely work to nurture a warm audience, to re-engage, or for customer retention (make them remember how bad it was before they found you).
Cliff hanger stories
This is a great way to build excitement in your email readership and give people the sense that your emails are not to be missed. It’s also a great way to tell a longer client success story to an audience with a short attention span.
The story telling works the same as in the example above. Show the problem you are describing with a story, only don’t give the payoff in the same email. Instead, end the email at a turning point in the story. Make sure to leave the reader wanting more and tell them they need to catch your next email, where you’ll reveal how the story ends. If your story is juicy enough, you could even expand this over more than two emails, depending on how many cliffhanger moments/lessons you can build into it.
Showcase a client case study
Most SaaS companies already have a few case studies written up on their website, or built into the sales process. If a client’s success story is good enough for a case study, then it will do even more for you in an email. The great thing about case studies is that it activates FOMO in the reader. They see how their competitors are succeeding, making it look like they have insider knowledge and they are getting ahead because of your SaaS solution. You’ve also given them a feeling of excitement, intrigue, and satisfaction. You’ve drawn attention to a need, now your reader will feel they too need to have this problem solved. Best of all, now your reader sees that it’s possible.
When you re-work a case study into an email, you are allowed to highlight your company’s brilliance, and yet it doesn’t feel sales-y. It feels scientific and obvious.
A day in the life story
A day in the life story is probably not going to be part of your email automations, although you could turn one of these into an evergreen email if you find one that resonates particularly well with your audience. More often, these are emails inspired by something that happens either with a client, or inside your company. Think of this like turning on the camera for an impromptu LIVE FEED. The nice thing about email is… your camera doesn’t have to be rolling when something cool happens… you can capture the story with your words, and share it later.
Practice telling stories to your co-workers, or around the dinner table after work. Then take those same stories and write them in an email, just the same way you would tell a friend.
As video embeds into email become more popular, this day-in-the life kind of storytelling is going to be essential if you want to get your videos viewed. Every piece of content that you share can be made more relatable and interesting if you start off with a story to hook your audience.
Special interest story
Sometimes you have an objective for an email that is more abstract, more about shifting a belief in your prospect and less about selling them on your specific SaaS solution. For example, your research may be showing you that people believe your specific niche is too expensive and not worth the investment. This means you need to shift your audience’s beliefs about the value of your product before you ever sell to them.
Using a story will soften your audience and make them more compliant to your message. But, since you don’t want to sell to them yet, you aren’t going to want to use a story about your company. Instead, you want to tell a story that seemingly has nothing to do with your company, and then when you’ve gotten them through the story, you can turn the email back towards your agenda and make your case to a much more receptive audience.
Here’s how this works. Figure out the emotion your prospect is feeling related to this wrong belief. In our example above, the prospect knows they need to fix their problem somehow, but they believe they can’t afford a third party solution. They are probably feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Next you think about a story, extra credit if it’s from your own life, when you (or someone) felt overwhelmed and anxious. Tell that story. Just go for it, these are called special “interest” stories because they are interesting. When you get the the end of the story you can easily jump to your soft pitch with simply, “That’s exactly how many of our clients feel when they first come to us…” or “Just like Annie, knees scuffed and convinced she would never learn to ride a bike, you may be feeling like you can’t…” and you turn this into your soft pitch about the problem you solve.
I know… most SaaS companies are not going to go for this one. I’ll admit, I borrowed this framework from a copywriter and teacher, Marisa Corcoran, who mostly teaches coaches and personal guru brands how to market themselves… but it’s such a great way to hook your reader and shift their beliefs, I believe it can work wonderfully for SaaS brands willing to stand out.
Where to begin
If you already have automated emails running, it makes sense to make changes in your welcome sequence emails first. You don’t have re-write the entire email, rather look at the message you are trying to convey and find a story to deliver the same message. Remember, show the prospect how you solve their problems instead of telling them.
Begin with short stories like the example above, just to hook the reader and give them a feel for your new personality driven approach. After you’ve made these updates, you can begin to experiment with nurture emails and longer, more in-depth stories. Throw in some day-in-the-life stories to a weekly email broadcast and maybe even ask for some feedback with questions like, “Has this ever happened to you?” or “Where would you like to see results with your xxxxx (solution your company offers)?” When people reply to your emails it will improve your deliverability, and make your company feel even more relatable, because real relationships are built on a back and forth dialogue.
If you are starting from scratch, or looking to overhaul your entire email strategy, then beginning with a survey, quiz, or 9-word-email (although don’t use this one for cold emails) is a great place to start. Once you start getting feedback on the issues your prospects are having related to your software, you can decide which stories will be the most compelling for your audience. But don’t stop there! Conduct in depth interviews with your existing customers to figure out what pain points brought them to you and how they became convinced you are the best solution to their problems. The more you can learn from your existing customers, the better you’ll be able to find stories that will reach new customers suffering from the same issues. When prospects read email stories of your client’s success and transformations… they will be desperate to learn more.
Stories are fun to write, fun to read, and they create trust and peak interest in your prospects. Not only will your emails stand out… more importantly, so will your brand.
The Brand Building Email Launch Formula Anyone Can Use
I am an email copywriter for eComm and SaaS brands looking to connect with their audience using impactful, conversion email marketing. Before I began writing copy for clients, I used email copywriting to grow my brick-and-mortar bagel shop from a mom & pop retail store into a thriving ecommerce brand.
My philosophy on email marketing is that emails are an investment in future business as much as they are directed at making sales today. Done correctly, email marketing builds trust and connection with your audience, so that they don’t just buy one time, but they are convinced to stick around for a lifetime.
At my bagel shop, we use email marketing to sell hundreds of thousands of bagels. But more importantly, we use email to show why our bagels make your life better, and why our brand is special. Our email marketing strategy convinces new and old customers alike that there’s no better place to go for bagels.
I’m going to share the simple email launch formula we use at the bagel shop to bring in thousands of dollars in bagel sales whenever we’re offering a special product or promotional offer. This formula works so well because it not only sells the individual offer, it communicates all the messages about our brand that keep our customers engaged and committed to our brand.
For this example, we were launching our “Bagels for Easter Brunch – Free Shipping Special.” You can use this formula for your own product launches, large or small, with just a few tweaks to fit your brand and your products (or service!).
(sent a month to 6 weeks before cart close):
This email is a story based email. The emotion we are trying to convey here is excitement, so we pick a story from either our own family lives or from the business that ended with excitement, surprise, delight, or some other positive emotion.
This is usually a long form email, with lots of build up, specifics, descriptive details, and often a gif to help break up the blocks of text.
Once we get to the climax of the story, we make a quick tease of the offer, without naming the offer outright. We link the emotion the character is feeling at the end of the story we just told, to the same feeling you get after taking advantage of whatever we are offering.
Subject: How to get it right… and then some
Story: We told a story of my son planning a perfect prank to scare me… and unexpectedly snaring his older sister AND his mom in his perfectly executed plot and making us scream and cry out in terror when he jump scared us at the very end.
Turn: And that’s what Easter morning should feel like… after all the planning, shopping, prepping and stressing… poof! Brunch is delivered for you.
CTA: We use the P.S. to put the “pre-order now” link for those who are ready out of the gate.
Why it works: We share stories from our family and from our work life because it makes our brand feel human, familiar, and relatable. Stories are also fun to read, and they don’t feel salesly, which builds trust and shows people our emails are worth reading!
(sent up to a week later):
This is usually a much shorter email. We still aren’t introducing the entire offer here, we are just teasing and setting the stage.
In this email we pick a certain feature of the offer and show you why you want this in your life. We highlight the benefits as well as the background of the feature (perhaps with a mini story).
Subject: Did somebody say 🥓?
Story: We highlighted one of our farmers with a link to his Facebook page, and described the bacon, why it’s special and how it’s a new addition to us.
Turn: We tell them they have to get the full Easter Brunch Special to have access to the bacon!
CTA: A few links to the order page are in the email, and again “pre-order now” is in the P.S.
Why it works: A shorter email is going to reach people who don’t have time for longer content. This email is clearly demonstrating one part of the offer, and enticing people to want it. Short and simple, without being overly sale-sy (so it doesn’t turn people off from reading more).
(Sent 3-5 days after last email)
This email is similar to email #2, but instead of featuring something that is included in our offer, we feature an adjacent product. Something else that our customers might want to purchase that will work with our offer and make it even better.
As a business who values small family owned businesses, and supporting local, we use this time to promote other businesses who are located in our same region but who offer shipping to satisfy our nationwide audience.
Subject: How about a 🥐🍇🧀 tray?
Story: We tell a story of our own experience with getting a cheese tray for the holidays from our friend’s business, Callee1945, and how it excited our entire family and made the day more tasty
Turn: Describe how a cheese tray and bagels go together for the perfect spread!
CTA: End the email with a link to purchase the cheese tray and a link to purchase our offer
Why it works: This email gets people thinking about how they will use our offer, by getting them to picture the time and place. It’s sent early in the launch because it is still warming them up. This email also communicates our core values and helps our audience understand who we are as a business, and what it means to join us, whether they buy into this current offer or not.
(Sent 1 – 2 weeks before cart closing)
This email is all about social proof. We use the email to showcase what people are saying about the offer from across the web, and inside our business. You can screen grab from social media and google, or share private comments and quotes from happy customers.
Subject: Like waking up on Christmas morning… (a direct customer quote from inside the email)
Story: We grouped the reviews based on the different product features and included a line or two introducing what people are talking about, while also selling the offer with our own copy… then we let the photos of social posts and customer quotes tell the rest.
CTA: This is the first STRONG call to purchase. We also begin to use urgency and scarcity in this CTA.
Why it works: When people see others raving about our offer, they want in. Everything we want to share about our quality & convenience is best communicated by someone else. So if we have that proof in writing, we use email to spread the word!
(Sent 1 week before cart closing):
This email is like a box opening video and it’s written to speak to any objections the customer may have to purchasing the offer. We use an FAQ format so we can call out objections specifically, and organize them for the curious customer.
Subject: Answers to your lingering questions
Story: The email is an FAQ list of features and answering any objections that might be in the customer’s mind. WE also include any new questions we have received from our customers during this or previous launches.
CTA: If you still have questions… email me here. Also a link to purchase.
Why it works: By now, all of the folks who definitely want in, have already purchased the offer. This email speaks to people who are on the fence. By calling out the objections as an FAQ, it helps those who don’t even know what their objections are, to see the benefits of hitting the purchase button. This email makes your offer as clear as possible, again, not sale-sy, and makes purchasing feel that much more desirable.
(Sent 2-3 days before cart close)
This is the lead up to the cart closing email. It’s a simple sales email for those who haven’t read any of your previous emails, or who just want the facts.
Subject: What are you eating on Sunday?
Story: It states the benefits of the offer and the substance of the offer as clearly and simply as possible.
CTA: Finish with an urgent CTA.
Why it works: A confused mind always says no. This email catches those people who just need to see the offer as concisely as possible in order for them to purchase. If you’ve already laid the groundwork with regular email marketing, this email will make a lot of sales.
(Sent 1 day before cart close)
This is a cart closing email. You can tell a quick story, get a quick laugh, or just make fun of the fact that these are your last minute folks. Keep the email short, and light hearted. The urgency itself will do the heavy lifting for you.
Subject: Cart Closing Soon!
Pre-header: LAST day to place orders for Easter Sunday
Story: We tell folks they are down to the wire… and give a little picture of why we have to close the cart so we can prepare their delivery (which also shows the quality of what they get if they purchase)
CTA: Only 24 hours left until cart closes, so Order Now!
Why it works: Urgency always makes people want to buy. They don’t want to risk missing out, and they know if they wait, they might miss it. If this email shows what they will miss in a convincing way, you might make half of your sales in the last day or two. Slightly annoying, but effective.
Email #8 plus
(countdown to actual cart closing)
You can send as many of these emails as you want, but we usually just send out one, about an hour before the cart actually closes (and then we wait about 10 minutes more to actually close it down). This email is all about the fact that this is finally it… the time has come… buy now or miss out.
Subject: Last Chance!! Only 1 hour left…
Pre-header: You last minute lovers… this is for you!
Story: Just a few lines about the thrill of the last minute. This email should be short. Don’t hide the link with text or photos.
CTA: This is it! Hit that button…
Why it works: Some people will wait until the last minute to purchase no matter what. You want to be in their inbox when that last minute comes, giving them that final opportunity to join. People buy with emotion, and this email has emotion without you having to do anything.
We use this launch formula to several times a year to launch new and recurring products and offers. Sometimes we re-use the exact emails, and just update as needed. Other times we rewrite them. With every email we are generating thousands of dollars in sales in the present.
But more importantly, we are building a following and a family of customers who will continue to buy from us for years and years in the future. That’s the true power of email marketing; reaping the rewards of committed, lifetime customers who believe in your brand.
If you have questions about email marketing, selling bagels, or marketing your eComm or SaaS brand. You can reach out to me here!
For 19 years I’ve owned and run my family’s business, a local bagel shop where we make our bagels from scratch, boil and bake them in a real oven (not some steam room or conveyor belt oven) and sell them for breakfast five days a week, all over our local area. The business is now expanding our reach by offering nationwide shipping, but we’re still in the early stages of development on that front. It’s a healthy business, and it gives me plenty of time to be with my family and enjoy time with my friends. But over time I became restless with the business and wanted to do more than the bae-gal life was bringing to me. That’s when I began writing copy for clients as a way to navigate myself out of running the bagel business full-time and into my next career.
One of my first jobs as a copywriter was working for a SaaS company in their content department. The content marketing director is the host of a podcast and one of my tasks was to listen to upcoming podcasts and write an SEO friendly summary for the episode’s page on their website. The job didn’t pay too well, but I still loved the work and especially listening to the podcast material. She would interview all sorts of experts. Often her guests were the founders and CEOs or the CMOs and various marketing directors from successful ecommerce brands that were using her company’s SaaS solution. After simply listening to these episodes I felt like I KNEW that particular brand, and if their products fit my lifestyle, I was hooked and couldn’t rest until their products were mine. I bought everything from stylish bluelight glasses to eczema cream for my daughter to daily supplement powders. And most surprisingly, I’ve yet to regret even one of those buying decisions.
I’ve gone on to tell my friends about many of these brands and share exactly why I believe in the brand, how my life is so much better after making these purchases, and then I get out my phone and text them the website. Not only do I love what these brands have added to my life, I feel like they are my friends in some strange way, and I want to help them succeed by spreading the word as far and wide as I can.
Even some of the SaaS companies she interviewed for the podcast have gone on to be my first stop solutions when I began to grow the ecommerce side of my bagel business and we still use a handful of those softwares to this day.
I’ve become a raving fan, a lifetime customer, and an evangelist for these eCommerce and SaaS brands… And the companies didn’t have to spend a dime to get my money.
This worked because the podcast interviews with these brands took me behind the scenes. I got to hear the voices of the people who worked there, oftentimes the CEO him or herself. I heard about their struggles and how they figured out new strategies, and what it felt like when they finally hit their stride. I heard the very briefest explanation of how they went from idea to development to making sales. But it was enough to make me feel like I KNEW where they came from.
Nothing builds trust like hearing someone’s back story and being able to relate to the struggles in a human way. And nothing builds excitement like hearing how a brand has grown and made sales to all these different people. It’s the most essential form of FOMO… it’s the famous line from When Harry Met Sally:
And it was virtually effortless on the part of the brands. All they were doing was telling their story, their real story of how it all came to be. I bet if you’ve experienced this same connection to a brand if you’ve ever watched Shark Tank or any other reality TV show featuring a startup company. You hear the origin story, how they came up with the idea, what problem they set out to solve, what the difficulties were in the beginning, how they framed the first dollar they ever made, and then by the time they get to their pitch you are probably already thinking to yourself, “Do I need one of those?”
If the company is selling a baby sleep solution, and you don’t currently, or are’t in the near future planning to, have a baby, you’re most likely not going to become an instant customer. But the next time you are talking to someone who has a baby, and especially if that baby isn’t sleeping well, you are going to be raising your hand,”oooh oooh,” desperate to tell them about this amazing product you know of, that is going to make all their baby sleep problems disappear.
By the time you’ve finished the episode you can clearly see the intersection of this brand and your life. You don’t even have to be sold to, you are busy talking yourself down from googling and buying that thing this second, and at the same time rationalizing for yourself all the reasons this purchase is a good idea.
And if you happen to see an ad or a mention of this brand in the coming week? Forget it. You won’t be able to resist buying.
Stories of struggle and overcoming adversity are that powerful.
You may be thinking to yourself by this point… I have to start a Podcast, or at least start being a guest on other people’s podcasts. And I’ll tell you, that’s not a bad idea. But I have a much simpler solution, and it’s one you are probably already paying for, but you aren’t using the way you could.
That solution is your email list.
If you’re not using your emails to:
- Tell your origin story of how you came up with the idea for your product or service
- Explain what you struggled with in the beginning
- Introduce that first amazing hire, the one that you now realize saved the company
- Show the energy you all felt when you finally hit a stride
- Unpack the case study of your first and second and fiftieth success story with a customer
- And tease about the new challenges you’re taking on next
You are tossing future lifetime, raving, evangelizing customers out into the marketing abyss with your boring, templated, probably way too busy and spectacularly impersonal emails.
Emails are the single easiest, cheapest and most effective way to build confidence, trust, and affinity in your audience of potential customers.
“But people won’t read an email like this!”
That’s what you’re thinking, right? First I ask you, are you still reading this blog? Second I’ll tell you… they only have to read ONE of your emails to get all the benefits. They only have to read a paragraph actually, maybe they skip to the ending, or…
They read only the most poignant sentence in your whole long email…
But they won’t be able to stop there. They’ll go back and read the rest of the email, or they’ll click to your website, or they’ll click the next time they see your Instagram ad. Even if peaking their intrigue is ALL you’ve done for this person, if you’ve done it with a story, you’ve done it in an intimate, person-to-person, way. You’ve begun to make that person feel like they know what your brand is all about. They are invested in a way I’ve never seen a facebook ad, or an instagram quiz, or a subway poster, or any other channel acheive, except perhaps really freakin’ talented door-to-door salesmanship. But again… email is virtually free.
And if you are still hung up on that bagel shop thing that I started explaining at the beginning… Then I just proved my point again. Check us out at bagelgrove.com
I attended a virtual event this evening that reminded me why I like virtual events….
Because I hated it.
I mean… I had fun. I learned how to do a bunch of new shit. I caught up with an old acquaintance and I even made a new virtual friend. I also kind of experienced what it’s like to throw a ball without arms.
But I hated it. I hated it in that deep dark 13-year-old-self part of me. The one that ensures I never enter a bar without a friend by my side, or these days, at least my phone. The part of me that hates going as a plus one to work parties or weddings filled with people who don’t know me.
Looking back on it… I should have done what most self respecting, not-in-recovery, adults do to ease the unpleasantness of trying to impress people with a skillset I don’t possess…
I should have had a drink. (Hence the eerily familiar 13-year-old awkwardness).
This is who I am. A bubbly, fairly high-strung, white woman who does awkward things at bars like turning around too fast and scaring the person chilling out next to me (translated in this virtual world as running into a participant with my avatar and giggling about it loudly when no one else cared or even noticed). I’m the girl who stands at the bar with a big smile on my face and dollar bills out, and still somehow… doesn’t get served by the female (or even the male or trans) bartender until finally I turn into Karen and say too loudly, “Excuse me!”
But that was then… Now, I’m a grown-ass woman with 3 teenagers, a second husband who I actually like, a thriving business, and best friends who feel more like family at times than my own parents… I don’t typically entertain feelings of insecurity. (Especially since COVID got rid of the need for anyone, ever, to make small talk at a conference, attend a party they don’t absolutely want to be at, or even show their face in a crowd if they don’t want to, thank you masks).
So how did I end up here… feeling like this?
The event was run by Mibo.com. I pressed a small blue oval that beckoned me to “Join” and dropped myself into a 3 dimensional drawing. It was basically a virtual reality video game (if reality looked like a preschool cartoon and people dressed up like baby crayons by choice). I had my very own Teletubbie-ish avatar operated by regular gaming keyboard controls (Side note: when I first arrived at the “party” I overheard participants discussing these four controls, which happen to be the same first 4 letters of my maiden name. So I’m already, justifiably, thinking like, “how the fuck are they talking about me?”)
Once I got my bearings, I could see other Teletubbie/crayon people with face-screens I recognized from the day’s (normal) Zoom event. Everyone was vaguely gliding around. It took video game know-how to move and not run into each other.
I recognized the thoughts immediately. “Who do I talk to?” “Do I even feel like talking to anyone?” “I should network…” “Shit, I’m so annoying at this stuff…”
And one new thought…
“How am I trapped in a cartoon TV body… and yet so, so ME?!”
I’ve never feel like THIS on Zoom, not even in a room full of strangers, not even when I have to speak! And I have a theory why. It makes me both love and hate this new virtual world. Mostly, it just helps me understand it.
The hallmark of virtual events are the tiny rectangular tiles, the virtual body of each participant. Even this event had those. (Anything else would be just fucking wierd… like those action dolls they make of movie stars, uncanny valley on steroids). But this Mibo party was missing one…
I couldn’t see myself. I couldn’t constantly make those micro adjustments that give me confidence when I know I don’t look half crazed. I couldn’t adjust my demeanor to calm and attentive. I couldn’t see how wild my laughter looks. I couldn’t see how HARD I am trying. I just had to BE me. I had to look at everyone else, or the fucking sky, or run off and play with walking on water and running into walls. I had to awkwardly introduce myself, try and yell over the music, start talking, interrupt and negotiate, “no you go ahead…” I had to show up or go home.
As unpleasant as the insecurity is, the unexpected is fun. The risk is satisfying. I hung with a group and talked about European architecture and history, and desensitizing ourselves to horror films and heavy metal music and why Bjork is an acquired taste.
It turns out… even in this virtual world of controlled backgrounds, a socially acceptable mute option, and an ever present mirror… I’m still me. Uncool, a tendency to overshare, talkative and shy at the same time.
And it also turns out… people like me when I’m me. It’s actually the only likable thing about me.
Tomorrow night there is another one of these parties… I’m kinda, definitely looking forward to it.