There is a rampant of misinformation running wild out there, especially on social media, even now at a time when we all need accurate information the most. Avoid falling trap into these fake news and information by putting your critical thinking caps. Take the advice and wisdom of a journalist in this great episode. Alicia Dunams sits down with Silva Harapetian—a motivational speaker, journalist, and author of Tell Your E.P.I.C. Story—to help us cut through the noise of wrong information and decipher the ones that truly deliver unbiased and reliable news. She takes us deeper into the very systems that create and disseminate these pieces of information, both fake and true, revealing the motives that don’t always get considered. On to her book, Silva then shares some helpful insights on how business owners and thought leaders can create their E.P.I.C. story as a way to sell their business.
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Cutting Through The Noise Of Misinformation And Creating Your E.P.I.C. Story With Silva Harapetian
We’re going to be speaking to Silva Harapetian and how to tell your EPIC story and create one-of-a-kind business. Welcome, Silva.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
We’re at an interesting time in human history. You being a previous reporter, are you still actively a journalist?
Technically speaking, I still am because I still write and I still do stories for different platforms. Truthfully, once a journalist, always a journalist. It’s something that runs in your blood. It’s not something that you just do. It’s something that you are. You are absolutely correct about living in very interesting times. Like everyone else, I’ve been watching what’s been unfolding and what’s been happening and reading. I cannot stress enough the importance of us being informed and not just from one platform, but consuming information from multiple platforms, multiple sources, different points of view, different countries, independent news and traditional news. That is one of the things that we have to do as citizens. As journalists, I’ve done that my whole life. That’s one of the most important things we can do at this time.
We are at a time in human history where because of social media, fake news, different perspectives, angles, biases, etc., where a lot of stimuli are coming at us, a lot of information. As I was scrolling through Instagram, I’m seeing people who have fake accounts change the narrative of someone’s post who talks about a particular thing. They will then interject with fake news. I’ll look at it and they have no followers. It looks like a new account. I don’t even know that. I’m seeing some other things that I find quite disturbing in terms of provokers. People that can make a protest turn into an actual riot. If we’re not a journalist, how can we tell between the fake news, the not so fake news and biased news based on the platform?
Once a journalist, always a journalist. It's something that runs in your blood, something that you are, not something that you do. Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, whether it’s this time in history we live or it was previous times or if we’re at a time when we don’t have any challenges and we don’t have the unrest that we have now, it doesn’t matter what’s happening. The onus is always on us as citizens to always do our due diligence, gathering as much information as possible and discerning which pieces fit and which pieces don’t based on factual information and sources that are reliable. That’s essentially the job of a journalist. The job of a true journalist and not just unsubstantiated citizen journalists is for us to go out there on behalf of the public to gather information, gather facts, to talk to experts and witnesses. Once we have all of that information, then we figure out where is the story? Where are the pieces that matter? How do we present this to the public so the public can consume it in a way that they understand it?
The journalist is the gatherer of the information and dissemination of that information. However, depending on what kind of journalist you are, depending on what platform you work on, depending on whether you’ve had journalism training, how that happens is different. For example, a traditional journalist like me who used to work for a cable station, television station or for a traditional journalist like someone who works for The New York Times or for NPR, all of these old school journalists with journalism backgrounds understand the necessity of having 2 or 3 sources for a story before a story is put to the public. The importance for that is because if you have one source on social media, that could be a one fake account. If you have two sources, it could be two people trying to get a story out. If you have multiple sources and coming from different places, then you have some ability to understand that that story is verifiable and has some truth.
It’s up to you to decide what that truth is. Even with the journalist giving you the news, all of us as a public, we still have to do our due diligence. It isn’t enough to read one article about this one topic from one outlet. You have to be a critical thinker. You have to consume that piece of information or that story from multiple platforms, from written, video, citizen journalists or independent and see how these different outlets cover the story. How a story is covered internationally is different than the way it’s covered here in the States. It’s important for us to have exposure to all of these different media platforms. When you do that, what happens over time is you’re able to sit back and see where the truth of the story is, in about what lane because there’s consistency into that story on multiple platforms.
There’s inconsistency depending on the biases. When it comes to social media, we have to do our due diligence. You can’t just look at someone making a comment on something or posting something and then not go check. That’s one of the first things I tell people to do, “Do your research.” With social media, it is so much easier for you to verify information. All you have to do is look at their account and see how many followers they have and who are they following? What other things are they commenting on? Easily, you can tell whether it’s a troll, fake account or it’s someone who’s an instigator. If you do your research, you can figure things out very quickly. Put your critical thinking cap on and step back and let that information sink in. It is such an important time to do that, especially with all of this misinformation that is being distributed through all channels.
Critical thinking is a must and there’s so much misinformation and instigator. I am a follower of TMZ and I am amazed how they position their headlines and even the salacious headline or the headlines that sell. There is a rise of individual citizen journalists, grassroots journalism. One thing that I saw is how companies are putting out their own press releases, B-roll and stories. Journalists on TV are reading it verbatim. This was brought up on Amazon.com previous to one of their major board meetings and investor meetings. They needed to do something because around 1,000 people there have been tested for Coronavirus. They’ve had some deaths. It’s almost like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. These companies are creating their own news and there’s no vetting. It’s like who has the most money can create the news.
This is one of the things that I teach. One of the things that I have is an actual media mastery course. The reason I created this is because when I was a journalist, people would ask me, “How do I get on the news?” Mostly, entrepreneurs and business owners who did ask me deserve to be on the news. They had a story to tell. They wanted to promote their business. Who doesn’t want to do that? The more questions I got, the more I realized, it’s not that these people who are asking me to be on the news don’t deserve to be on the news or that they don’t have newsworthy stories. It’s just that they don’t know what it’s going to take in order for them to do that.
I started doing two-day bootcamps for people who wanted to learn about how to get on the news. The more I did this, the more I had to recreate what it takes to be on the news. I had to peel the layers back and reconstruct what it would take to do that. When I was going through this process, I had to go through the process in order for me to be able to teach the process. Once I figured out that process, I realized and I would tell people from that point forward that there is a method to understanding how the media works. Ten percent of that is in that coverage and that news release. Ninety percent is understanding how the media functions. If you understand how the system functions, then it is understandable how easy it is for companies like Amazon to publish their own news release, their own B-roll, and how to get that into the hands of traditional reputable media agencies and have them broadcast.
Broadcast in verbatim, there was no critical thinking.
It’s a double-edged sword. The negative side of it is that anyone with any message can slip through the cracks. That somebody didn’t do their job in vetting that information and then decided to let that pass. The better side of that is once you understand the system, then you do have people who have newsworthy stories that can then get the coverage that they absolutely need, want and deserve.
I know that’s what business leaders, authors and thought leaders want. I’m going to throw you a pitch here in terms of then there’s news that no one hears about. I was talking to one of my girlfriends about everything that’s going on Minnesota, Minneapolis and with the killing of George Floyd. We were talking about sex trafficking. Every time someone starts to talk about sex trafficking, it seems the kibosh is put on it. Even when Jeffrey Epstein died, I’m very suspect because it seems like the media is controlled by a few people, billionaires, and only stories that they want to air are aired.
The journalist is the gatherer of the information and the disseminator of that information. Click To Tweet
It’s healthy to be suspect, to question, to want more answers, and to even question the best of journalists. I do that independently and subconsciously all the time when I’m reading things or watching things. I’m like, “Why didn’t you ask this question?” Sometimes when you step back or in hindsight, you can see things in ways that most people that were in it or covering it didn’t. At the same time, it’s important to understand the different media platforms. In most traditional platforms, there used to be a time when news was public service. I speak specifically about television news. Most newsrooms lost a lot of money.
All of the other departments in that media company made enough money to offset the fact that everybody knew that the newsroom was going to lose a lot of money. The newsroom wasn’t about monetization. It wasn’t about making money. It was about informing the public. It was about being the voice and the conduit for people who didn’t have it. It was about telling the news, but things changed. Probably within ten years of my own career, things significantly changed when a few people or a few hundred of people realized, “We can monetize this information. We can use one person pay one salary, and then they can create this one piece of content.” When they realized that content could be monetized, then everything changed because that content can be sold to a company who wants to sponsor that content. That content can air on a newscast. It can be written online as a story and then it can have a video that goes with it online as well.
You put a whole bunch of ad revenue behind all of that. You can probably publish it on your newspaper as well. When that perspective changed and content in traditional media, particularly in local television news became monetized, then a lot of things about journalism, whether you like it or not even the most dedicated journalist can’t hold on to that. It’s impossible to because it becomes a numbers game. It does not become about news information in public service. I say that to say the thing that also happened at that same time is that technology, media, social media, digital platforms, and other opportunities made it possible for other types of information to be distributed.
The citizen journalists, the grassroots journalists, the independent journalists are filling the hole.
“Maybe the TV station won’t support or fund me investigating sex trafficking story to spend 2, 3, 6 weeks on that story.” As an independent journalist, that may work for a nonprofit that supports that independent journalism. I might be able to spend six weeks or six months on a piece like that and be able to write a piece of content that informs people. It’s a doubled-edge sword. Good journalism and good information still exist out there, which is why I began by saying, “You have to take in every piece of information about every topic.” You then have to, as a critical thinker, determine which pieces fit and which pieces don’t. You also have to understand that some of the media companies are about making money. It is not financially feasible for a reporter to spend eight weeks on trying to find sources, information, and go undercover for a story like sex trafficking. It’s a numbers game, at least in particular media outlets and particular platforms. However, the good news is that we have independent journalists out there and platforms that still do that.
Maybe that’s been the rise of documentary filmmaking as well. There’s an opportunity there to go from a journalist to a documentary filmmaker if you want to dig for the story from a place of unbiased, which I don’t think that’s something that we could even get to. It’s not possible. With that, we gave an overview of the journalists, the news angle, the perspective of a journalist, and what constitutes news. Talk about storytelling, talk about your EPIC story, because I know you specialize in working with business owners and thought leaders in terms of creating their EPIC story as a way to sell their one of a kind business as your book title.
That came about because as a journalist, I was still in college when I first started interning. I’ve been in the business for many years. In my career, I’ve worked in Central California, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan and Miami. In all of these places that I went, what I predominantly covered was crime and news, especially local news, because that’s what local news is. Every now and again, I would find enterprise stories. These are stories that are somehow impacting a community or impacting something that is about human stories.
These are not necessarily, “It bleeds, it leads,” kind of stories. These are stories that make people feel good or make people think. I found over time that I loved doing enterprise stories. The difficulty about it was trying to get them through the editors. If you’re working in Detroit and you’ve got twelve shootings in a day, they’ve gotten a limited number of reporters and they want to put you to cover a shooting, you as a reporter have to pitch a story and have to pitch it so well that your editor is going to go, “That’s great. We’re going to get eyeballs on that story. Let’s go do that story.”
I wanted to do more of those, but I couldn’t find enough of those. As I got a little bit more active in different communities, as I nurtured more of my own entrepreneurial side, as I joined organizations and began to network, I realized that there are some amazing enterprise stories, business stories, amazing human stories. They’re all embedded within the entrepreneurial community, the thought leaders, and the authors. I started thinking, “Why don’t I know about all of this? What didn’t I hear about all of this?” As a reporter, if I knew the story existed, I would cover it, pitch it and probably get it on the news. The more time I spent in these circles and thinking about it, the more I realized what the issue was. The issue was most people, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, authors and speakers simply don’t know how to position and pitch their story in a way that gets people to move, to take action, or to even care.
We’ve all been taught to write a mission statement and tell our story, but nobody has taught us how to tell our story in a way that makes people go, “I care about that.” That’s the number one thing they teach you as a journalist. When you find stories and pitch it to your editors, the first thing they ask you is, “Who gives a F?” That’s how blunt they are. “We’ve got millions of eyeballs. Why are people not going to flip the channel when they watch your story?” If you can’t answer that question, that means you haven’t pitched a story properly. Once I connected the dots, I was like, “What if all these nonprofits, thought leaders, authors, business owners, and entrepreneurs could position and pitch their story in a way that made every editor go, ‘That’s a great story?’” That’s how this all evolved and came about.
It isn't enough to read one article from one outlet; you have to be a critical thinker and consume information from multiple platforms. Click To Tweet
As I was in the evolution of building all of this, I was working with people, helping friends, testing the ideas and putting it to a test in a way where I was trying to prove my own theory to myself and it was true. Once I realized this works and I’ve got a path and a system in place that can help people and teach people how to do that themselves, I was like, “I need to tell more people about this. I need to teach this.” Independently, I help friends all the time. There’s no reason why so-and-so who wrote such-and-such book shouldn’t be able to get the coverage that somebody from a huge publisher, that’s paid huge amount of money, that has a huge marketing budget is able to get. It’s all about positioning and telling your story from a perspective that makes people care. That’s all it’s about. It’s not about budget, influence, number of Instagram followers you have. It’s about how you are telling your story and how you are pitching it.
Enlighten us on that. What are some of your tips in terms of positioning your story to make people interested?
This might somewhat go against the grain of a lot of these online marketing teachings that I watch and see. It’s all about find your niche and write to your niche. One of the things that you do as a journalist is that you can’t write to a niche and you can’t just speak to a niche. You have to speak to a wide audience. In order for you to find the group that is going to care about that subject matter, you’re going to have to talk to a large pool of people, and then the group that cares about it is going to be right there with you. That is the first step in creating a story that makes people care. Once you find the people that care, then you can go into being more niche. Somehow marketers and copywriters skip that first step. They go straight into talking to your niche. Your niche isn’t a huge pool of people. You have to find your niche and you have to find those people first.
One of the ways that I came up with explaining to people how to tell their story is the word epic, which is why I called the book, Tell Your EPIC Story. There are seven different ways you can tell a story. The reason I say seven different ways you can tell a story is that there are seven different ways you can start a story. I found that most stories fit within four, which is what the EPIC stands for. The first one is you will always get people to care if you tell the story from an emotional standpoint. If you can tell your story and make people feel some type of way right about it, whether they are emotional about it, they get sad, happy, angry or whatever it is. If you can tell your story to create some emotion in people, you’ll always get people to care. That’s what the E stands for.
P stands for process. This is big in a lot of the online, “Let me show you how I did it and you can do it too.” That’s a process story. Most people can relate to process stories and they find it interesting. You can write about a process story. It is great for television. It is a way to tell a story that doesn’t have an ending yet. You can’t have a beginning, middle and an end because you don’t know what’s going to happen yet. You’re somehow either in the beginning stages or somehow in the middle of the story. You need to still tell the story, but you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, so you tell a process story. Every story could be told from every single one of these angles. That’s one of the things that I teach people how to do. How to tell the same story from an emotional perspective? How to tell it from a process perspective?
The I stand for inspiration. Everybody knows somebody who has an inspirational story. If you look at it, there’s probably a process and emotion somewhere buried in an inspirational story, but they’ve started their story from a place where they inspire people. It’s all about how you begin that story and what you spark in the person who is listening and watching it. The last one is conflict. Every story has conflict. Some people bury the conflict all the way in the end or they take it in the middle. They may have a climax and have a resolution. In some people, the power of their story is in conflict. They have to start the story from the perspective of conflict. Every story can have all four, can have some of the four, but every story always has one and it starts with one of those. It’s either emotional, process, inspirational or conflict. If you are able to tell your story from one of those perspectives, then you’ve got yourself a winner, something that people are going to care about. That’s the challenge in figuring out how to tell a story. It’s knowing that it has a strategy and a process behind it rather than just, “This is my story,” and hoping it works.
That’s a powerful takeaway on how to tell your EPIC story: Emotional, Process, Inspiration, Conflict. How do people find out more about your book and more about you?
I’m everywhere on social media. I’m very active on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. My handle is @SilvaHarapetian. My website is SilvaHarapetian.com. My email address is out there. I also create video content for people. People come to me and they say, “I tried to tell my story.” Sometimes I help them figure out what their story is, and then they realize, “I’d love to be able to take this and turn it into a video content.” We have a production company. We help people do that. For some of those samples, you can check out SilvaMediaGroup.com. My desire and passion have always been about telling stories. Perhaps it’s my own life journey coming from the Middle East as a teenager. I came to the States when I was fourteen, not speaking English and trying to find my way in this country. I eventually want to be a journalist and had a difficult time breaking into the business and also having success in the business.
If my own journey and me telling my own story has played such an integral role in connecting with people, in opening doors for me, in finding mentors, in finding ways to improve myself and growth that I know the power of story. The time that we live in and based on what’s going on with the pandemic, with the unrest, there has never been a time that is more important for you to tell your most authentic, most vulnerable story than now. If it’s not making you feel uncomfortable, if you don’t feel naked, if you’re not afraid of being judged when you’re sharing things on social media or on video, then you’re not telling your story properly.
The power is in your mess, in the vulnerabilities, and in your failures. The power of your story is the parts of your life and the things in your life that didn’t work that brought you to your knees. I can’t stress it enough for people to share all of that because it is through our stories that we see we are not alone. It is through sharing our emotions, our vulnerabilities, and our stories that we see we’re not the only ones that are feeling helpless, that this pandemic is making us anxious or that this unrest is questioning our perspective. If we don’t share those pieces of us, then we’re almost robbing ourselves of this incredible and most powerful connection we can have.
You never know how, by sharing the most difficult and darkest times in your life, doors will open in ways you'd never anticipated. Click To Tweet
In 2018, some things went down at work and I ended up leaving the position I was in and the organization that I was at. I left under difficult circumstances. Mentally and emotionally, I was in a challenging place and there were a lot of things happening. If you’re a human and you’ve lived, and you know when some things are happening, your initial instinct is to crawl under the covers or under a rock and disappear and isolate. Being the storyteller that I am, the way I feel powerful is by going public with my mess and the things that are challenging me. At that time, I decided that I was going to ramp up my business again. I had a consulting business, a production business and I’d written the book. I wanted to ramp up that side of the business. I’m going to rebuild myself as an entrepreneur.
I decided that how else can I show people what this is like, but to bring people along with it. Because I’m a storyteller, I employed the process perspective of telling my story. I said, “I am going to take people on this journey of me going from being this news lady and journalist to finding a new identity as an entrepreneur.” I say this and it sounds very simple and easy but it was the most excruciating difficult journeys I’ve ever been on. I am going to show people the successes, the failures and all of the other things that I have to get done in order for me to rebuild my life, my business, my identity, to find a new path and a new way to exist in this world.
Make your mess public. I did it in a form that is the simplest and easiest for me to do. That video world, that’s an easy way for me to tell the story because it’s second nature for me. It was me and my videographer that I brought along every now and then when I would go to an event. Most of the stuff that I shot was on my iPhone. I essentially created an eighteen-part web series of all of the things that I was going through at the time from ending up quitting a job that my identity was tied to, to finding a way to get on a very large stage as a speaker and the book, promoting and finding clients again.
People were like, “You left your job. You’re not making any money. You’re spending this money in creating content.” I say this to say, I won an award for the eighteen-part web series. I won a Communicator Award that is given to people who make contents that make an impact. I’m not tooting my horn. I’m just saying that you never know how the most difficult and darkest times in your life, by sharing those moments, are going to turn into something amazing and open doors in ways that you’d never anticipated.
I appreciate you for sharing your story, coming here, and inspiring us with the power of storytelling, and that we all have an EPIC story. Thank you so much.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four
- Tell Your EPIC Story
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About Silva Harapetian
I found myself struggling to find ways to fit in two worlds; the ancient traditions of my ancestors and the tempting freedoms of the West. Confused, conflicted and alone, I was often bullied, teased and misunderstood.
In high school, I didn’t speak or understand English but was quickly recognized by the administration as a leader and was tasked to represent the immigrant student body. I that role, I discovered the power of story, context and building relationships. During some of my darkest times, I had found purpose in being a conduit for other people’s voice and discovered I had the power to make an impact.
Perhaps it was my own life journey that drew me further into a career of storytelling and journalism. I feel very fortunate to be living in this country where I have the freedom of expression, opportunity, a great education and career, something as a woman in Iran, I would never have been able to pursue!
After graduating from University of Southern California with a Communication Degree, I declared with a very thick Iranian-Armenian accent that I was going to be a television journalist.
“For someone whose English is her 4th language to want to pursue a career in broadcast journalism,” they said, “I lacked common sense.”
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