IAM1744 – Communications Consultant Helps People Who Create With Mastery

Podcast Interview with Dana Ray

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”: In this episode of the CEO Podcasts, host Gresham Harkless interviews Dana Ray, a communications consultant who helps people who create with mastery. Dana's work involves finding the right words to communicate the value and purpose of her clients' work to the world.
She works with people from diverse fields, including fashion, design, dance, art, photography, tech, and activism. During the interview, we spoke about the journey of entrepreneurship and life. Dana shares her CEO hacks, which include not neglecting to do for herself what she does for others, hiring coaches to get the language for her work, outsourcing, and journaling.
She also talks about the people she works with who have anxiety about presenting and talking about their work. For Dana, being a CEO means taking on the work of language and communication. Overall, this podcast provides insights into the world of communications consulting and the importance of effective communication in achieving success in various fields.

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Dana Ray Teaser 00:00

I don't give my words to my clients. I help them find their words. So my secret sauce is how I'm able to study their voice, their body language, and their inflections of speech. By the end of the workshop, I am thinking and speaking in words that are going to resonate with them specifically. So no ground truth is exactly the same because it belongs to a person. That it belongs to you.

Intro 00:22

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of.

This is the I AM CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:48

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes at the beginning of this year. We're doing something a little bit different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories or topics or as I like to call them, the business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners, and what I like to call the CB nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations.

This month we are focused on our greatest asset- talent management and hiring. Think from great resignation to the great renovation. And if you disagree with me, maybe these episodes might be especially for you. Life and especially business has changed. It has forced those that are within organizations to look differently at talent, and how it's being managed.

When we talk about change, think about it, we have to realize that business as usual is no longer here. That's evident in attracting and retaining clients, but also in setting up people within organizations to succeed. Think onboarding, think DEI- diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. How it is working from home and even going back into the office.

Things are different. In this month. We are going to explore these topics by featuring CEO hacks and CEO nuggets, but also interviews that focus on these changes and how organizations can make sure they care for and attract the most valuable asset- their people. Sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I AM CEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello, this is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Dana Ray of Dana Ray Consulting. Dana it's awesome to have you.

Dana Ray 02:19

Hey, everyone. I am so glad to be here. This is exciting.

Gresham Harkless 02:21

Definitely is exciting. Super excited to have you on the show, and what I want to do is just read a little bit more about Dana so you can hear about all the awesome things that she's doing.

Dana's job is to find the words for what your work is about and why it matters so you can succeed in the business of bringing it to the world. She works with people like you who have things to say. She works with people who create with mastery. They lead in diverse fields including fashion, design, dance, art, photography, tech, and activism.

That work makes the world an interesting place to be. Her experience includes working as a content marketing writer and as the creator of art experiences. She was a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Bulgaria and holds a master's in literature and creative writing from Bucknell University.

Dana, are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Dana Ray 03:04

I'm here and ready to go.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:05

Let's do it. So I wanted to hear how everything got started. Can you tell us your CEO story and what led you to get started with the business?

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Dana Ray 03:12

The fun part about this business for me is that it is the externalization of work I've always been doing. I've always been putting words to both my experiences, and understanding, and then doing that for other people. Every single job I've had, minus high school work as a janitor, has really been about that, and it's where my greatest contribution has been, regardless of my role. So it's really been 10-plus years of this work, even if the business is in its early stages in its first few years.

This is work that I'm doing in this setting now, but it's work that I have done and probably will do in many other settings going forward and the business is the best venue for that right now and some of the places that this work of putting language to things has shown up, I used to work at writing centers in college, helping people write their personal statements and cover letters. I have my master's, I was gonna be an academic, and then got my head turned by entrepreneurship. I worked in a marketing agency in B2B tech and that's really where I found my interest in audience discovery and business definition, a better writer forever.

I mentored college students and that's where my kids used to call me the translator because I could help them communicate with each other if they couldn't find the language to do that and that name really resonated with me. I was pretty young when they titled me that, and that's a name that I've used for myself going forward. Eventually I knew that I wanted to create something independent, a structure that would house this work that I was doing in a more direct way, went into business.

Gresham Harkless 04:40

Awesome. I definitely appreciate you for breaking that down. I think so many times that when you hear this, when you see somebody and see that they're successful, you see like where they are or maybe their finish line, you don't see all the work they did prior to that.

I appreciate you for breaking that down because I think so many times we forget that everything that we're doing is building up into who we are and where we are in this present time and that writing and being able to communicate and be able to translate as your children say, it's not anything that is separate from what we're doing at this current state and time and what you're doing, it sounds.

Dana Ray 05:11

Absolutely. What your business is today can be building you to what happens next in a couple of years from now or a decade from now. Maybe you're not gonna be in business forever, but that doesn't change the value of what you're creating and what you're learning and growing in right now.

Gresham Harkless 05:26

Absolutely. I think when we have that mentality, we really start to become extremely powerful because we understand that everything, every little brick, every little year that we're spending on this, or every project that we have, is not necessarily just building up for that project and the completion of that before who we are gonna become 10, 15 years down the line as well too.

I know we touched on it a little bit when I read your bio and you did as well too. I wanted to hear a little bit more about what you're doing for clients, how that process works, and what exactly that looks like.

Dana Ray 05:53

So I help individuals and businesses. It can be both the solopreneur or the larger organization in the arts and culture space. So listen to some of those industries in the bio, but it's arts and culture. So people who have something that they're trying to say and they need to put words to what their work is about in order to get that work done. Think branding, but language instead of the visual aspect of it.

I am in this work with these kinds of high achieving master craftsmen, socially impact people, because I know that words are action. They're not separate from action. They are an action in and of itself. If we cannot say something clearly, we cannot bring it to the world. We cannot share it. We cannot see its impact happen. So what we say our work is and what it's for, comes what that is in the world and getting clear on the specific, what your work is and what it's about and why you're doing it and how you're doing it.

Putting language to that is what's gonna actually make it possible for you to do this work. So in my process, we start by defining what I call a ground truth statement for the business or the project. It's that one-sentence statement of what I just outlined. What it is, why it matters. It defines the work. It enables confident decision-making, and it communicates where you're going. It's an internal language that you can then move externally. It's the foundation for good marketing, good branding, good pitching even just your own understanding of what is important to you in your value set.

So all of that is in that one distinct statement, and we look at your past experiences and your future ambitions, and we draw a line. What is holding all of these things together? And that's that one sentence again. So, based on the process that I've developed, it's a three-and-a-half-hour workshop for an individual client, a little bit longer if it's a group of people in a room that's then supported by reports that I create, you can hold onto going forward and one month or retainer support from me. I become ahead of the board.

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Even if you don't have a board, just someone that you can get check against, who really knows how you think, how you speak, what matters to you, and orienting what you're gonna be building going forward.

Gresham Harkless 08:04

That makes so much sense. A lot of times the frustration is usually in the very beginning and doing that inner work to determine where you wanna be, why you wanna do it, and how to communicate that on a deeper level. But I think a lot of times you have to know it yourself, and if you don't know it yourself, it's hard to communicate it and be clear on that.

Dana Ray 08:22

What's interesting about this is that I find my clients don't actually need help figuring out what they want. They don't need help figuring out what their work is about.

So interestingly, some of my clients are in the beginning stage, right? Or they're in the beginning stage of work that's been happening for five years, 10 years. And they're re-expressing it. They're business at the point of the pivot, the point of scale, the professional in an artistic career who's been killing it but can't get to the next stage unless they communicate more effectively.

They know it, they do not lack the knowledge, they lack the ability to articulate that in language.

Gresham Harkless 09:00


Dana Ray 09:00

That is something that I find to be true for so many of us in business, in creative work, because we're very knowing about what matters to us and but language isn't meant to be figured out by ourselves. That's part of the fun of language and part of the frustration of it. We learned the language as babies by interacting with adults. We interacted with other human beings. Our species evolved speaking as a communication tool, but we only get language in the process of dialogue.

If you're off by yourself or with your team and you're just in that insular space of your head, you're not gonna be able to find language. Because you're not supposed to, your brain is literally not structured to do that. My brain is not structured to do that. We have to be in conversation and dialogue in order to get to that language and that communication structure that will work for us. So it can be the beginning, but it's as much about the middle of the process.

Gresham Harkless 09:55

Awesome. Would you consider that to be like your, what I call your secret sauce, the thing that kind of sets you apart. Is it that ability to be that bridge, that translator in doing that?

Dana Ray 10:04

Yes. I don't give my words to my clients. I help them find their words. So my secret sauce is how I'm able to study their voice, their body language, and their inflections of speech. By the end of the workshop, I am thinking and speaking in words that are going to resonate with them specifically. So no ground truth is exactly the same because it belongs to the person that it belongs to.

I know for my clients both what they're trying to say and identifying the specific words to say it in that will anchor them and orient them going forward. I'm able to synthesize all these different data sets, all these different narrative pieces and figure out what holds that together in words they're gonna make sense for them.

It's really a profound in-depth process. They already know themselves, but they're able to understand what that work is about in a very different way, being in conversation.

Gresham Harkless 10:52

Awesome. Awesome, awesome. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. This could be like an app, a book, or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Dana Ray 11:03

My favorite hack is that I do not try to do for myself what I do for other people. I have hired outside coaches and voices for my own business to help me get language for my work because I so profoundly believe in the power and the essential nature of dialogue in finding language.

I can't find that for myself. I shouldn't expect to, no one who cares about their work should expect to find it by themselves. So I outsource that. I bring people, say, outsourcing and bringing someone in. You know what I mean?

Gresham Harkless 11:35


Dana Ray 11:35

So, that's like my main hack. Don't feel weird when you are a website designer and you can't get your website built. Go, go get help, it's fine. That is the most normal thing in the world. So go lean on those people to give you what you are giving everyone else all the time. That is the most human, most normal thing.

On the more tactical side, I have been journaling since I could put words into sentences. On a piece of paper, I have the cutest six-year-old diaries. They are ridiculous. But that practice has given me a really rich relationship with my internal life, and that has mattered a lot in my ability to listen and to understand what people are saying. So I've been paying attention to myself for so long. Yeah, that sounds weird, but I actually think that's really important in being able to hear other people.

Gresham Harkless 12:22

So I wanted to ask you now for what I call a CEO nugget. That could be like a word of wisdom or a piece of advice. It could be something around maybe writing or content or finding your voice, or it might even be something you might tell your younger business self or maybe even a client as well.

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Dana Ray 12:36

I would say to the people that I work with who have anxiety about presenting their work and talking about their work, all we want as your audience or a stranger on the street, we actually just want to love what you do, and sometimes we don't know how. We're waiting for you to tell us how, we're waiting for you to tell us what the work is for and what it means so we can celebrate it with you.

Sometimes that will mean that we become your client or we buy your piece of art, or we go to your concert, or we invest in your business. Sometimes it just means that we will celebrate with you right there, but we just wanna know, just be clear. Just tell us what matters to you. Most people really just wanna cheer you on, even if they've just met you. All of us are out here just waiting for you to tell us how brilliant you are. Just do it. Just do it because we wanna believe you.

Gresham Harkless 13:27

Awesome. I definitely appreciate that. Now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO and we're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on this show. So Dana, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Dana Ray 13:39

Being a CEO means taking on the work of language and communication. If you are going to create or build anything that's going to last, you have to be able to talk about it and tell people about it. We don't wanna miss it. You don't want us to miss it.

So you're gonna take on the language piece, you're gonna take on the communication piece. It's a lot of emotional labor, but emotional labor is the game of being a CEO.

Gresham Harkless 14:06

Absolutely. I appreciate that so much because I think when we take on the, I don't know if I wanna call it a challenge, but when we have in our charge with understanding and being able to take on language and communication, I think it is one of those things or two of those things that actually go through everything that we do, whether we're being a leader, whether we are trying to tell people what we do, whether we're doing marketing, whether we're doing sales, so on and so forth.

It's one of those common themes and veins that's through everything that we do. So it's important, essential to be able to master that.

Dana Ray 14:35

Yeah. Awesome. And it's not easy, but it's so key. It's so key.

Gresham Harkless 14:40

Yes. I definitely appreciate you for mentioning that too. Because I think that as we talked about in your story and how you got started, so many people think that you've been able to master this just because you woke up yesterday and you became a master. But those 10 years, that overnight success that we sometimes hear is not the case because we've been working on it day in, day out, and then it starts to become better and better every time that we work at our craft.

Dana Ray 15:03

Typically your craft that you're great at is something that you love so much. You don't even notice that you've been working on it for 10-plus years. You look back and you go, oh, that's what I've been doing that forever. Not because you said, take Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours and I'm gonna do it. It just happens because it's love. It's love. It's all love.

Gresham Harkless 15:21

So Dana, truly appreciate that, appreciate all the awesome things that you're doing. What I wanted to do is patch you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional you can let our readers and listeners know. Then of course, how best they can get an overview, and find out about all the awesome things you're working on.

Dana Ray 15:33

So, something to know about me is that I love to write letters. It's one of my favorite genres both to write and to read. So I actually love e-newsletters and I like writing mine. So if you wanna get a letter from me and I do structure it like a letter once a month you can go sign up on my website,

Sorry about the URL being weird. M stands for my middle name. If you're gonna start a business team, go get your URLs right now. My name belongs to a Nebraska real estate agent. So, is the place.

Gresham Harkless 16:06

We will have the links and information in the show notes to make it even easier so that everybody can click through and sign up for your letters and I hope you have a great rest of the day.

Outro 16:13

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast, powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and everywhere you listen to podcasts.

Subscribe and leave us a five-star rating. Grab CEO gear at This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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