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'5 Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader' from Women's Leadership Author, Speaker and Consultant Selena Rezvani

5 Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader

[ Monday, Jan 27, 2014 ]

Regardless of your industry or job function, you could probably be doing more to build your brand as a thought leader. 

And I have news for you.  It’s not as hard as people make it out to be.


Consider implementing the 5 steps below to raise your profile and “up” your credibility.  Remember: the best thing about building your own platform is that you get to guide and engage others in the direction of the conversation.

1. Pick an under-discussed angle of a popular topic.  When I set out to write my first book, one motivation (and frustration) was that women’s leadership books were targeted at all women.  That’s to say that the woman fresh out of school, the mid-level professional, and the established, senior woman were all getting the same exact advice. This made no sense to me.  So I began blogging and wrote The Next Generation of Women Leaders specifically targeted to Gen X and Y women in the first half of their careers.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of finding a new and even overlooked position. Put your finger on an area you’re passionate about that’s not getting the coverage it should.

2. Hone your expertise – Once you’ve solidified a topic you’re passionate about, zero in on fact finding. Make it your job to learn about statistics and trends in that field by identifying the key bodies, associations, and publications that put out research.  Then be able to recite key facts at any time.  One of the things I love about setting GoogleAlerts on key topics is that it allows me to get news stories on women’s leadership topics before others do.  In sharing that news on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other channels, people begin to depend on you for a timely stream of updates that they don’t have to research themselves. 

3. Publish – With your new take on a timely subject and your facts compiled, start pitching articles to related outlets.  You should have one or two articles prewritten―but I would pitch a total of 5-6 different bulleted concepts to a given publication.  By offering some variety in story ideas, I’ve found this instantly ups one’s chances of getting a “yes” answer.  Starting small, research the best web publications in your area and look for a spinoff of an existing article or an article that you feel is missing and shouldn’t be. Not sure exactly how original your idea is?  I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker online because…who wants to publish a bootlegged imitation of someone else’s idea?  One other powerful selling point of publishing a collection of articles is that it can pave the way to writing a book.

4. Speak – It’s hard to become a thought leader if you’re faceless and hidden from view.  To overcome this, begin to reach out to conference organizers in your industry, pitching 2-3 possible presentation topics (including learning objectives for attendees).  Cite your articles and sell organizers on the fact that your topic is under-discussed and fresh.  As you get accepted and practice your speaking skills, seek out both positive and constructive feedback.  Keep honing your own speaking style and methods the best possible way: through live practice.  One of favorite resources for great presenting advice comes from Denise Graveline’s informative blog, Don’t Get Caught.

5. Identify micro-topics and repeat steps 2-4 – As you engage with readers and live audience members, they will spark new angles on your topic you hadn’t considered.  They may find something you’re saying to be controversial, inspiring, uncomfortable―you get the idea.  Harness this real time feedback to spin off new story ideas!  In promoting my first book, I heard from women that negotiating was especially fraught with apprehension.  This is how I came about writing my second book, Pushback, which is essentially a guidebook for women who want to be better negotiators and self advocates at work.  Enjoy the volley between you and your audience.  Then have a nose for what excites you and build on that. 

If you’re finding yourself under-challenged on the job, passionate about a certain subject or in need of having more of a voice, build your thought leadership platform.  Find that interesting subject that people are ignoring or overlooking.  Then lead the conversation in bringing it to awareness. 

What’s one step you could take now to become more of a thought leader in your field?