Be a Thought Leader Not a Thought Follow-The-Leader: The Importance of Being Authentic in Your Messaging
In my freshman year of college I attended my first ever open-audition. Basically, this meant that I could see what every other actor was doing before it was my turn to perform. I thought that this was perfect because I could see exactly what made the director laugh, what interested the audience, and what got the poor responses. I was convinced that as long as I did what the other folks were doing, I was going to win the favor of the director.
When I got on stage I had memorized all of the funny moments I had seen before and started to put them into the scene. To my horror, no one laughed. The director looked bored and at times confused. It wasn’t until after I was done that I realized what had happened.
The things that the other actors did were only funny when they were a surprise and when no one was expecting them. The other people in the room had little to no interest in seeing me recycle the pratfall or the line-read that got everybody’s attention before.
I learned that the only way to really make the scene work was do what came naturally and to stop trying to game the system. I wouldn’t have thought that this same scenario would pop up outside of the acting world, but it happens every day in the world of branding.
With the rise of social media platforms and the fall of barriers to entry, there is an opportunity for everyone to have a voice and a platform for little to no money. It used to be that if you wanted to reach the masses with your content you had to pay for placement on TV, in a newspaper, or some other medium. Now, anyone can write a newsletter, start a blog, post a video, and easily find a platform to speak to a large group. This has led to a world in which many seek to become Thought Leaders.
As certain people have claimed this title it has created a whole crop of what I like to refer to as “Thought Follow-the-Leaders.” These people have watched what has been successful for other thought leaders in the same way that I watched those other actors and they replicate much of what other people have already done. The result is that, just like me in the open audition back then, they have a lesser impact on their audience.
This ultimately boils down to the idea of authenticity.
If the talk you are giving is given in a way that is uniquely yours, you’ll find an audience who wants to hear it. If you give a talk and try to copy the other things you’ve seen work for others, you won’t establish impact.
So what do I mean by making something uniquely yours?
Your personal background has influenced the way you speak to others when you are passionate about something. Some of us curse, some of us are verbose, some of us use metaphors, but each of us has something in our lives that influences the way we choose to communicate. Being uniquely you means owning that part of yourself and embracing it.
There may be concern around originality as well but, when we look closer at the ideas that spread and the concepts that catch fire, it has more to do with authenticity and creativity than it does with originality because it’s hard to decipher anything’s actual origin anymore. Everything that we watch, read, or see is a variation on something much older. All of our movies, TV, and books are based on ancient concepts; it’s how these people choose to tell the story that gets our attention.
If your goal is to be a thought leader, choose something tried and true and that you really, really believe in then find a way to say it that is uniquely yours.
Let yourself be in the moment of your scene rather than copying what the other actors are doing.
If you want the world to cast you in the role of Thought Leader don’t worry about being a good actor, just worry about being real.
If you do that you’ll be amazed at how many people are willing to follow you.