Am I an expert at networking? In theory yes, in practice, not as much. I write about the subject of networking and shyness because they have caused me problems throughout my life. I’ve tested the tips & techniques that I offer and I know from first hand experience that they work. I also know that the lessons that I have learned can be very beneficial to others that are experiencing similar difficulties. Recent studies have indicated that over 50% of Americans consider themselves to be shy. That is a huge market awaiting me to become an expert.
My researching the topic of networking has been educational for me in several ways. I have learned that I know more than a lot of people on the subject yet not as much as I could. My anxiety in networking situations has been steadily reducing as I become more educated on the subject and my effectiveness is increasing.
My goal is to become a thought leader on the subject of business networking. I am open to the fame and fortune that will come my way when I do so. It would be nice though if this happened a little sooner rather than later.
Is it really possible to become the thought leader on a subject that you are experienced with? Perhaps it might be helpful to replace the word “the” in the previous sentence with “a.” You don’t have to bethetop expert on your subject. You can become one of many and still be an effective thought leader. You also don’t have to compete on the world stage. Odds are that your local community and its surrounding geography could support you being its top thought leader on a specific subject.
So how does one become a thought leader? I will offer a few suggestions that you might want to consider.
To be a thought leader you actually have to give some thought to the subject that you want to be an expert in. That sounds rather obvious at first but I don’t believe that it is. Many entrepreneurs and business people are caught up in workingintheir business rather than workingontheir business. Day to day they provide a service or a product in their business without taking the time to think about how to grow their business so that they can realize even greater revenue. Becoming a thought leader involves investing in yourself.
I believe that it was Brian Tracy who said that if you read about a specific subject for one hour a day, in five years you will become a world leading expert on your subject. In essence, he is referring to becoming a thought leader. Thought leaders are well read.
Thought leaders are also well spoken. Many people believe that you are born with good public speaking skills or that it is a gift. There is no truth to that belief. Public speaking skills are no different than any other skills. You get better with practice and feedback providing corrective action. If you don’t, you won’t. It is also a matter of using it or losing it. To continually develop your public speaking skills you need to consistently work at it. I have been working on honing my communication skills over the past 20 years as a member of Toastmasters International, the world’s leading inexpensive provider of communication and leadership skills development. Whether you are an experienced speaker looking for opportunities to speak or a beginning speaker wanting to get over your stage fright, Toastmasters is the place to do so.
Speak well, speak often!
Thought leaders are good writers. The old saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword” readily comes to mind. To be able to influence people and in turn lead them you need to be able to write in a manner that not only grabs the reader’s attention it spurs them into taking action. The challenge is in writing so that your message is understood by the reader. The average North American reads at a grade seven level. Your challenge is to write so that they can understand it yet not have your material so dumbed down that you insult those with higher literacy skills.
On-line bulletin boards, chat rooms and social media venues such as Linkedin have helped level the playing field for those that tend to be on the shy side. You can be as bold as you want to be with your on-line persona.
Linkedin has a relatively new feature where you can follow Thought Leaders from around the world. Some of them like Sir Richard Branson have a couple million followers. I don’t follow him but I guess a lot of people are interested in what he has to say. Others on the list have a mere 30000 followers. Wouldn’t that be nice? It helps to look at that 30000 or so as being a number that could be achievable, assuming of course that it is something that you desired.
I’m guessing but I believe that Linkedin likely has a group dedicated to almost any subject that you can think of. You are allowed to follow and be a member of up to 50 groups at a time. To help gain exposure for yourself you can post questions or submit an article of interest to share with others. You can also provide answers or commentary on questions or discussions that others have posted. This can be a great way to create credibility for yourself and develop a reputation as being one who gives thought to a particular subject. It is also okay to disagree with what is written as long as you follow the rule of thumb of disagreeing with the opinion of the person rather than the person. There are ways to soften a response that differs from the writer such as “My experience has been a little different…”
To be a thought leader, or a leader of any type, you have to have followers. I am fond of a saying that goes “If you think that you are leading and you turn around and see that no one is following you, then you are really just out for a walk.” I think that we all need to turn around every so often and see if anyone is following us.
We haven’t answered the question yet of why we would even want to become a thought leader? Fame and fortune certainly would be nice but on a smaller scale there is great value in becoming the “go to” person if a problem arises that you have the expertise to resolve.
I have been lead to believe that the media is always looking for experts on a specific subject. It would be great to be on a short list of experts that the media reaches out to when they need a quote or sound byte on a topical subject. This is not only great attention for you but it also raises attention for your business. It can be a great conversation starter. Can you imagine being able to respond to the question of “so … what’s new?” with “Oh, I was on the Oprah show last week.” We might have to settle with an interview by the local AM radio station but you never know who is listening or what it might lead to.
Followers need leaders. If you lead, people will likely follow you. This can be an effective way to develop your business network. Get to know with your followers. Connect with them. Try it and see what happens. Let me know how your net’s working.
Top photo credit courtesy of CeCe Canton via Flickr Creative Commons.