Thought leadership is NOT the same thing as being an influencer or expert. Did you know that? I didn’t! At least, not until I heard Carol explain the differences on this episode. If you want to build your thought leadership through summit speaking (or speaking in general), this episode is for YOU.


We’re going to talk today about how to establish your thought leadership through summit speaking – and really this applies to any type of speaking that you do, not just for summits.

We know, especially with the pandemic having gone on now for over a year and a half, that we’re all Zoomed out. Zoom fatigue. We’ve been to so many webinars, so many virtual presentations, that you need to stand out with the content and delivery that you’re presenting.

So what you want to hear when you’re doing your summit speaking, or when you’re doing speaking in general, is feedback and testimonials. And so here’s an example from our own summits that we hosted earlier this year and in 2020, where this is the kind of feedback that we got from attendees as well, they raved that it was the best virtual event that they’ve ever attended. The presentations were incredible. The diversity of the voices, it was very much appreciated, and they really could see the quality of what went on. So that’s definitely what the type of feedback that you want to get. And there’s a way to get this type of feedback. And we’re going to talk about that here in this presentation.

So really what makes the difference? And so this is what doesn’t make the difference. I found this online because I was looking for memes that had to do with not wanting to give an opinion.

So I feel like what holds so many of us back from really taking our presentations and taking our speaking to the next level is that we’re so afraid of having an opinion about anything – an opinion on our topic, an opinion about our industry, an opinion about the way that businesses run or the way that we run our business or the way that we help our clients.

So what happens is that we end up having rather generic content or content that really could be plug-and-play. The people watching your presentation are not going to remember if you said it or someone else said it on whatever your area of expertise your topic is because it’s interchangeable.

So I’m sure the strategies that you present on are very helpful and very valuable, there’s no doubt. And I want you to continue to share all of the tips and the strategies and the techniques and the tactics that you are. And I want you to add another layer onto it. And so we’re going to talk about what that is.

Now, a little bit about me is that I’ve – in addition to running my business, speaking your brand, I’ve been a democratic political analyst on the TV news for the past 15 years.

And so I’m used to giving my opinion. I like to say that I actually get paid to share my political opinion. So I’ve been doing this for a really long time. Now you may not have built up a similar muscle and when I say that you should share your opinion, I don’t mean that you have to share your political opinions in your summit speaking at all – that probably is not related to your topic, your area of expertise. However, I feel like as women we’ve been socialized not to share our opinions, very much to go with the flow. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, but we don’t have time to get into today.

However, I’m encouraging you to start thinking about how sharing your opinions, sharing your perspectives is a way for you to establish your thought leadership. I love this quote from the writer, Anais Nin. She said that the role of a writer – and I would add speaker – “the role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”

And this is really where being a thought leader comes in: is what is it that other people aren’t saying? What is it that other people aren’t able to say? That’s where you come in as a thought leader. Because, you see, there’s a difference between being an influencer, an expert, and a thought leader. And a lot of times for us, we enjoy presentations, we enjoy speaking, we’re really good about our area of expertise and we tend to fall into this expert category, which is fine, but I want you to see yourself evolving into a thought leader.

So here are the differences: an influencer says to their audience, “be like me.” These are the Kardashian-Jenner clan, who, you know, obviously are all over the place and they are really influencers because they have mass audiences – so they have very large audiences – and they sell mass market products to these audiences – either their own products or they are advertisers for other company’s products. And so influencers are aspirational; their audience wants to be like them. They want to have the lifestyle like a Kim Kardashian: how wealthy she is, how beautiful she is, how glamorous she is, all these events that she gets to go to, the people that she hangs out. So influencers are aspirational and their content and their audience and the products that they sell reflect that.

Now, most likely you are not an influencer in this category. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have influence over the audience, the following that you have, but for the most part, you probably have a rather niche audience and a niche product or service that you sell, which is ideal in being an entrepreneur, being in the small business world.

So most likely, you are an expert, and especially when it comes to speaking and summit speaking, is that you’re sharing your expertise. You’re helping the audience learn something to take some strategies that they can apply to themselves.

This is Dr. Tasha Eurich, who’s an organizational psychologist. She’s written books related to this, she’s given speeches and Ted talks related to this. She’s an expert in what she does, which is fantastic, and people learn from her, learn from the work that she does and learn from her books.

However, here’s what transitions someone into being a thought leader. Of course, Brene Brown is like the penultimate example of a thought leader because thought leaders say to their audience, “imagine with me.” Thought leaders say to their audience, “you haven’t thought about X yet; what would happen if you did?” Thought leaders help their audience see things that maybe they haven’t seen before, or haven’t thought about before. Thought leaders also put themselves into the work that they do. The reason that Brene Brown’s original TEDx talk when viral – I think it’s what, 11, 12 years ago now – is because she very much put herself into her big idea, into the content that she was sharing.

And I analyzed her talk that she brings up this idea of vulnerability and shame and our desire for connection and belonging, and then she says at some point, “oh, and I went to my therapist and I realized that this research I was doing around vulnerability and shame was very much talking to me as much as it was talking to the participants I was studying.” So Brene Brown realized, “oh, like this applies to me. My story is a part of this as well.” And she takes us along her journey of discovery in her TEDx talk and that’s what made it so powerful.

That’s what thought leaders do: they put themselves into their content and they share their opinions and they really are like a mirror, a reflection, a sounding board for us as their audience.

So let’s talk a little bit about what a thought leader is, three types of thought leaders, and key questions you can answer for yourself about creating your own thought leadership content.

So my definition of a thought leader is someone who has an interesting idea, especially one that hasn’t been talked about a lot in their circle of influence. So in your corner of the internet, what is something that’s not being talked about that much? A thought leader challenges the status quo and our assumptions about certain things. Thought leaders communicate with conviction of boldness. They inspire people to take action. And they cause people to be self-reflective and to learn more about themselves and how they relate to the world, as we saw in those examples, I just shared.

So now there’s three types of thought leaders that I’ve identified based on the research that I’ve done.

The first type is personality driven and they say to their audience, “who do you want to be?” So these are kind of like influencers, but they’re in the thought leadership space. This is Rachel Rodgers. She has a podcast and a company called Hello Seven. She recently released a book called We Should All Be Millionaires.

She’s definitely a thought leader in the entrepreneurial space, and she is what I would call a personality-driven thought leader. Her content is very much around her lifestyle, the way she lives, travel, events that she does, which is great because she’s really setting this example of what it looks like to be a successful, wealthy black woman.

The second type of thought leader is what I call research driven. And so they say to their audience, “who are you and why?” So they really cause the individual to dig in deeper into thinking about what is it that you, as the individual, are doing? Why are you doing it, and what could you possibly want to do differently?

An example that comes to mind is Tara McMullin. She’s the host of the What Works Podcast and the What Works Network. And if you follow her on Instagram, under tara_mcmullin, and you subscribe to her email newsletter, you’ll very much see this research-driven thought leadership content that she is putting out around business and marketing.

And finally there are mission-driven thought leaders and they say to their audience, “who can we become?” So mission driven thought leaders are much more about kind of a societal level versus an individual level. And they really are taking a magnifying glass and looking at society and say, what can we do different? How can we challenge the status quo? How can we make this better?

And what comes to mind are the three women who started the Black Lives Matter movement. Now they are the spokespeople for Black Lives Matter, but really it’s about so much more than them. They are mission-driven because they put the spotlight on others and they really want as many people as possible to take up this cause.

So which type of thought leader resonates the most with you? The personality-driven, the research-driven or the mission-driven? There’s no right or wrong answer; one is not better than the other, it’s based on your own personality and what feels natural.

So what we do here is speaking your brand is we help women entrepreneurs create their thought leadership message and their signature talks. I have a podcast called Speaking Your Brand that has been on since early 2017. We do both one-on-one coaching and group programs, and we run events like our Brave. Bold. Beyond. LIVE Virtual Summit.

So I’ve been speaking and presenting for over 20 years – really for all of my career, plus going back into high school and college – all different types of venues and stages and audiences. And I do live video presentations, whether it’s – well, this is a recorded presentations – I do live ones as well. And I’m pointing out on the screen here this arrow down to my index cards. This is like a behind the scenes of my setup for our summit here, so there are ways for you to set up where you can have your little notes there. And the thing that I forgot to do is that I was wearing my contacts in this presentation versus the glasses, which I’m wearing now. And when I wear contacts, it is very difficult for me to read things just because of the way my eyesight is, so I had these lovely index cards with my notes for my speech, yet I couldn’t really read them because I have my contacts in. So pro tip, make sure if you’re going to do the same, that you can actually read whatever it is that you’ve written for your notes.

So our mission at Speaking Your Brand is to amplify and champion diverse, progressive, and purpose-driven women’s voices. And this is a screenshot from our about page on our website. And so, I very much infuse my values, my worldview, my thought leadership into the content that we create at Speaking Your Brand and into the work that we do, whether it’s the challenge that we ran last year called Choosing Women’s Voices, or the episode that we did in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd, about the work of antivirus racism as white women that we did because I knew how important it was to speak to our audience about what was going on.

So here’s why thought leadership matters and the impact that it can have on you and your business.

So, this is one of our clients, Tammy Lally. I worked with her on her TEDx Talk back in 2017 and now has over 2 million views, which is extraordinary. Most TEDx Talks get a couple thousand views, but hers was so powerful that Ted – the national parent organization – selected her talk to put on their homepage and in their email newsletter, and because of that, it has gotten this incredible reach. And Tammy really told her own personal, hard story, along with her big idea around money shame, and she had the emotional courage to do that. And we worked so hard on that talk and she worked so hard on that talk. And the result is many, many people all over the world who have been impacted by the story, by the message that she shared.

We also walk our talk by telling our own own hard stories, which I did. One particular episode I remember from August of 2020 – episode 185; and you can go and take a listen to that if you’d like. And the result is that others will recognize what you do. I’ve been featured in Forbes because of content and episodes I’ve done about why women speakers aren’t paid the same as male speakers and what we can do about. And as I mentioned, we’ve done our own online events, which is our thought leadership in action. And the result has been selling out our programs and I was recognized as one of Orlando’s women of the year in 2021.

So this is what happens when you put your thought leadership out there is that the results come: you attract amazing clients, you get opportunities, you get recognition, and I’ll tell you that just staying the expert, just sharing strategies and tips and techniques only goes so far. You have to push yourself beyond that.

So here’s how to identify your thought leadership message. The first question to ask yourself is what’s important to you that you’re noticing is missing – noticing that’s missing in your industry, around your topic, around the people that are in your community, within your business. So for example, as we did our Choosing Women’s Voices challenge, because I noticed that so many of the nonfiction books that I was reading – business marketing books, as well as podcasts that I was listening to – were all by men. And I hadn’t really thought about it until I did an audit and I looked at everything and I was like, “oh wow, where are all the women’s voices? I haven’t been intentional about choosing them,” so then we ran this challenge to encourage other people to do this.

Here’s an example from one of our clients who went through our Thought Leader Academy, Jackie Roby. She is very much an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the travel industry. She’s been part of the travel industry for years as a sales consultant, and now she’s really pushing them on DEI issues because she’s noticed that has been missing within her industry.

The second question to ask yourself is what ticks you off or what gets you riled up? What gets you up on your soap box? Because if it’s something that gets you up on your soapbox, it’s something that you’re passionate about, and that could be an indicator of your thought leadership message.

Here’s another example of one of our clients, Patty Perez, and where it gets her up on her soap box is organizations that don’t walk their talk. And so she did some webinars and some events and some content related to that, especially last summer.

Question number three is what makes you think, “this isn’t right – there must be a better way”? Could be business practices in your industry, could be marketing practices, sales practices. Are there things going on where kind of they rub you the wrong way and you think, “Ugh, there has to be a better way!”

So this is another one of our clients, Dr. Bibi Pirayesh, and her thing is around she’s an educational therapist and she recognizes that when we look at learning differences that children have, it’s really a social justice issue. It’s not just about helping them with their learning difference, but it’s really about social justice. So she has now created an initiative called the Differences, Not Deficit Project, and she created this out of the work that she did in our Thought Leader Academy.

Question number four to ask yourself is what are people not seeing or understanding that you do see? A lot of times, the answer to this question comes out of an experience that you had, an impactful experience that you had at some time in your life where it caused you to shift your perspective on something, it caused you to change your mental model about the way that you see the world, where it’s caused a paradigm shift. So think back to something that has happened to you that caused you to change something. And then how can you relate that journey of discovery to your audience?

So this is another one of our clients, Jhaymee Tynan. She founded an initiative called 100 x 2030 to get more healthcare organizations to sponsor women of color within theri organizations for advancement. And as a result of this thought leadership message and initiative that Jamie has put together, she gets speaking invitations – including paid speaking invitations – as well as she recently got a book deal to write a book, and it’s precisely because of putting herself out there as a thought leader.

Question number five to ask yourself is what do we want to be known for? What’s the lens through which you see the world? So there might be a lot of things that you get on your soap box about, or that you get riled up about, but they may not be what you want to be known for related to your business. So kind of filter that through the lens of,” okay, what do you want to be known for related to your business?”

So this is Joyce Spencer. She’s one of our clients and she’s also one of the coaches in our Thought Leader Academy, and so she calls herself the Reframe Specialist. She helps – especially women in their careers – reframe their gifts, their talents, into doing creative projects for themselves, not just for their job. So she has a new podcast that she launched called Reframe to Create out of the work that we did together.

So here’s what I believe: I believe that absolutely you can be a thought leader. And as a woman, we need you to be a thought leader. If you Google the term “thought leader,” you will see that it’s mostly all men. The images that come up are mostly all men, and we definitely need that to change. When you’re not the default, you can see the system for what it is, like in the Matrix, when the system wasn’t set up for you and by you, you can see the cracks in the system. And this is what we do, especially as women, because the work system, because the business structure, because our society was not built for us to be part of the public sphere, to be part of the working world – I mean, we’re making do the best we can over the generations – but we can see those cracks. We can see what needs to change. We can challenge that status quo to make things better.

So here’s the thing: ideas are contagious. Your thought leadership is contagious, and contagious in the good way, and they start with you.

You putting yourself out there, you having opinions, having ideas, having perspectives, and start integrating that into your content.

So, if you’d like to learn more, I invite you to listen to the Speaking Your Brand Podcast. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel; we have lots of great episodes on the podcast, we’re putting more onto YouTube as well. And so you can go and check those out, subscribe there so that you don’t miss any of the content that we put out.

You can also download our free workbook on thought leadership. This has question prompts in there, including some of the questions that I just went through today, as well as six steps that you can start taking to position yourself as a thought leader.

In addition, you’ll see that there’s also our Speaking Your Brand Signature Talk Canvas Framework – these three acts that you see screenshotted here. This will help you to start thinking about putting together your own thought leadership message and integrating your personal story into that. You can get that free workbook by going to speakingyourbrand.com/workbook.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this presentation and I hope I’ve given you some food for thought to think about how you can be a thought leader, how you can start integrating thought leadership content into your speaking and into other content that you do, and invite you, again, to check out the podcast, connect with me on Instagram and LinkedIn and download our workbook at speakingyourbrand.com/workbook. Thank you so much.


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Get Carol’s workbook and learn more about Carol and Speaking Your Brand at SpeakingYourBrand.com

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