From Industry Star to Global Visionary: The Business Case for Thought Leadership Speaking
Listen to Episode 127:
Episode 127 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. What a pleasure to join you again today. And welcome to all our listeners out there. If this is your first time, our purpose is to spark insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to take themselves − and their companies − to the next level of growth and success. So Pam, today we’re taking on a topic that’s rising in importance. It’s the business case for thought leadership speaking for business leaders.
Pam Harper: That’s right. There are a growing number of CEOs, C-suite execs, corporate directors and other visionary leaders who are committed to leading their companies and are also positioning themselves as thought leaders. So think of it, who comes to mind?
Scott Harper: Well these days Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk − a lot of them. And there seems to be more and more joining all the time.
Pam Harper: Well, we see it as a trend. And why do they do it? Well, it’s not just something they like to do. It’s also good for growing their business in some obvious ways, and I think in some not so obvious ways. So we need to get behind this trend and help our listeners decide if this is right for you and your company, and our guest today is here to discuss this with us.
She is our colleague and friend, Vickie Sullivan, Principal of Sullivan and Associates. Vickie is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders and visionary influencers. Her specialty is branding and messaging strategies in crowded markets, and she’s helped thousands of visionary out since 1987.
Now I have to put in full disclosure. Vicky has helped us. She’s been enormously instrumental in shaping our own thought leadership, and we really endorse what she has been able to do.
Vickie has been quoted in mainstream media such as Fortune.com, The New York Times and Investor’s Business Daily. Her groundbreaking work has earned her an appointment on the Women’s Leadership Board for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. She’s also served as an advisor on branding and thought leadership for SupporTED Collaboratium 2015. This is an invitation-only event serving select TED Fellows. Wow! Vickie, welcome to growth igniters Radio.
Vickie Sullivan: Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Pam Harper: Before we go into this topic in depth, tell us a little bit about how you became such an expert on the issue of market strategy for thought leadership speaking. This is an incredible niche.
Vickie Sullivan: Thanks so much. You know, it was a happy accident. In a previous life, I was a registered lobbyist for health care issues, and part of my job was to deconstruct bills and advised the various stakeholders on the impact in their next best step. So when I had the opportunity to deconstruct the marketplace and apply that skill to position experts in visionaries, I jumped at the chance. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Pam Harper: Well you know what’s interesting about what you’re saying is that thought leadership is an outgrowth of whatever our original expertise is.
Vickie Sullivan: Absolutely. And that is the advantage, and also the dilemma. I call it the dark side of brilliance, where brilliant people have so many ways to use and apply their perspective. So there’s really a lot of options for them out there. The key question is which option is the best for them?
Scott Harper: OK; an embarrassment of riches in a way. We’ve talked about more and more industry leaders and top CEOs like Indra Nooyi or PepsiCo, Richard Branson, and other people as well. What is driving them into taking the stage and establishing themselves not just as industry stars and leaders in their in their niche, but as visionary leaders on the world stage?
Vickie Sullivan: Well there is a very strong business case for being known outside your industry. You know it’s no longer an intangible nice to have type of deal, but a very real measurable benefit. And the game changer has really been our digital age in social media because attention has now been monetized. So when you couple that with our love affair for stories and rooting for people, you’ve got a booming trend here of cool visionary people wanting to inspire others.
Scott Harper: OK, so it goes beyond ego, and it’s mobilized by changes in technology.
Vickie Sullivan: Sure. And it’s also when I look at the CEOs that I work with, it’s a desire to teach what you’ve learned. It’s a desire to complete the journey. After all that you’ve been through and all that you’ve done, you have so much in your heart that you want to share. You want to be a part of something bigger. You know, you’ve done the work you’ve got your success. Now it’s time to be part of something bigger.
Pam Harper: So from the emotional side, that matters. I also think there’s one other thing; I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s expanding your network. We deal with people who are growing their companies; you know, they are visionaries; they are stars. And they also are thinking big. They realize there are many different types of stakeholders. Think about it. You’ve got not just your employees. You’ve got investors; you have stakeholders who are customers. You have new potential partners.
All of these different types of stakeholders are in different places. It used to be that you get up you talk to your company, and maybe you’d have your employees, and maybe you’d have some of the directors, but you’re not talking to as many people as you need to talk with in order to share and connect.
Vickie Sullivan: You bet. And let’s take a short trip to the dark side. It also makes you bulletproof. You know in this disruptive environment if you’re top of mind people can’t touch you. You know people can’t disrupt you. Your competitors look like wannabes. Not like the 500-pound gorilla.
Pam Harper: I mean, Indra Nooyi gets up, and she talks about the environment…
Scott Harper: That’s a long way from Pepsi…
Pam Harper: Yes, exactly. And I recently sat in on Richard Branson’s Facebook launch of his latest book, “Finding My Virginity. ” The thing about this book is that it’s intended to give all of his lessons, but also to talk about what’s next. Well, who do you think is sitting in that audience around the world? Isn’t it people who are possibly looking for new ideas, and he’s looking to connect with them now are part of what’s next.
It’sScott Harper: It’s what we call building the community. Because going beyond networks, when you have a community, it’s people who are engaged with you as well as just sitting out there listening to you.
Vickie Sullivan: Absolutely. I mean it’s building a bandwagon; that’s what you’re doing.
Pam Harper: So we’re not just a little bit passionate about this.
Scott Harper: And going beyond the big people like Bezos and Branson and Musk, we think that this trend can apply to leaders of smaller businesses as well. What do you think about that?
Vickie Sullivan: Oh my, yes, please. I mean, thank you Internet. The playing field is more level than ever before. You know, it’s really about defining your space and packaging your contribution. If you could take us a strategic approach to this smaller companies can be visionaries way beyond their industry and strategic is the key word there.
Vickie Sullivan: That’s right. Absolutely. The big thing with the crazy crowded market is you can’t just suit up and show up anymore. Yeah, that can’t work. People think, “Well, I’m going to throw money at this I’m going to get a killer PowerPoint.” But you know, this is how CEOs become old wine in a new bottle. That won’t do.
Pam Harper: No, we don’t want to do that. Well, I think there are a lot of myths that go with all of the concept of becoming this global visionary, and we’re going to talk about that. But first, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll speak more with Vickie Sullivan of Sullivan and Associates. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. And if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word, go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, select episode 127, and use the share links for Facebook LinkedIn and Twitter to tell your social media communities all about us.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper− that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Vickie Sullivan, top market strategist of Sullivan and Associates, about the business case for thought leadership speaking.
Vickie, you speak throughout the U.S. and Canada on how to be top of mind in competitive markets, and strategies that prepare firms for those opportunities. How can people get in touch with you to learn more about this?
Vickie Sullivan: Well my website is VickieSullivan.com. I have pages and pages of free resources there. If they sign up for my blog, they get a really killer special report that outlines the top 10 trends that they can use to their advantage to position their expertise is top of mind.
Pam Harper: That’s perfect. And you can also find more and links to Vickie’s resources on GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 127.
We started out talking about the importance of becoming a global visionary. What are some of the big stages that we want to get on to be a global visionary?
Vickie Sullivan: Well I mean, TED is the 500-pound gorilla right now. You have a lot of organizations even redesigning their conferences to more of a Ted-like format. You’ve got the South by Southwest, you have Davos, but there are some small but influential venues that are great as well.
Pam Harper: So wait a minute. I have to ask. We don’t have to get on the large global stage to be a global visionary?
Vickie Sullivan: No, no, no. There are all sorts of venues that don’t get covered in the Six O’Clock News that are very effective. The Aspen Institute is one of my favorites. You know, I had a client present there. She got rave reviews. Her street cred went up quite a bit after that. And she attracted far more profitable clients to her organization as a result of that appearance. It’s bragging rights.
Pam Harper: It absolutely is. Well, how do you find these?
Vickie Sullivan: Fire up the Internet. Google is our friend. I mean, just because they’re not on the news doesn’t mean they’re not on the Internet.
If you search for “leadership conferences” − you know, just something general like that − your monitor will explode with all the different venues out there.
Pam Harper: And this is a theory I have − if you have an idea of who you want to reach, and why, wouldn’t that help focus the search somewhat?
Vickie Sullivan: Sure enough. “Innovative leadership conferences.” Boom. OK? Prepare for your hair to blow back. That’s what’s going to happen to you.
Scott Harper: Now we’ve talked about the smaller ones, which is a really great idea, but everyone has this in their heart: “I want to get on the big stage. I want to go to TED.” What’s the reality? Is is it actually possible for someone who isn’t a Fortune 500 leader to do that?
Vickie Sullivan: Absolutely. The biggest myth about TED is that you can really work your way up. You know, you’ve got a lot of TEDx events out there − I think over a thousand now − and there are those speakers that dream of doing a good job at TEDx and then move into the main stage. Now, Brené Brown did that with Tedx Houston years ago, but that’s the exception rather than the rule, so don’t expect that. I think that’s a huge myth.
The big reality is that your reputation has to precede you. You have to be seen as a cool visionary who just happens to be in your particular industry, and if you’re not positioned as someone who transcends your industry, then you’re just another CEO that wants to hit the circuit.
Scott Harper: And so the phrase, “ideas worth sharing” really does come in there because it’s not just about my business or my industry; it’s something bigger and more, so that it’s visionary.
Vickie Sullivan: Absolutely. And if it even looks like your self-promoting your company, oh my gosh, they burn people at the stake for that. I mean, you’re talking circular firing squad. Don’t do that. You can’t even have a whiff of that. You really have to have a platform. You have to represent a movement. You have to have something that people can get excited about and say, “Wow I never thought of it like that before. I’m going to join in here.”
Pam Harper: And it seems like people are addressing very specific topics. You can’t in 15 minutes have everything you want to talk about. You have to think about “what is the most important thing I need to share and be heard.” Not just that I’m sharing, but that the people are taking in and really finding powerful.
Vickie Sullivan: And that idea has to be the vehicle; it has to be the conduit to the movement that you represent. And that’s why this is a strategic issue; it’s a branding issue. It’s not a suit up and show up issue, because a lot of times you’ll have a great idea that could be TED-worthy, but you won’t get any traction afterward.
Pam Harper: Another question, real fast: who are those people sitting in the TED audience?
Vickie Sullivan: Well they represent innovators in their field. They represent people who have accomplished something and are looking to accomplish more. They’re looking for some people who are lifelong learners who want to go outside their bunker. I’ve been a TEDster since 2013, and the number one reason why I go is to get out of the foxhole and see what else is going on in the world. Again you don’t just show up and say, “Hey, I want in.” They’ve got to accept you first.
Pam Harper: So being a global visionary can look like showing up at as much as being on the stage.
Vickie Sullivan: And they have to know that you’re going to be an asset, not a commodity. They don’t want someone who’s just going to go in there and take because that’s like inviting an idiot to a party. Nobody wants that because then the party gets branded. So Chris Anderson is very strategic about the event and the experience, and he knows that the experience is only as good as the people in it that makes a lot of sense.
Pam Harper: Of course TED is part of social media as well. Where do you see social media going in terms of this whole movement from industry star to global visionary?
Vickie Sullivan: In my humble opinion, I see media as jet fuel. If you do social media right, traditional media will jump on the bandwagon in a heartbeat. TED will discover you. The Aspen Institute will discover you. It’s really becoming symbiotic, where social media is just part of the larger ecosystem out there. But for too many people social media can be a major waste of time if you don’t get strategic first. And so what I tell clients all the time is that throwing money at the tactic won’t get you anywhere. You’ve got to be strategic about your platform and what you want to represent first, then do all the social media that’s going to implement and magnify your strategy.
Scott Harper: So for instance, a podcast like this one − it’s helping us obviously − but it also helps CEOs who want to get on the bigger stage. For instance, we’ve had Brian Scudamore of 1 800 GOT JUNK and O2E brands, Simon Nynans of Wayside Technology, and Shari Spero of Breaking Games. They’ve all talked about more than just their little niche. They’ve talked about bigger ideas and exactly how to achieve them.
Pam Harper: So it’s incredibly important to have a strategic purpose in deciding how, and even more importantly, why you want to go from industry star to global visionary.
Vickie Sullivan: Absolutely, because if you don’t, you’re going to become the white noise. I mean there’s a whole CEO circuit out there of CEOs that are speaking, and they all sound the same. I call this talented but nondescript.
Pam Harper: OK. So we’re going to talk about how to be talented and distinctive in our next segment, but first we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk more with top market strategist Vickie Sullivan. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated; on the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Vickie Sullivan of Sullivan and Associates about the business case for thought leadership speaking.
Now in addition to Vickie’s own speaker topics, her blog, “Tips Trends and Tirades” is highly respected in the thought leader’s space. Vickie, how can people get more information on this?
Vickie Sullivan: Go to VickieSullivan.com. And on the home page, you have a big square right there that says “Sign up and get your top 10 trends that will position you ahead of the crowd. ”
Pam Harper: I follow these Tips Trends and Tirades religiously. Be sure and take advantage of Vickie’s offer.
So now we are in the section of our episode where we talk about three pieces of immediately actionable advice for going from industry star to global visionary. Vickie, what would be your first piece of immediately actionable advice?
Vickie Sullivan: Well you’ve heard me say this before, so I’m going to sound like a broken record here. First, do not phone this in, OK? This is not about a speech; it’s not about coming up with the killer PowerPoint. You need a platform − something to represent − you need your story to align with that platform. So don’t think you can just suit up and show up become a visionary leader and just give speeches. You’re going to have to put some time energy and brain cells in on this. You need to decide if speaking is going to drive your overall vision. And if so, you’re going to have to go on a journey.
The second thing is you do not put tactics before strategy. I see a lot of CEOs do this with books. You know, they’ll write a book, and then they wonder why TED isn’t begging them to speak. You know, books are like social media. They’re a great tactic. They’re a great spotlight. But the effectiveness depends on how you use it. So don’t write the book too soon or jump on the media tour too soon. Have your platform down.
Scott Harper: So very practically Vicky − it makes sense to be strategic and have a platform. How can we advise our listeners to do that? What’s a really practical thing they can do to start thinking strategically so that they can represent on on a broader basis?
Vickie Sullivan: The first thing I tell people to do is an environmental scan. Look for the holes; look at what people are saying and ask yourself, “what is not being said?” What is the elephant in the room that people know that they’re not talking about? And can you be that person who talks about it?
Pam Harper: I think that’s really important, and that’s what one of the things that we do on Growth Igniters Radio when we speak with our CEO guests, We ask them a little more in-depth about what makes their culture unique. We push then a little bit − “What’s your story?”.
Vickie Sullivan: Exactly − what’s the journey? You know, I want to know what the journey’s like from point A to point B, because it’s never what you think it is. No, no, it’s never what you think it is.
And people don’t go to the dark side often enough. Now I know that sounds crazy, but you just take short little trips to let people know they’re not alone, you know.
Pam Harper: That’s a really good point because it’s really frustrating when somebody seems so perfect. “You know like you were always like that, but what about the rest of us here?”
Vickie Sullivan: Exactly. When you show up as a mere mortal, magic happens.
Pam Harper: That’s true. In fact, some of the most moving speeches or presentations have happened when CEOs have told the story of their journey. That’s what we especially are looking for in our guests − those guests that are willing to be a little vulnerable and talk about how they struggled just a little bit − and in some cases even a lot − and how they were able to go from that point. That gets to the “AHAs” and the insights and then where it led them. I think that it’s so important to share with peers. That’s what we’re all about here.
Scott Harper: And that authenticity and individuality are what makes them stand out.
Vickie Sullivan: Exactly. Because what you learn is, it’s messy but worth it.
Pam Harper: So what would be that third immediately useful idea?
Vickie Sullivan: Work on your voice. And I’m not talking about your actual voice; I’m talking about your communication approach. What role do you play in the conversation that you just found people are having? Here’s my very specific homework assignment for our listeners: Name three things −it could be a noun or an adjective − three things that you want your approach to be known for, and then you play that role to the hilt.
Pam Harper: Can you give an example?
Vickie Sullivan: Sure. I’ll use myself; I’ll be the guinea pig. I want to be smart. I want to be approachable, and I want to be practical. So I want to be smart, but I don’t want to be obnoxious because sometimes I can be a little bracing. You know, I kind of blow people’s hair back, so I got to I got to warm it up a little bit. OK. So those are the three things. So whenever I show up, I want to be smart. I want to tell people about things they haven’t thought of. I want to be approachable, so people don’t think, “Oh my gosh, she’s going to kill me if I even come near her.”
Pam Harper: And that would be very important, I would imagine, especially if you want people to feel comfortable with you and making those connections.
Vickie Sullivan: Well yeah, because I mean think about what I have to tell them. I have to tell them that their book is not going to work. I have to tell them that their thought leadership is not going to create what it wants to create. I’ve got to come up with a way to do that. That doesn’t sound like I’m trying to destroy them. So yeah, I mean who wants to hear that?
Pam Harper: You know, that’s true. And that was part of how you pushed us. It was it’s tough, but it was tough love.
Scott Harper: Building on that, this type of self-reflection is kind of hard to do all by yourself sitting in your office or your bedroom or whatever. Having a conversation with somebody, whether it’s a friend or colleague senior adviser − that can really help get those juices flowing.
Vickie Sullivan: Absolutely. I tell people all the time, “the sharpest knife cannot carve its own handle.” We are put on the planet to care and serve one another, and we don’t know what we don’t know. I don’t care how brilliant you are. Everyone’s got blind spots − they’re called blind spots for a reason − and so this is why you need outside help. I don’t care who it is. I’m like one of those mental institutions you hear about on TV. Just go somewhere to get help. You know don’t care if it’s me. Go somewhere because you can’t do this by yourself.
Pam Harper: Well, this certainly sounds like a final thought, but is there anything else you want to add to this before we close?
Vickie Sullivan: Sure. A couple of things. First off, it’s not the access to opportunities that’s the biggest challenge. You can find the opportunities; the venues are out there. Just fire up the Internet. It’s standing out in a sea of similar success stories. It’s how do you stand out when everyone’s a CEO who’s who has done fabulous innovative things and they’ve beaten the odds.
So it’s not enough to be successful or innovative. You have to stand for something that we can all join in on. And the second thing is that the journey − what it takes to be an industry leader to a global visionary − is very very different than the trip from being unknown to known in your industry. The expectations are different. The competition is too similar. So if you decide to do this, you’ve got to be strategic. You can’t just suit up and show up.
Pam Harper: I agree with you 100 percent on that. So Vicky, thank you so much for being our guest today.
Vickie Sullivan: Thanks. It was a blast.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Vicky, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, read Vickie’s bio, download our five pieces of advice for moving faster, or open a conversation with us, go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select episode 127.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam harper…
Scott Harper: and Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: …wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider:
Scott Harper: Could this be the time for me to try from industry star to take the stage as a global visionary? What do I need to do next?