Thought leader or entertainer?

“You know that I’m a thought leader, because I’m wearing a blazer, I have glasses, and I’ve just done this with my hands…”

Maybe you’ve already seen the recording of a This is That TED-like talk by self-proclaimed thought leader Pat Kelly. And if you haven’t, take a look at the video below.

Unless you’re an alien without any sense of humor, you must have realized that this is not a real keynote. And observed that Kelly’s character is an empty shell with nothing to say, though with an impressive ability to deliver his message (and entertain his audience.)

Then, you also know that it takes more to being a thought leader than wearing the right clothes, putting on a pair of smart looking glasses, and making some gorgeous gestures with your hands. But, if you still believe you are one – or have an unstoppable ambition to become one – here are a few tips…

  • Stay ahead of the curve. Keeping Malcolm Forbes’ wisdom that “the best vision is insight” in mind, always base your opinion – and accompanying narrative – on trustable and traceable facts and figures.
  • When acting as a thought leader, NEVER deliver a sales pitch. Take the stance of a neutral observer,  and a dependable domain expert. Of course, when you’re explicitly speaking on behalf of your (or another) company there’s no problem to recommend or acknowledge the ‘sponsor.’
  • Never stop earning your audience’s respect. Show them that you are an authority on the topic, and prove them that you have the right to speak. But even when world considers you a champion, always stay your humble self!
  • Talk as often as you can with customers, end-users, and opinion makers. Listen to them and benefit from their insights and experience to further develop your expertise and evolve your narrative. Be careful with dropping names or citing facts or figures on behalf of any 3rdparty to make yourself look more important.
  • Create an elevator pitch, define your mantra and don’t be shy of repeating yourself – repetition is one of the tools to make your message stick. In the mean time, keep evolving your story and updating your content as technology and markets evolve.
  • Craft and deliver compelling content for a broad audience. Keep it simple and sweet, but don’t be fluffy. Be aware of audiences’ needs and expectations and remember, people are always looking for the WIIFM.
  • Build a personal brand, establish your social media presence (also as a follower!) and develop a multi channel content strategy. Try to create and share quotable quotes, tweetable data points, and impactful visuals.
  • And finally, invest in developing your storytelling and public speaking skills. Being able to create and deliver a compelling presentation is certainly one of the basic competences an opinion maker (or any business leader) needs.

Unfortunately, there is no college class or MOOC that will teach you how to become a respected thought leader. It takes a lot of insight, expertise, and communication skills. And, even if you (think) you have all of these, the next time you’re on stage and walk over to your laptop, your audience may still look at you as an entertainer…


As a final note, by writing this blog post and giving you the above tips, I am not pretending to be a thought leader at anything at all. Think of me as a singer-songwriter, who’s passion is to perform a good song, while trying to entertain his audience.

More reading:

Sins of the speaker

One of my favorite publications about presentation skills is Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker”.  In his book, Scott tells about his life as a professional presenter and testifies about embarrassments and triumphs he has experienced when speaking to crowds of all sizes.

Over the past two decades I have crafted and delivered many public and private presentations too. Since I like sharing some best and worst practices through this blog, here’s a list of the seven cardinal sins that every presenter should try to avoid:

  1. Too long – Your audience may be spending valuable time and money to attend your presentation. Don’t waste it! (read also Andrew Dlugan’s blog post about Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule)
  2. Too much detail – Not everyone in the auditorium is interested in the nitty-gritty of your product or service. Present only the essential. (read also my “Living by numbers” post)
  3. No story – Get the crowd engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally. Wrap your presentation in a story. (read also my “It’s the story, stupid” post)
  4. No call to action – Never end your talk with just a ‘thank you for your attention’. Always invite your listeners to engage in a next step. (read also my “Amen and… action!” post)
  5. Unclear message – The way you present may either help or hurt to make your point. Make your message(s) strong and memorable. (read also my “Master of the house” post)
  6. Boring slides – Sometimes a picture tells more than a hundred bullet points. Use images that complement or emphasize your message instead of boring clip art that adds no extra value. (read also my “Don’t feed the chameleons” post)
  7. Wrong pitch – Even the most beautiful slides may be irrelevant to the people in the room. Know your audience and tailor your presentation! (read also my “To whom it should concern” post)

And so I confess that I have repeatedly committed all those sins above. But no speaker is perfect. Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone…


What you say and what you show

In technology and business we often use many words and complex sentences to make (fundamentally) simple statements. Many times, a well thought visual can be much more effective to present and convey information in a clear and compelling way. And furthermore, using pictures in your presentation is also the ideal remedy to prevent you from reading your slides out loud.

Below are a few examples of how an image can help you present your message simple and sweet, and make what you show complementary to what you say.

What you say:

“Do you want a small investment and a high return? You can get started in this business with a limited amount of money. You’ll gain back a multiple of your investment and start profiting in no time.”

What you show:

What you say:

“Service providers are migrating from distinct networks for voice, data and video services to a single broadband infrastructure based upon the Internet Protocol. Moving to an all-IP network is key to agile and cost-effective service creation, deployment and operations.”

What you show:

What you say:

“One of our goals is to transform the company. From a heavy and hierarchical organization to a lighter and flatter one. From a control driven culture to a self-regulating community adhering to a common code of conduct.”

What you show:

It’s maybe an old wisdom, but still so true: a picture tells more than a thousand words!