You know the importance of being visible in your field, so you're raising your profile by writing blogs or articles, contributing to social media discussions and presenting at conferences. The term for that, of course, is "thought leader," which Cambridge Dictionary defines as "an expert on a particular subjects whose ideas and opinions influence other people, especially in business."
But, because you're trying to be liked and respected, you may be making a common mistake: playing it safe. In an effort to sound impressive and to ensure you don't offend anyone, you run the risk of creating content that's . . . well, boring.
"Playing-it-safe content is very vanilla," says Peter Winick, founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. "And it may seem very smooth, but it lacks texture and flavor."
I'm reminded of a quote from our most clever founding father, Benjamin Franklin, who, in addition to everything else he accomplished, was a publisher: "If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."
Okay, but how do you find the right balance between dull and repulsive? After all, you don't want to drive away the very clients and colleagues you're trying to impress.
Here are 5 tips for being just provocative enough without going overboard:
- Ask yourself: "What do I really think about this issue?" Winick advises starting with your unfiltered viewpoint about the topic. "Be authentic and true to yourself," he says. "That's your compass."
- Choose the right role models. You obviously don't want to sound like a shock jock or a strident political commentator or an abusive comedian. Instead, choose as role models other thought leaders who are expressing what's on their minds in a reasoned, inclusive way.
- Research what others are saying about the issue to see where your viewpoint is different. "If your stuff is exactly the same as everything else that's out there, you start to sound like the teacher in the Peanuts specials: 'wa wa wa wa wa,'" says Winick. "Think about what you bring to the discussion that no one else is talking about.
- Decide how your perspective can help others solve a problem or address a challenge. When I first starting blogging many years ago, I wrote a lot of columns that were essentially complaints: "Here's why this is stupid." But I learned that while those blogs might be entertaining, they actually don't attract traffic. So while I still feel free to express an opinion, I also give advice on how to fix the stupid thing.
- Experiment to find your voice. Winick advises that you've got to try different approaches to see which work for you. If you've written an article or prepared a presentation that you're not sure about, test it first with a few trusted colleagues. And once you've put your viewpoint out there, ask for feedback.
Finally, don't worry so much. You're a smart and thoughtful and your mama raised you right. You'll find a way to be intriguing and memorable without going too far.