Become An Influencer

Become an influencer

11 years ago, in the home office of my two-bedroom apartment, I started a magazine. It was called HR Matters and it was a quarterly human resource publication. There was no other HR magazine at the time in Malaysia. Here I was, an ex-lawyer turned entrepreneur, delivering executive education programmes in the Klang Valley deciding that I was going to start a magazine.

Never written much before this. Much less publish anything. No one to look to, to guide me through this process. No idea at all as to how to start or even how to continue. But with a small team of three, we got that magazine off the ground and profitable from the first issue. My proudest moment – when we were able to successfully sell advertising space in a thing no one had heard of, much less seen a copy of.

I’m here to share one very simple but powerful idea.

What if I were to tell you that if you wanted to, you could have people listening and taking your views very seriously? What if I were to say that you had an opportunity –  every one of you – to become an influencer?

This is not about becoming a guru or achieving celebrity status. This is about becoming a different kind of influencer. A person – an ordinary person in many respects – but one who has earned a significant and loyal following simply because of their particular expertise.

TEDx UUM

With a few of the fellow speakers at TEDx UUM 

Why should you become an influencer?

Well, when you’re an influencer, you make things happen. Doors open, opportunities come to you, people listen to what you have to say and in everything you do, whether you realise it or not, you’re choosing to influence those around you.

When I started HR Matters, I thought I was merely starting a magazine. But what I was really doing was working towards influencing people.

I see that now but I didn’t see it back then. I was influencing people through my choice of topics we cover, through the selection of contributors we featured and through how the magazine looked.

We all want the people we like and whom we care about to listen to us, to pay attention to what we have to say and to appreciate our opinion. If you think about it, you’ll realise you already spend time influencing those around you  – through your words, your actions, your social media and so much more.

And likewise, you are also influenced by those around you. Your choice of university, your friends, your travel and even your shoes and the restaurants you eat at are all influenced.  But to become an influencer is to think about your personal brand.

With Preethina Nagenthiran, TEDx UUM curator 

TEDx UUM

With the team at the pre-event speaker dinner 

Why should you do this?

You’re at such an epic stage of your life right now. You’ve got so much going on, so much to do and see, so much choice and so much time ahead of you. And this stage of your life while exciting is also very complex. In many ways, it’s a maze – you don’t know what will happen if you go down this road or that. You’ve also got all kinds of information coming at you, from peers, best friends, teachers, family and also, media. Everything is competing for your attention.

People around you who love you will try to set you on your path because they want to be helpful or they think they know better but the truth is you will need to find it on your own.

So what do you pay attention to?
Who do you listen to?

It’s challenging and confusing because the truth is, you’ve not got many core skills at this point. So it’s hard to think of yourself as a set of experiences and skillsets. It’s hard to fall back on what you’re good at and what you’d like to do because you’re still discovering all of that.

I know many people who get on to particular career paths simply because their friends are doing it or their parents pushed them in a particular direction. But I know this.

There’s no better way to learn than to do.

People around you who love you will try to set you on your path because they want to be helpful or they think they know better but the truth is you will need to find it on your own. You won’t just miraculously know, at the start of your life, what it is you want to do with your life.

You don’t know.
And people cant tell you.
You make it your own path through discovery, exploration and then, focused practice.

If I could go back in time to talk to my 15-year old self and tell myself that I would be standing here today, I wouldn’t have believed it. 15 years old, awkward, that ugly blue uniform, nerdy as hell, living in my parents’ semi-detached house. A deathly serious, ever responsible first-born whose nose was always deeply buried in a book, dreaming of becoming a surgeon. Never raising my hand in class. The one who walked home from school. Shy and insecure.

Nothing in my past led me to believe and see the life I am living now. That I would just hop on a plane to Auckland after just two years of legal practice because there had to be more to explore, see and do. That I’d be involved in a startup in Sydney and work there for five years. That I’d return to KL and start a business from scratch and a HR magazine.

Why do I say this?

To reinforce the point that you don’t know.
You just don’t until you live.
Until you try and experiment and get curious and do what you care about.

So I come back to my earlier point about becoming an influencer.

You’re on the cusp right now, soon to start your first job. Maybe having a go with exciting projects for school or fun. Your personal brand matters and it has tremendous impact in how others perceive you. Which may not seem important until such time you need to get in front of people for some reason. Until you need people to think a certain way or to do something.

There are very few avenues where you can work almost completely alone. At some point, you may need to call on others …. stakeholders, investors, supporters, believers, amplifiers.  And your voice and how you’ve developed it will make a difference in how well you are heard and received.

There are three parts to my message today.

The first is that you spend some time to focus on finding your voice. The second is that you develop your brand. And the third is that you work towards becoming an influencer.

Deceptively simple to understand but exceedingly hard to do. The difficulty lies not in the technicality of the tasks – yes there are things to be discovered, learnt and practised but this is easy enough. The difficulty lies in believing in yourself and doing the hard work that will take you from here to there.  And to do it in the face of hardship, silence and uncertainty.

What is your voice? It’s figuring out who you are and what you stand for and what you want to focus on.

Before we go deeper into this, let’s address some of your unasked questions.

“Why find your voice? I know what it is, it’s my voice.”
“Why develop my brand? What does this even mean?”
“I’m an introvert I don’t want to have a brand.”
“Become an influencer? That’s for the gurus out there, how can I even compete with that?”

What is your voice? It’s figuring out who you are and what you stand for and what you want to focus on. This takes time, for sure.

I remember it was not easy to get to this point.

There was confusion and there was so much self-doubt – there still is. I remember second guessing myself. I remember holding back on sharing what I thought because I was no expert, who was I to weigh in on these specialised topics? I remember never feeling good enough.

And looking back, I believe you need to go through that process. It took a long time not so much to find my voice but to have the strength and conviction to put it out there. Imposter syndrome, I think it’s called. An inability to internalise your accomplishment and the persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

And the reason this happens is because you don’t just start your life finding your purpose, you start by just getting curious and exploring the world around you. Discovering in the process, what you like and don’t like, what you’re good at and what you’re less good at. And once you know what you can do, that’s when things start to get really interesting.

So first, find your voice – Discover yourself, don’t be driven by fear but by hope and possibility. Try new things all the time and be willing to fail. Be openly willing to go there if you need to, it’s the only way to go. You don’t learn stuff from your successes – you learn from the things that don’t go well.

Me? I have failed more times than I can remember. While it was relatively easy to set up my business – we had some quick wins very early on –  there were peaks and troughs. Some troughs were long. And silent.

Work was unrelenting, 15 – 18 hour days for long long stretches, little sleep, a growing family.  Days would start in a whirlwind of activity, school-runs and meetings, projects to complete and then a jog and dinner to organise and kids to shower and put to bed, and then back to the laptop after the kids were tucked in, in the quiet of the night, getting stuff done. In those tiny minutes before I shut my eye and fell dead asleep,  I’d be wondering would this ever end? Would I get back up again? So yea, failure will be your friend. But it’s all good, it has helped me figure out what I want and how to get there.

So, your voice will be something you come to, over time and you can use it to influence those around you. Through the things you speak and write about and through the activities you get involved in.

You’re probably wondering how I came to this idea about becoming an influencer?

I’ve always been a reader, even if I didn’t have access to as many books as I would have liked. The internet changed that for me. Suddenly, I had the opportunity to read and consume so much more than before. All I had to do was spend the time to do it. And what I found were blogs. Different people doing different things. And more interestingly people sharing their journey, talking about what they did and how they did it. Talking about how they failed and then got back up again. Interesting stories where bloggers would take the time to go into intricate details about their lives to paint a picture of who they were, what they faced and how they handled what life threw at them. And they did it to show others what could be done but also to help the next person along the way on the same path.

And that was a breakthrough for me.

That we could all share ideas and our journeys because we all have different experiences and contexts and if we shared it, maybe just maybe someone else may get something out of it. I gained so much from all that reading on a whole slew of things like content marketing and how to start a business, to learning how to write or put together a website and how to develop an email campaign. So they were right – it was helpful to others and I thought if they can do it, maybe I could do this too. I could share my journey and someone may find something useful in it.

The thing is, though, that you may get discouraged because you believe that you might not have something to offer or you don’t know how to write or speak well or you don’t wish to sell yourself hard out there.

Unfettered dreams. This is the idea I ask you to hold close to you, the idea that when you dream, you dream big and forget about all the stuff that can go wrong.

Just dream big.

Second, build your brand. The focus of my work in the last decade, especially through the magazine I founded in 2007 was simple – help professionals to develop their voice, help them to communicate and share their ideas and better engage in dialogue. I believe that you can build your brand in a number of ways but the way that seems the most effective to me is through your writing. Writing is powerful and evocative and has the capacity to reach many more than the spoken word. So, write. But for those of you here who’ve not written before or even considered this, writing can be very daunting thing to say yes to.

To which I would say, start slowly but consistently.

What will you write about? That’s a question I get all the time. People approach me to help them get their work published and they ask me, tell me what to write about. And my answer is always the same. It’s not for me to tell you what to write. Sure, I have some topics I want people to write on but its far better for you to decide what you will write about. Write about what you know. Write about what you’re already good at. Write about your journey.

And one more tip. Always separate the writing task from the editing task. What does this mean? It’s awful to stare at a blank page but as a writer, that is something you have to face. And most likely, you will stumble with that first half page or more. As you start to write, you will keep editing. You will be unhappy, you will be frustrated as to why the words are not coming out right. Don’t edit.

Just write freely and continuously, in flow. It is only once you have completely emptied out what’s in your brain, do you begin the editing process. Writing and editing use different parts of the brain so switching between both constantly really saps you. Once you’re done writing, take a break and come back to your work only once you’ve had some rest. Then you will do a much better job at editing and refining.

More than anything realise that potential content sits all around you, in your day to day life, in the things you see and read, the conversations you have with others and your perception of all of this. So it’s really about being mindful about these potential sources of ideas for articles.

Developing your brand is also about being aware of how you are positioning yourself out there. I focus on my digital brand because let’s face it wider impact and unlike face to face, it lingers long after you’ve forgotten what’s been said and done. Developing your brand is about taking charge of how you appear both online and offline, in terms of your presence and your activities.

What you’re doing is creating an image of yourself but it’s not meant to deceive. What you’re after is getting to a point where you’ve created a digital presence that ultimately matches the physical presence. Where people who know you online and see what activities you get into and what comments you make and your thoughts on various issues and then finally have a chance to meet you in person – well, the transition is seamless and everything appears as it was. That is what you want. An authentic representation of you.

Once you’ve spent the time to develop your brand and figured out how you’d like to position yourself, then begins the work to establish yourself in your niche, whatever that may be. You’re looking to influence peers and other leaders in your space. You’re looking to put together compelling work so that others take notice of you and begin to hear what you have to say. And I believe writing is a good and effective way to do that work. Speaking opportunities afford the same but these are within typically smaller audiences and unless recorded and shared, remains with that smaller captive audience.

Build your body of work. Choose an area you care about. Begin to understand your subject matter, delve deep into it. Over time, you’re developing expertise. It does not happen overnight but it’s not necessarily about having 20 years of experience behind you.

I think social media, sites like LinkedIn, blogs and the ease with which every one of us can now make our voices heard presents a very compelling argument. Don’t ask “Why?” Ask yourself, “Why not do this?” The playing field has levelled and the opportunities are there for the taking.  I say take it because when I think back to that time I was 15, I’m just amazed how far I’ve come.

If you like this post, I hope you will share it. If you need help with your writing, with getting published or with strengthening your brand, feel free to reach out. 

#influencer #personalbrand #presence #writing #bodyofwork

This is the transcript from the TEDx talk I delivered at TEDx UUM in March 2018. 

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. A TEDx event is a local gathering where live TED-like talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences are shared with the community. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.

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