I heard Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic airline pilot who landed a US airways plane full of passengers in the Hudson River a few years back, being interviewed on a radio program the other day.
“Your not just a hero, are you Sully?” the radio host asked.
“That’s right,” replied Sully, sounding slightly self-conscious. “I’m more than a hero. I am also a speaker, a consultant, a safety expert, an accident investigator, a television commentator, an author and a thought leader.”
My heart went out to Sully in that moment, but because it was clear that some PR/Media person had gotten to him and told him how describe his newly reinvented self. The “Thought Leader” bit gave it away. I know this because I’ve been advised that I, too, was a thought leader, and that I should put that in my email signature along with a few other descriptors.
More about that later.
After the Sully’s first interview segment, the radio host invited listeners to call in. They all wanted to talk about the incident on the Hudson that made him a hero in the first place. He cleverly turned the questions into opportunities to sell himself, and who could blame him? That is what they teach you in Public Speaking/ Social Media/PR/Author Marketing Workshops.
“Sully,” the first one asked, “what was your first thought when you knew you were going to land in the Hudson?”
“Excellent question.” he replied. “In my new book, I describe that feeling. Now when I consult with airlines and at accident scenes and when I report on the news and speak to groups…”
I wanted to call Sully, who I could envision sitting in the radio station wearing those big headphones, and tell him just to be himself. We all know that you are amazing. We love your books, and we love hearing what you have to say. If doing all of the consulting and writing and speaking and reporting and thinking and leading makes you happy, that’s great. But you do not have to sell us. You are awesome.
Here is my “thought leader” story.
I’m the mom of three who started writing stories about raising a son with autism. I wrote a book which I am proud of and I continue to write about a number of things. A few years ago, someone asked me to be a keynote speaker and I freaked out and took not one but two public speaking classes. I learned that I needed to slow down when I talked, and that I should stop waving my arms around. I learned that I should pause between words and phrases so that I could have more impact. I learned to look at people in my audience for three seconds before finding another person in the audience to look at for three seconds and so on. I learned that I should have a “sample of my work,” a video made of me in action. I should also have a professional “head shot.”
I went to a photo studio near my house for the head shot, wearing my pink “church” jacket and fluffed up my hair. They took pictures of me from all different angles. In the best photo I am sitting sideways and twisting my head and shoulders forward. They photo shopped out a bunch of wrinkles and charged me $100.00.
For the video of me in action, I ended up standing in my living room with a flip camera, positioned carefully in the bookcase (that’s where the light was the most flattering) for about 2 hours before I came up with something decent.
“If you want to hear more,” I said at the end of the 3 minute video, “or if you want me to come speak to your group, contact me on my website, blah, blah, blah.”
I learned to jazz up my website with words like “Autism Expert” “Speaker” and “CONSULTANT” along with a clever tag line which I am too embarrassed to share here. They call it branding, Search Engine Optimization style.
I have had a number of speaking gigs-some more polished than others. The ones that get the best reviews, though, are the ones when I go off script and blurt out something that I had no intention of saying in public. I’m especially good with the Q&A because I am able to zero in to issues that need to be discussed, and do my best not to say, “Good question. In chapter 3 of my book, available on Amazon…” I like to tell parents and teachers what worked for this aging autism mom, and that sure, raising Matthew (he’s 26 now and has a job!) has been challenging at times, but I admire and enjoy him so much.
About a year ago, I had an idea for another book, and sent out query letters to literary agents. I mentioned all of the places I had been published, and which famous people and organizations that might write a blurb (“this is a must read!”) for the cover. I boasted that I had nearly 10,000 followers on my Facebook page , and on Twitter (so therefore, I have a big market.)
“Continue building your BRAND,” replied one of the agents, at which point I decided that I was done building my brand.
So when I heard Sully, and I know that I am not in his league, it occurred to be that to be myself should be enough. It is enough to be a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend and the mother of three terrific sons. It’s enough to write and talk about my experiences and try to help people.
Even if I’m not sure what brand I am.
Writer, Blogger, Speaker, Autism Advocate, Transition Expert, Parenting Expert, Crises Management Expert, Expert Expert, Mother, Author, and Thought Leader