19 Feb 2010
Bernard Salt is Australia’s pre-eminent thought leader on consumer and demographic trends and represents KPMG at conferences around the globe to share his insights.
Here he shares his views on what it takes to become a thought leader and some valuable tips on how to get there. Even though I have researched thought leadership for years and have written a book on it, Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership, I found some of Bernard’s insights very illuminating and I hope you do too.
1. Bernard, you have successfully positioned yourself as a thought leader on Australian consumer culture and demographic trends. Given your experience, what tips can you give aspiring thought leaders in other industries?
“You must believe in yourself when others don’t, when there is no reward, no recognition, when no-one wants to interview you or pay for your views. And you must do it with good humour year after year. And then, one day, you break through and all the dissenters and critics and naysayers just melt away. It’s a test of endurance, of personal belief and of courage. Some might say it’s also a test of foolishness. There are no guarantees. You might just be deluded into thinking that your views are worthy of a national audience.”
2. Please describe some of the personal and KPMG brand benefits you have accrued as a result of becoming a thought leader in your field?
“I am in spaces and meetings that KPMG would not normally get into. I can cut through into relationships where an auditor or tax expert cannot. I offer a left field bridge to critical relationships. And because I am in these meetings with business and political leaders at the highest level i am able to offer advice as to who to talk to about different issues. I’m act like a traffic cop.”
3. In building your thought leadership position, what has been your key differentiating factor/s and has there been one stand out tactic that has helped you achieve this?
“No point being a thought leader unless you can pitch your ideas. That means you need the skill of presenting. Not just a good presenter but an outstanding communicator. During the 1990s i wrote reports (like thousands of other consultants) but this is not what business wants. What business wants is a compelling case pitched verbally with passion and with direction. Hone your speaking and presentation skills. And then hone again. Watch good speakers and presenters. Watch stand up comedians, they are brilliant at controlling an audience. Get to the point, speak passionately, use words well (you must be articulate), and connect with your audience. And when you think you are good enough in that skill area go out and learn some more because you are never good enough at speaking, pitching and presenting. And don’t be precious about pitching saying oh but I haven’t prepared or I haven’t got my notes. If you are so damned good you can pitch your ideas with 10 seconds notice. “
4. Someone once said it takes 15 years to achieve overnight success – what has the journey been like from being one of a host of commentators battling to gain share of voice to someone who is sought after for his views in your space?
“From my first public quote (1989) to entree to the speaking circuit (2001) is 12 years. I started my column in 2003. There is no start point. I have been gearing to what I do now for 35 years, I just didn’t know that’s where I was headed at 15. And yet looking back it’s always where I was headed. I get lots of people saying they want to do what I do. And it’s admirable that they have the sense to ask straight up how to get there and how to do it. Saves a lot of stuffing about. But I can tell from a 2 minute phone call they haven’t got it. Other people, I think they could do it if they wanted to but many don’t want it. You have to want it. You have to take hits. You have to be the last person standing when all other pretenders have melted away. “
5. You deliver a lot of interesting and informative content on your site http://www.bernardsalt.com.au/ and you have written numerous books covering a range of topics. What are the benefits of providing so much content and what’s your advice, in particular to companies who seem to think that giving away too much content will reveal too much to the competition?
“This is a good question. There are a lot of people who I am aware copy my material, style and approach (without attribution–there is no protection against intellectual theft). But the way i figure it is that it’s my job to remain intellectually creative to such a degree that pretenders are continually left with the option but to copy. The only people who are paranoid about giving away material are people who do not have faith that they are creatively superior to those who would copy them. Copy away. I’ll just think up other stuff. It keeps me sharp.”
6. What, do you believe, are some of the barriers that hold corporations back from becoming thought leaders and what would your advice be to them to overcome these?
“Corporations need to be patient with thought leaders. And commercial organisations are notoriously impatient. I was able to deliver commercial value as well as evolve into thought leadership. Not an easy balance. Partly the reason is that thought leaders get to a point where they believe they can act more freely and successfully without the organisation. I always thought I could go further with a global commercial partner than without. And I was right. I speak across the globe today courtesy of KPMG International. I couldn’t have done that by myself. “
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