More and more, we’ve all heard the term “Influencer” to describe someone who connects and makes a difference in the lives of the people around them. These change creators are highly coveted by brands, by companies, and by audiences across the world. But what exactly does it mean to be an influencer? Is it something innate, into which you are born? Or are Influencers actually built, block-by-block, step-by-step, opportunity-by-opportunity. We are seeing that, at least recently, Influencers are often created in response to a need in the world. They don’t wake up one day and claim to be important. Rather, they rise to the occasion in order to change the world around them.
One such Influencer is a woman named Angie Chang. She co-founded Women 2.0, one of the largest global communities for women working in technology. She has close to 10,000 followers and even more fans. In a recent interview, she outlined the four tenants she adopted early in her career to amplify her voice and connect to the world around her:
- Construct your confidence—everyone else is figuring it out, too. “Nearly every guy I met handed me a card that read ‘CEO of ‘Company X’ and I was impressed. I listened to what they had to say,” says Chang. “Then I’d go through my stack of business cards, put their companies’ URLs in my web browser and realize that many were not only the CEO, but also the first and only employee of whatever company it was. Early on, I was determined to project — and feel — that confidence like anyone else.”
- Deconstruct your networking events. Change says, “For more nervous or introverted meet up attendees, go into a networking situation with a quantitative goal. It might be staying an hour or meeting three people. Don’t let yourself leave before you hit that number. A well-timed entrance doesn’t always mean arriving before the free pizza runs out or walking in fashionably late. Chang suggests segmenting networking events differently. “Go early if you want to talk to the organizer without interruption or if you want quiet time to have more in-depth conversations,” she says. “Go toward the end if you seek quick chats, want exposure among a large number of people, or prefer to choose when to be noticed. Things really started for me when I was new to meet ups, practiced being curious and asked questions.”
- Always default to yes. Even if you’ve decided to become an influencer, it’s hard to know which channels will be most effective for you to meet the right people. So don’t guess. Just go with it.
- Banish blind introductions. “If a person wants an introduction to someone I know, I always ask for the purpose of the connection,” say Chang. “I won’t do a blind connection — it has to be useful to both people. Otherwise, I lose credibility and so does the other person.”
These are just a few of the insider hints and tips that great Influencers implement into their own lives. Developing into an Influencer is a tremendous goal, but begins with a genuine desire to connect with people and make a difference in their lives. Chang didn’t intend to become an Influencer, but she recognized a need and then jumped into action to fulfill it. That is the true beauty of Influencers.
If you are working in a professional setting, I am willing to bet that meetings are an integral part of your day. Meetings with team-members, with potential clients, with current clients, and with c-suite leadership are just part of the job description. We as women need to appear in these meetings as smart, thoughtful, strategic, and willing to voice our opinion and provide essential feedback to the synergistic process. On many occasions, women allow their male counterparts to dominate meetings settings, many times because we don’t stand our ground, speak up in support of our viewpoint, or feel intimidated at the prospect of simply being wrong.
But as collaboration becomes the norm across the board, we have to learn to stand our ground and appear as the smart and intellectually gifted women we are. Sarah Cooper’s book, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying, is a celebration in the hints and tips that we can all employ to control the room, be heard, and most important, shape the direction of our respective companies and projects. After reviewing this book, I was inspired to create a short list of some of the steps you can implement into meetings to really show your connected:
- Encourage everyone to take a step back. This helps people to consider the opinions of others, reduce arguments, and work towards finding a positive conclusion.
- Nod continuously while taking notes. Funny as it might seem, people respect you when they perceive you are paying attention and taking notes. This shows you are engaged and willing to follow up after the meeting with tangible actions steps.
- Ask questions. But not too many. Questions show you are interested in the subject matter and can almost certainly open up conversations that might otherwise go overlooked. Temper your questions and ensure you are asking a thoughtful question at the right time. You don’t want to seem as if you are trying to hard or annoy the presenter.
- Come prepared. On many occasions, you might already know the topic of the meeting. If so, do a little background research to show you are prepared and engaged in the overall purpose of the meeting. This can also help you move the team in the right direction or close the big client sitting in front of you.
- Follow up. Amazing as it might seem, so few people actually follow up with the team after a meeting. Take a day or two to fully digest and comprehend the purpose of the meeting, and then follow up with the meeting leader, potential client, or current client. This shows a genuine desire to connect and engage post meeting.
Meetings are always going to be a natural and important part of corporate America. There is simply no avoiding them. Thus, optimizing the role you play in these meetings can make a great deal of difference in your placement and the opinions others have on you. The simple yet powerful steps outlined above can separate you from the rest of the pack.
Whiskey isn’t the preferred drink for most women. Generally speaking, we think about a rugged man taking shots of whiskey around a fire, or a group of men in suits and ties drinking Manhattans or other blended high-brow variations of this alcohol. And when many people think about whiskey, they often think about Johnnie Walker, one of the most reputable and popular brands of whiskey in the world. In recognizing their immediate appeal to men and a desire to shift to target more women, Johnnie Walker has taken a step in the right direction to support and empower women.
To coincide with women’s history month, the famed whiskey maker announced a new limited U.S. edition with a feminine twist on their iconic logo, which traditionally is a man in a top hat and cane wearing polo attire. But now, Johnnie Walker is attempting to broaden its audience by created a special bottle referred to as the Jane Walker edition. They are producing 250,000 bottles nationwide of this collector’s edition which shows a very sexy looking women in similar garb as the original Johnnie Walker.
They refer to it as “a female iteration of the brand’s iconic Striding Man logo.” With each bottle sold, the company will donate a dollar to organizations that promote women, including Monumental Women and Should She Run. This offers a great opportunity for a traditionally male oriented brand to support women, and offer each of us a metaphorical toast.
A recent op-ed in The New York Times discussed the importance of listening to women in order to empower them. That doesn’t mean responding to their innermost desires and emotions. Rather, empowering women means offering them an opportunity to make a living and support themselves. But it doesn’t stop there. In this article, Marissa Wesely points out that “Putting these women at the center of designing strategies and programs for women’s empowerment will accelerate all our efforts to achieve gender equality.”
As the article continues, it focuses on the conversation of not “what” women want, but whether those of us willing to help are listening and learning from women about what they want. This appears to be a lost art, and an area we do not focus on nearly enough. Think about the last time you had a conversation with a friend. Did you really listen? I mean intently. I don’t mean hearing what he or she said with the sole purpose of responding. I mean using both your ears and prioritizing their thoughts above your response. That is true and deep listening.
Listening is such a fundamental yet powerful action. However, many of us allow it to fall by the wayside as we talk over one another and attempt to be the loudest opinion in the room. But as we shift our lives to one of making a real difference and celebrating the diversity of others, we can better serve those in need by using our ears and not our mouths.
A recent Huffington Post article, written by Kelleigh Bannen, claims, “Vulnerability is the new black.” In this well-written article, Bannen indicates that she started to realize just how much she was hiding in her life. She felt as if she was succumbing to the “perfect on the outside” façade, and just couldn’t keep up with trying to maintain a reputation as a strong Christian girl, and a young, fit, and beautiful woman all the time. In this article Bannen reminds us that it is fully acceptable to drop the façade, as people will still love you. She says they might even like you more because you’ll be one fo the few people they know that they don’t have to impress.
That is an important topic of conversation, and the subject of this blog. Too many women feel as if they have to be the everything to everyone. They cannot leave their homes without a trendy set of clothes, full application of makeup, and the perfect jewelry to match. They know the outside world will judge their every choice, and so they worry about the notion that they just might not be sexy enough, or good enough, or thin enough, or hot enough. This is a tough way to traverse life.
As Bannen, a singer-songwriter by trade, was experiencing her own personal struggle regarding how she appears to the world, her brother Grant died of an overdose and her parents ended their 40-year marriage. Both of these difficult experiences helped her to realize that it was okay and acceptable to appear vulnerable. It was at this time she heard the song “Church Clothes.” Even though she mostly wrote her own music, she reached out to the writer to see if she could have the song and perform it. They agreed, and she started to perform “Church Clothes” at her shows. The chorus of the song includes the following:
You drive, I look out the window
It’s not right but nobody said so
We walk in, I head to the bedroom
But you don’t, you do what you want to
Like last week when you packed a suitcase
And came close to getting your own place
Oh that’s the stuff that nobody knows
When we’re wearing our church clothes
The song was such a hit with her audience that she received regular contact via social media and email with people sharing their own version of “Church Clothes,” which are the difficult times we all experience and share. The song absolutely connected with people, and they started to share their own shade of vulnerability with the musician. This led to a true awakening for Kelleigh. She realized that vulnerability is in fact not only acceptable, but a crucial part of human growth and existence. We all have a sense and certain level of vulnerability. As women we are often told to bury it. But that shouldn’t be the case. We should all accept it, recognize it is a natural and important part of our lives, and share it with the world. Why? Because it is truly our fight song and connects us with one another in a genuine and real way. And that is why vulnerability is definitely the new black.