Thought Leadership
ATD Blog

Thought Leadership Q&A With Alexia Vernon and Halelly Azulay

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ATD authors Halelly Azulay and Alexia Vernon will deliver a session, Step Into Thought Leadership: From Industry Secret to Go-To Expert, at the ATD 2016 International Conference & Exposition in Denver. They have recorded a quick podcast that will give you an overview of their perspective and what they’ll cover. Give it a listen or read the summary of their conversation below, then come to their session to learn more!

What Is Thought Leadership?

Halelly: When I used to work as an internal practitioner, I just sort of did my job and went home, and I didn’t think very much about amplifying what I knew or adding value beyond the classroom or the work that I was doing at my job. And I think that thought leadership is a way for you to add value by sharing your expertise with many more people, like through publishing or speaking and so forth.

Alexia: I would simply add that what takes somebody from being an expert to a thought leader is a really clear point of view. In this day and age, very few ideas are original. However, what makes somebody a thought leader is the capacity to use language, style, and perspective that hasn’t been heard from other folks, as well as being really clear on how to harness the multiple platforms that exist for thought leadership, to reach a broad audience in lots of different ways.

What are the top three thought leadership opportunities that have positively affected your career?

Halelly: One of the things that really helped propel my thought leadership early was volunteering in a leadership role with my local ATD chapter, which led to all kinds of increasing responsibility roles, including being the president of the chapter and national-level-committee volunteer service. That opened up my access, my network, and the number of people that I can reach, and the number of people that can reach out to me.

A second one was publishing a book. I published Employee Development on a Shoestring through ATD Press. Being an author really does make a huge difference in terms of your reach, the magnitude of the impact you can have, and your amplification.

Third would be speaking, whether at international conferences like ATD’s, or chapter or local events. It really helped me to get on the map and let more people hear my voice, style, and message, and to have a way for them to connect who I am and what I do. It’s also a way for them to learn more from me and stay in touch later.


Alexia: I also published a book through ATD Press, 90 Days 90 Ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance. But the first time I really had a sense that I had an audience for the information that I had to share was when I started pitching myself for TV segments. I would find a topic that was in the news and pitch myself as an expert to come on the air and share three to five strategies on something related to that topic. As a result, I started to get more high-profile speaking opportunities. I believe that played a role in getting an advance for my book, because there was a sense of, “If Alexia is being invited to speak to these audiences, and is on TV, then she must have something really important to say.” I’d like to think that I do have something important to say, but there’s something about TV coverage that really helped me.

Secondly, a huge part of my consulting business is working with people to develop their own TEDx- and TED-style talks—actually empowering other people with big ideas who want to create positive change in the world and pitch themselves as speakers. That actually forwarded my own leadership.

And the third thing I would share is webinars. I’ve done a lot of webinar-based training for my organizational clients, but more recently I’ve used webinars to talk about different thought leadership topics. They’re always free and it’s been a really effective way for people to experience my coaching to see if it’s a fit. It has been a wonderful way to, rather effortlessly, enroll people into other learning and development opportunities with me.

Why do many people in the learning and talent development world get in their own way of becoming thought leaders?

Halelly: I think that it may be a two-part problem. One part I experienced myself, which is the idealistic belief that if you just do good work, the word will get out, that you don’t have to toot your own horn or work extra hard in your off hours to create other things and more content. Pushing the button to amplify takes effort, and I think that some people maybe just believe or hope that it’s not necessary. And the other part, maybe the flipside of that coin for some people, is being shy. It’s thinking, “Who am I? What do I have to add, or why should I speak out about this? There’s probably lots of people who know so much more about it.” They get in their own way, because they think it’s not necessary, or that they don’t have what it takes.


Alexia: I agree completely. To me, it becomes a question of worthiness. Regardless of whom I working with, I find that the question that often comes up subconsciously is, “Who am I to think that I can X, Y, and Z?” when the real question we want to ask is, “Who am I not to think that I have gifts to share with the world?” And for those people who have been in organizations for a long time, and who maybe have not heard how fantastic they really are because they’ve been too busy just doing the work, it can be easy to forget that our work has relevance outside of our organization’s four walls—in many cases, outside of our industry. So just because somebody is working, let’s say, as an instructional designer, doesn’t mean that her content, knowledge, and wisdom isn’t needed for those folks who are doing live training.

So to realize your thought leadership goals, first reflect on what you know and who needs to hear to identify a possible audience. Second, identify the people connected to those audiences, because it’s important to build a community of people to fully realize your thought leadership, rather than to do it alone.

Who should come to the session?

Alexia: I would say there are two subsets of people who will benefit deeply from what we have to share. Certainly people who are building their own consulting businesses in training, who want to speak and write books, who have hung out their own shingle but want to more effectively monetize and make sure that they’re making the maximum possible impact. The second group are those people who lead training, organizationally, and who believe the work that they’re doing shouldn’t be a best-kept secret. They’re not necessarily sure how to balance the responsibilities of being a full-time employee with building their own brand. We’ll provide strategies and techniques for how to do that.

Halelly: Also people who are not necessarily leading a training department, but they’re doing great work; maybe they’re midcareer, or even at the beginning of their career but thinking ahead, and haven’t really focused on this enough. They want to get information that will help them build a really meaningful career by adding value to the world as a thought leader.

Halelly: We really hope to see you all there in Denver! Right after our session, we’ll be going to the bookstore together for an author meet and greet, whether you want to buy our books or just chat. And if you have questions or suggestions for things that you want us to cover, please contact us! We are @AlexiaVernon and @HalellyAzulay on Twitter.

About the Author

Hailed as “a Millennial superstar setting the bar for America’s next generation of leaders” by bestselling business and workplace author, Alexandra Levit, author Alexia Vernon is an in-demand speaker, International Coach Federation (ICF) certified coach, trainer, and media personality who specializes in helping organizations recruit, retain, educate, and grow their young professional workforce. As a member of Generation Y and with her unique approach to talent development—which fuses coaching, interactive role play, and her infectious sense of humor—Alexia has been an asset to a range of industries, from education, health care, nonprofits, and the corporate sector, and has been featured in hundreds of media outlets including CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal, CBS MoneyWatch, FOX Business News,,,, and

About the Author

Halelly Azulay is an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in communication skills and emotional intelligence.

She is the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. Her books, workshops and workshops build on her 25 years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.

Halelly is the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company she founded in 2006 to develop leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching, and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.

Halelly is a sought-after speaker at conferences and meetings and is a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. She recently published two popular LinkedIn Learning courses titled Leveraging Your Strengths and 10 Mistakes Leaders Should Avoid. Halelly blogs at and publishes a leadership podcast at

In 2019, Halelly partnered with "the Titan of Training," Elaine Biech, to create an online course titled Building Your Successful Consulting Business for new and aspiring consultants.

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