Ever wonder why some learning and developing professionals are frequently sought after as speakers for major events? Or why a particular person gets invited to speak on radio or television or is seen as the company’s go-to person whenever someone needs something written about the field? One employee’s sessions have waiting lists shortly after being announced, yet another’s are often cancelled because not enough participants register. The difference is branding.
As a learning and development professional, your educational credentials and certifications will get you only so far. We strongly believe in the value of professional credentials; however, experience and your capacity to deliver are what will allow you to own your career and move it forward. Whether you are seeking another internal position, want to join another company, or intend to become self-employed, you must be aware of the impact of your personal brand.
Let’s meet Natasha.
Natasha reinvented her career. After many years in one industry, she transferred her learning and development skills to another one and became a senior learning and development consultant. Her new employers were impressed with her educational background and achievements. Doing what she did best, Natasha immediately became immersed in reading about trends and getting to understand the business.
As a newcomer, she received invitations to attend meetings and events, which she accepted reluctantly. Because she did not feel quite ready to express her views in her new environment, she hardly spoke during meetings. Senior managers, used to interacting with consultants whose approach to doing business was more direct and forceful, dismissed Natasha as insecure and, subsequently, stopped seeking her input.
Employees who attended Natasha’s training sessions perceived her positively. She connected with her audience, communicated clearly, and incorporated learning technologies to enhance sessions. She knew her subject matter well and found ways to bring it to life. Some even said in the evaluations that she was “the company’s best kept secret.”
Natasha had already wasted the opportunity to establish credibility with senior managers regardless of what other employees thought of her.
Let’s meet Harry.
Harry quickly rose through the ranks in the learning and development field attaining a coveted senior learning and development consultant position at a company and playing a similar role in others. Recruiters are constantly luring him to go somewhere else; his resume reads like the list of Top Companies to Work For. He is part of his company’s succession plan for the role of learning and development manager. Some senior managers believe that he has potential to become vice-president for learning and development in three to five years.
Harry makes a point of establishing relationships with company key players just as much as he does with his peers, clients, and other employees. He does not hesitate to share his expertise. He adds value in every interaction, becoming the company’s go-to person in learning and development. His energy and positive attitude are so contagious that employees cannot wait to sign up for his trainings regardless of the topic. Senior managers always take notice.
Never one to underestimate the value of personal contact around a shared meal or snack, he often stops by the local deli on the way to work and brings something to share. He remembers details of conversations and brings them up in subsequent encounters. His clients feel valued and appreciated.
Harry always feels like he is “on stage,” whether he is at work, a professional event, or a social function; he moves seamlessly from one to the other. His professional image inspires trust. His training delivery is stunning, and his way to connect topics with real life scenarios is outstanding.
His personal grooming is impeccable. He comes across as confident and self-assured, regardless of the setting and audience.
What can we learn from Natasha and Harry?
Natasha relied on her credentials for her professional success; she did not optimize her initial opportunities to show her value to the organization. She did not gauge her limited timeframe to develop relationships vertically and horizontally in the company. She could not overcome the impact of her initial hesitation to speak up and position herself as an expert. She missed opportunities to brand herself as an expert.
In contrast, Harry combined his credentials and his experience to position himself as an expert. He mastered the art of relationship building and used it to his advantage personally and professionally. He shared his knowledge at every opportunity. His awareness of the importance of his image and professional style became part of his brand and contributed significantly to his ability to achieve goals, thus propelling his career.
The cliché that says you never get a second chance to make a first impression gains greater relevance as learning and development professionals navigate through multiple business situations daily. It’s no longer enough to be an engaging trainer; a learning and development professional also must be a relationship builder, subject matter expert, solutions provider, and business partner. He has to own his career and be ready to make changes on short notice. She has to build and maintain credibility at all times.
The following suggestions will help you build your brand.
• Position yourself as an expert in your chosen field.
• Find your niche. Remember the saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
• Be prepared for the unexpected. There are no “second takes” during a training session or a meeting.
• Own your mistakes immediately. Correct what you must and move on.
• Stay up to date in your field. Refer to latest trends that anyone can later verify.
• Connect with your audience. Participants respect those who speak their language.
• Conduct yourself in every setting as you would during a session. Anyone can become a client or your future boss or business partner.
• Approach every session as an opportunity to co-create learning with your participants. Check your ego at the door.
• View every encounter as a chance to present yourself and your services. People prefer to do business with people they know.
• Value directories of professional associations as a referral tool. Potential clients use them to find experts.
• Invest in your professional image. Personal grooming and professional presence count more than ever with the ubiquitous social media.
• Take advantage of social media for your positioning and branding.
Remember: Your knowledge and your delivery help build your brand. What does your brand say about you?
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