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Thinking about Thought Leadership? Some Tips for Speaking Your Mind

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Associations are often looked upon as thought leaders within their industries. Building or bolstering your thought leadership strategy can increase awareness and respect for your association. To begin, look to your association’s executives and employees who are often subject matter experts recognized for their industry insights. Your members also have a wealth of knowledge to share and can elevate awareness of your association. If you’re looking to build your thought leadership strategy, here are some tips for success.

  • Know your business goals. A successful thought leadership campaign is purposeful, tied to your association’s priorities and significant current or upcoming initiatives.

  • Support with your association’s mission. Whatever topic or issue your association chooses to champion, your stance should align with your association’s mission, vision and values. If it doesn’t, you risk diluting your organization’s message or damaging your reputation.

  • Be authentic. Be passionate. Be relevant. Thought leadership is not self-promotion. It’s about positioning on behalf of the association. Identify leaders and members who can offer new insights, a provocative or surprising opinion or firsthand experience and perspective that provides valuable context on a timely issue or hot topic.

  • Identify your “rock stars.” Find those in-house leaders and members who have cultivated a “voice” with external audiences, those who frequently represent your association as speakers, researchers, writers and/or advisory group members. Remember that while it’s great if your “rock stars” are among your C-suite, include staff subject matter experts and members to broaden your thought leadership pool.

  • Find the right stage for your “rock stars.” While thought leadership often involves speaking opportunities and media interviews, the right setting for an expert might be bylined articles, opinion pieces, radio programs or podcasts. And don’t forget social media where your member thought leaders might already be influencers with large followings.

  • Be prepared. Before your thought leaders speak in front of an audience or are interviewed by the media, be sure they’ve had training. Many thought leaders will think “I’ve got this,” but they will thank you for the opportunity to refine their messages, sharpen their delivery, role-play interviews and practice answering tough questions.

  • Be agile and ready. If your thought leader is taking a stance on a controversial topic or issue, get buy-in from key decision-making groups ahead of time (e.g., trustees, advisory board, etc.) so that you can move quickly to do interviews when external news events trigger an opportunity for comment.