This is an excerpt from my book ‘How To Become An Influencer’.
Read the full book (you can get it free on this website) to get exercises that will help you understand your own level of influence and take your first steps to make some improvements…
‘Leadership is influence’ John C. Maxwell
You need to decide which subject you want to make your focus. What are you known
for? What do you want to be known for? What is it you really care about and would
be happy to spend a long time working on?
You then need to make sure that you know your subject really well. Please note that
this does not mean that you need to be the top person in the world at it- you just
need to know more than your audience and have a passion for helping them. In fact,
knowing too ‘much’ may even be a hindrance. Let’s say on any particular subject an
amateur’s knowledge would be graded as a 1 and the foremost expert in the world
as a 10. If your own knowledge is an 8 but your audience is a 2 you might struggle to
be able to explain things to them in a way that they relate to. However, if your
knowledge is ahead of theirs, but not so far ahead, you might actually create better
learning experiences for them. This will especially be true if you are trying to teach
people things that you yourself have experienced- and if you have experienced them
more recently the advice you give will probably be more useful and relevant.
Plus, the skill of teaching people about a subject is different to being good at the
subject yourself. Imagine for example that you are one of the top lawyers in the
world, in terms of the amount of important cases you win. It is possible that you will
also be the best teacher of law in the world, but unlikely. Probably a different person
will have skills that are more suited to that. Note that when I say teacher here, I don’t
mean that you have to be a professionally qualified teacher- I mean that you have to
learn, often from trial and error, how to teach people.
If I think of my own experience of teaching for example, I can remember:
– At school, being involved in various initiatives to help younger students learn
– Starting tutoring a neighbour’s child
– At university, trying to help other people get into the university- and helping on
a voluntary teaching programme
– After university, working as an assistant teacher in another country
– Working as a private tutor
….and so on. I have done all of these things without formal teaching qualifications,
but each of them have helped me learn a different aspect of teaching. For example,
teaching in a different country exposed me to different types of teaching and
The main way I have learned to teach is just by going ahead and trying it- and most
importantly trying to adapt to my audience and their changing needs. For example,
some of my private students were children for whom English was maybe not even
their second language. I tried to get them to enjoy reading in English so that their
learning would continue well beyond my limited time with them.
In terms of the subject that you focus on, it is also worth thinking about if you will be
able to teach it in a way that de-links your time with the money earned. In the past,
for most people, the time spent and the money earned were in a clear relationship
with each other. If you were a teacher, you would get paid a particularly salary or by
the hour. Of course, some teachers got paid more than others, but generally you got
a set amount of money for a set amount of time. Now however, when you can
publish one thing online (like a course) that could theoretically be consumed by an
almost limitless amount of people, your time and your earning power are not directly
related. Your ideal situation is to be paid for the value you create, not the hours you
work. The internet has given us an amazing opportunity to be able to take advantage
of this- The Influence Century is upon us.
In order to be an effective influencer, there are a lot of things that you need to try to
Your audience- Who is the main audience for your work? Who is your audience at
each step of the way? For example, if you are going to give a speech, you have to
tailor it for the people that you are speaking to- what do they already know? What do
they want to know? What would help them be more effective?
Your limiting self-beliefs- We all have beliefs about ourselves that hold us back.
Once we know what these are, we can do something about it. For example, suppose
you know that you aren’t confident you are good at something. Is there anything you
can do to increase your confidence? Practice? Ask for the view of someone you
respect? An anonymous survey about your work? One really effective way is to
place yourself in situations that you find difficult- it is rarely as bad as you think it is
going to be and that realisation boosts your confidence.
What you want to achieve- before you try to influence anyone you need to think
about (in general in your life and in each specific situation) what you actually want to
achieve. Suppose you are going into a meeting- what would a good meeting look like
for you? Perhaps you want to win a contract or maybe you just want to build up a
better relationship with the other person? You might be trying to learn more about a
critical topic, or learn how you could collaborate with the other person in the future.
Whatever it is, you need to think carefully about exactly what you want and then
think how you could steer the conversation in a way that helps you achieve your
objectives. Of course you need to make sure that you also know (as much as it is
possible for you to know) what the other person wants from the meeting too.
You also need try to know what success you want in life- of course, this may change
over time as your experience, priorities and self-belief changes. Defining what
success means to you rather than to other people is an at times painful but ultimately
rewarding experience. You don’t want to waste your life chasing someone else’s
How to get clarity in your thinking- We all have different ways of getting clarity. One
person may tend to do it through a period of quiet reflection. Another, by
conversations with people they trust. What produces clarity in your own thinking? As
with so many areas of The Influence Star, you need to experiment and see what
works for you.
Knowing how to help people – There are so many ways to help people. The best
way may not be the most obvious one. For example, many people think that they can
only make a contribution by creating something unique. However, you can do a great
service by curating the work of others in a way that would be easier for your
audience to understand/use. Remember, the pace of technological and societal
change is such that many people are struggling to keep up. Or there is just too much
information out there for them to filter and they need someone to help them. Often,
the crucial thing is developing your voice and your point of view in a way that people
can experience in a consistent way. Imagine a wine critic that you respect. Probably,
their tastes are not exactly the same as yours. However, it is likely that they give you
a consistent view that is very helpful. If, for example, they tend to prefer bold, smoky
red wines and love a particular grape or wine-producing region, this gives you a
reference point to focus on. So, for example if one week they rave about a reserved,
fruity white wine from an entirely different region, it might be worth checking out!
Knowing how to work across boundaries, cross-sector and make links between
things is a crucial part of being influential. Some of the most effective people in the
modern world (and I believe this will only get more important) are those who can find
ways to use fluidity connected to what they do. By this I mean that they might
recognise that they are a specialist in one area but they see how their work is
applicable- and the other way around- to people in other areas. As one example,
suppose you work in the transport department of a large city. Your work isn’t really
just about transport. It is also about influencing consumer behaviour, health
outcomes, educational opportunities, the environment…
Knowing what your strengths are- Try to focus on your strengths- A lot of people
spend too much time on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Generally,
people who are known as being the best at what they do, focus on their strengths.
What are the things that set you apart from other people and how can you get even
better at them?
Knowing what makes you different- Are you selling the same thing as everyone
else? Make sure you aren’t. You have to know what the thing is that sets you apart.
Think of a street full of restaurants. How do they distinguish from one another? Some
compete on price. Some, quality of service. Some are the only restaurant serving a
particular cuisine, some try to be known as the main place that X group of people go
to- and so on.
I- Influencing (others)
Deciding who it is you want to influence and how to get to them in the most effective
way, is of critical importance.
You need to think about intentional rather than unintentional influence. Whether you
have ever thought about how you influence the world before or not, you do influence
it, just by existing! What we are talking about here is how to be intentional in your
influence so that you reach the outcomes- and have the impact- you desire.
Body language is a huge area of influence. Do you think about how your body
language is interpreted by others? This can include things like posture and how
confidently you stand. Look at the body language of people who are effective
influencers- what do they do right?
Persuasion is another really important topic. You need to understand human
psychology and how to convince people. Techniques like priming, mirroring and
framing matter, as does your selling ability. If you want to be effective at sales it is all
about influencing other people and learning what techniques get people to make a
decision to buy- like creating scarcity.
With all of these areas, practice makes perfect. Some things you may be naturally
talented at. With others, you will find it hard at first but easier over time as you refine
your approach. Remember that no-one gets it right all the time and that you don’t
have to be perfect- but hopefully you can see that it is worth putting time into honing
When you are trying to influence you need to think how you can present things in a
way that acknowledges the interests of the other person. The more specific you can
be, the more you show that you have put time into understanding what matters to
them at the moment you are engaging with them and the easier you make it for them
to say yes, the better.
To give an example, let’s say that you want to interview someone who is very
influential in your field.
If you get in touch with them and say that you love their work (speaking in very
general terms when you mention this) and you want to feature them on your blogbecause
hey, your blog is the best- while they might be flattered by the things you
say they might also think that you are sending the same thing to fifty other people
(they may well be right) and turn you down because there is no clear benefit to them.
If, however, you have noticed that they are promoting a book at the moment (you
noticed, because you have a genuine interest in their work) you can safely assume
that they might want to promote it. If you contact them and say that you know they
are really busy at the moment with their book tour but if they give you five minutes
after a book signing you would like to interview them- and you think their new book is
a great way to introduce them to your audience- I think they will be more likely to
agree. In the second case you have identified what matters to them and found a way
to make saying yes very easy. Only five minutes of their time, at a book signing they
have already planned, with a clearly articulated outcome that is good for them- now
that sounds like you are thinking about them properly.
L- Leaders- in your field
There are so many things that you could do to be seen as a leader in your field.
Speeches are a major area for many leaders. In the modern world you need to think
not only about how a speech is received by the audience to which you are giving it,
but if there is a way that you can use it to spread your influence further. For example,
is there a video, a photo or a slideshow of your presentation that can be shared
online? If you are asked to do a speech, get used to asking the hosts if there will be
material produced afterwards that you can use. If they are on top of their game they
will be excited and impressed that you are asking because anything you use is a
chance to spread the word about their own work as well.
Producing content and being seen as a thought leader is very important. There are
so many pieces of content that you can produce- from articles to videos, podcasts to
webinars, online courses to books. In essence, great content matters, now more
than ever- and just producing it isn’t enough, you have to make it work hard for you. I
have written an extensive article on this which you can read if you visit The Influence
You need to think about who is your ‘avatar’ – you need to write and generally
communicate as if you are speaking to a real person. What are their preoccupations,
hopes and fears? In order to be effective at this you need to be as specific as you
can about the details of your ideal customer. Of course, big companies do this all the
time so that they can target their advertising. So for example, you can’t just think in
terms of whether your avatar is men or women:
– maybe your avatar is a man, aged 25, who works in X job in a certain city and
likes to do Y at the weekends but feels they are lacking Z in their life.
Also, you can’t just use hunches about what people want from you- you need to
speak to as many people as you can and actually directly ask them.
On a personal note, this is something I find quite challenging as I generally feel more
comfortable only sharing a finished project or idea with other people.
Over time though I have realised how important it is that I try not to always be like
this. In creating The Influence Expert for example I have been constantly building in
feedback as I go because otherwise I will end up with something that is relevant to
me but not anyone else! In writing this book for example I haven’t just been alone
with my thoughts, I have:
– Received feedback on articles I’ve written
– Asked people in my tribe what they want to know
– Given a free consulting offer when I started my business which allowed me to
learn much more about what people need
– Looked at the work of other experts in the subject of influence and at
feedback from their audiences
– Read widely around the subject to see what information is already out there
and what information I feel is lacking
– Explicitly asked people, many times, to let me know if there are any topics
they would like me to cover in my work.
If you want to be a leader, you need to have the confidence to share your best ideas.
People worry that their best ideas will be stolen. But often what sets people apart is
not the idea but the execution of that idea. Share your best ideas with the world.
That’s what I’m trying to do with this book that you are in the middle of reading- I
want you to get the maximum value from it that you can. I am sure that people will
use the material in all sorts of exciting ways that I haven’t thought of- and if they do,
then I will have fulfilled my mission and made the difference to the world that I want.
You need to have a raging curiosity about the subject you have chosen to focus on.
Can you imagine learning about it for years and years? You need to be prepared to
be a life-long student of your craft. In fact, that idea should actively excite you. If it
doesn’t, it is possible you haven’t found something that really fires you up yet. If you
look at successful people almost everyone will have spent time devoting themselves
to becoming very good/knowledgeable about one (at least one) thing. Of course you
might change direction a few years down the line, but if you can think of what you
are working on as something that you would be happy to be completely consumed
by professionally- that is the sort of commitment you need to get really good at it and
to be able to influence others.
You need to ‘learn how to learn’- working out the best ways to improve and
understand your brain. Most of us will have been through an education system that
wasn’t set up exactly around the way we best like to learn. Try to find what helps you
learn. Once you know that, it will be easier for you to find teachers and teaching
resources who can help you more effectively. Some people like to learn through
reading; some listening; some watching. Some people like to learn more from
thinking, others from doing. To give my own example, I know that I learn best when I
have periods of bouncing ideas off other people and periods of reflection. Too much
solitary reflection time and I don’t learn so much. Too much bouncing ideas and I get
tired and don’t feel grounded or that I am consolidating my learning. So when I look
for training I try to find things that give me a balance of both these things.
You need to be prepared to work hard and go the extra mile, especially to take
advantage of opportunities. Imagine that the top person in your industry, the very
person you most admire, offered you the chance to work alongside them for a
month- but to do it you would have to travel across the world, you wouldn’t get paid
and you would work harder than you ever had before. Would you do it? Your answer
will give you an idea of how passionate you really are about the subject and how
much you want to learn.
You need to work on your learning in specific areas, like in finding ways to improve
your memory- remembering names for example is a great way to influence people.
Or learning how to persuade people more effectively and getting them to be as
excited about your work as you are. Of course, what you need to learn depends so
much on your subject and your industry. Look at the people at the top of your
industry. What do they seem to know that you don’t? What are the fastest ways that
you can catch up (including finding ways to spend time with them!)?