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ATD Accidental Trainer is an ATD podcast, sponsored by Canvas by Instructure, featuring bimonthly interviews with industry experts who share stories and tips about how to grow your training career. Hosted by Alexandria Clapp, ATD Accidental Trainer covers trends, strategies, and actionable information for talent development professionals.

Oct 9, 2019

In this launch episode of The Accidental Trainer podcast, host Lisa Spinelli is joined by William Arruda, personal branding pioneer and author of Digital You: Real Personal Branding in the Virtual Age, at the ATD 2019 International Conference & EXPO. Arruda discusses how he got his happenstance start in the field and relays tricks about how to develop your authentic personal brand as well as what L&D professionals can expect in the future.


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We are here with William Arruda at the ATD 2019 Conference and Exposition in Washington DC. And my name is Lisa Spinelli. I am the Content Manager over at ATD for Career Development.

We have, as I said, William Arruda here, personal branding guru and pioneer, founded Reach Personal Branding almost 18 years ago and is the co-founder of a video micro-learning CareerBlast. He's a three-time author, former brand and marketing executive at IBM, and an all around nice guy.

Thank you, Lisa. That's awfully nice.

Your next book, Digital You, is available right now!

Yes, and I'm super excited about this one. This is really one of the most important things people need to be thinking about with their careers.

Yes, personal branding, we know, is huge in this day and age. And I'm just curious. How did you get your start in personal branding? What turned you on to become a pioneer in this field?

I would never have thought this would have been my life. I worked at IBM Lotus, loved my job in branding. Every Sunday, I'd say, oh my gosh, I get to go to work tomorrow. And I thought I was going to work for the man, or the woman, for the rest of my life. And in 1997, I read an article in Fast Company Magazine, The Brand Called You by Tom Peters. And in that article, he said in the future, every one of us will need to have a brand to be successful.

And that day, in my head, I said I am going to start the first ever personal branding company, so just one of those random-- if I didn't pick up that magazine, we wouldn't be sitting here today.

And that was before social media really took off or anything. So what did that kind of mean to you at that time?

It meant absolutely no business, starvation, selling everything I owned, selling my stock, going into debt, literally. I finally started the company in 2001. There were four people already doing personal branding. So I wasn't the first. But two years later, there was just me. The other four realized that they needed to make money. And personal branding the-- things that were happening in the world did not create the need yet for personal branding.

And it wasn't until a few years later where downturn in the economy, real issue on getting the best talent, and social media and LinkedIn. In 2003, LinkedIn emerged. And that was it. All of a sudden people realized, oh my gosh, I need a brand to be successful.

And were you always honed in on LinkedIn? Or were you always kind of looking at all the different social media platforms? I know you're really honed in now with LinkedIn, and professional development, and your image on LinkedIn.



LinkedIn, I think, created the big light bulb moment for people. I need to build my brand. But where I'm really focused is on the personal branding piece of it. And digital is one part. And real world is the other. But most of my clients are corporations. They hire me to come in and help their people deliver greater value by being their best selves and by understanding their brands.

And some of that means how they show up in a meeting room and how they determine what they're going to do next. And some of it means how they show up online and their digital brand. And that's what the new book, Digital You, is all about. It's really, how do you make sure that real world you is congruent with those online profiles that you have?

Right. Yeah, you do talk a lot about authenticity, and being yourself, and being yourself online and offline. What if the offline version of you is not someone you necessarily want to project that much online? What do you keep hidden? What do you keep out there?

It's a great question. I think everyone has to decide how transparent and open they want to be. But what we know about the world of work is people want to work with people that they know, like, and trust. And the like part comes from authenticity and transparency. The know part is, I want to get-- I want to have an easy way of getting to know this person.

So your LinkedIn summary, for example, a great way for you to share the things that you want people to know about you, so that you can connect. And of course the trust part is all about credibility, doing what you say you're going to do.

And so people have to decide, the more they're not willing to be their authentic selves, and they aren't transparent, the harder it's going to be for them to build relationships. And relationships are the currency of business. So people need to decide for themselves. But I think the people who can be more open, more real everyday are the ones who'll be more successful.

So for all you accidental trainers looking to flourish in this field, it’s really important to take just a little bit of time out of your busy day to think about your personal brand—and especially your brand online. As William says, before anyone meets you in person nowadays, they find you online. Make it a habit to spend just nine minutes a day to update your profile, post a comment or well-thought out status on LinkedIn as William suggests in his book. By just taking a few minutes every day to work on your brand, you will start build a network and recognition. Having these can help spur you to keep current and connected. Remember to stay authentic and transparent yet professional and compelling. Check the show notes for more information on how to develop your LinkedIn profile and start developing thoughtful personal brand.

Definitely. If you had one prediction for the future about personal branding, then kind of seeing the span of in your career, looking at how far it's come, what do you is going to happen in the next 10 years from now?

It's a great question. So the digital revolution is going to continue. I think the biggest thing that will happen is everything will move to video, so that we will have almost that same experience, if we meet somebody online through video, that we would meet if we had met them in person. So the interesting thing about video is you deliver complete communication. You have words, tone of voice, intonation.

When you normally communicate in the digital world, you have words, which are 7% of a communication. So I think the video revolution is key. The people who can jump on board now get really good at delivering video. Let's think about thought leadership video, things that they want to tell the world about themselves and also synchronous video.

How do you deliver a great video teleconference? How do you work remotely, but seem like you're always there, because you're using video? So I think that's kind of the next frontier is everyone embracing that.

So are people going to be doing micro-videos, like a lot of the career blast videos that you have out there? Or are they going to go back to long form, you think? Are people's attention spans going to catch up? I know right now, it's like, three seconds. You have a goldfish attention span.

Yes, shorter than a goldfish. That's a Microsoft study you're talking about. Yeah, I think it's all going to be micro. Twitter came on board right now, that 280 characters is what you have to tell your story. And people start thinking in small bursts. But what's going to happen, I think, is we're going to be creating these webisodes. They might be two minutes long. But each one is going to lead to the next one.

And when it comes to learning, where video is going to be the most powerful tool in learning, we're going to learn something. And it's going to be so enticing in those two minutes-- let's say we're learning about values, what are values? We're going to get people to the end of that in two minutes.

And they're going to say oh, my god, what are my values? And the next video is going to be what are your values? And so I think what we're going to do is create short, potent, valuable videos that help tell people who we are, why we're great, and why they should care.

Just mini cliffhangers everywhere.

Exactly. Exactly. We have to feed people into that next stream. So how do you keep current, then, with what is coming up? So you know what? Conferences like this ATD Conference, absolutely brilliant for me. Just walking around, I look at what is happening in each of these sessions. By the way, I just passed a session that is all about how using video and storytelling is a way for learning. The session is happening around the corner right now.

So there are so many transformational leaders here at the conference. It's absolutely amazing. You go to the exhibit hall. The things that people are doing, the future of learning is here. And there's a book called The Expertise Economy. It's by Kelly Palmer, which is a brilliant book which is about how learning is the center of success for companies in the future.

So where do you learn about this? At conferences like this, where you get exposed to things. We wear blinders every day. And this opens those blinders. So that's what I'm doing. I'm kind of seeing what's out there and who's talking about what and what's happening. So it's exciting.

Yeah. So do you follow any other thought leaders online that are also doing interesting things or other places besides ATD?

Yeah. And I think a lot of those thought leaders are here. I follow a lot of people who are talking about disruption right now. And we have to disrupt ourselves, so we become our own personal disruptors. And so I think people who are writing about that, I follow a lot of social media people.

And what are they doing next? What do they think are the next things around social media? And how can we take advantage of them now? If we start thinking about what's going to become prevalent, how can we jump on that bandwagon now and be successful for when that happens?

That's awesome. So did that kind of help drive your desire to do this book, to inform people of what's coming up next, or what they should be doing in light of the future?

Yeah. What I've realized, and I never thought I was this, but people have called me a futurist. And in my tiny, tiny world, in my tiny world of personal branding, maybe I am. I live in total obscurity in the rest of every other topic that could be out there. But it's true.

And I think that that's what Digital You is about, people who are the forward thinkers, the people who really want to be ahead of the pack, who want to stand out, who want to try new things, who want to take a risk, be a little afraid, they're the people are going to really like digital you, because it's going to make you feel uncomfortable.

And it was written that way to kind of light a fire and make you feel a little weird. Probably not-- don't put that on the back cover, because I don't think that's going to be a good description for the book.

So speaking of risk, what was a time that you took a risk and you failed? And what did you learn from it?

How long is this show? I have about 1,000 of those. I will tell you one of the biggest ones. I took a risk and pursued a promotion. And I pursued a promotion that I had absolutely no business pursuing. But for me, I got caught up in this corporate mindset, that wherever you are, you don't want to be there. You want to be in the next place, even if the next place is not the right place for you. And this was so not the right place for me.

And I pursued this promotion. And I did all the right things to make myself the perfect candidate for this, even though it had nothing to do with number one, what I'm good at, and number two, what I'm interested in. But it was a raise, and more title, and more people, and all this stuff. And by the way, I was not selected, despite all of that.

And I was originally, initially devastated. I was like, my gosh, I prepared myself. I was so relevant. I ticked all the boxes next to what they needed, until I got to know the person who got the job. And I thought, oh, my god, I would die if I had that job. I was like, I would be miserable every day.

And so the big learning for me-- so I'm so lucky I failed-- and the big learning for me is all about alignment, align who you are with what you do and how you do it. You're going to be more valuable. You're going to be happier at work. And you're going to be more valuable to the organization you work at.

And what happened was I ended up getting a promotion doing the stuff I was doing after that. It was a better promotion. It was a bigger team. It was a bigger raise. And I got to continue to do what I love. So someone's dangling something in front of you. It seems shiny and exciting. But you really have to look deep into yourself to see if it is.

Yeah. I think that's important to not necessarily just take the first thing that comes across your path.

Yeah, and to be-- there's something about ambition. And there's something about directed ambition, I think. And just to be ambitious for the sake of it, only gets you into a place you don't want to be.

Thank you so much for being here with us, William. I really appreciate it. And do you want to talk a little bit about where people can follow you or find you? Not that we can't find your personal brand really easily.

So is a good starting place or I will say the new book, Digital You, it's available for—Pre-sale right now.

Pre-orders, yes. And that's thanks to the ATD publishing arm for that. So that's a good place to learn about what I'm thinking about for the future.

Great. Thank you so much, William.

Thanks, Lisa, always great connecting with you.

You too.  


Key Takeaways



More Resources:

Digital You is available for sale right now! On Amazon, on the ATD website and at Barnes and Nobles

Watch some of William's videos on the ATD's website discussing how to create a best in class personal brand:

Digital You webcast 

Building a Powerful LinkedIn Profile

Read William's Forbes column. Visit his website or follow him on LinkedIn