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One-Minute Expertise vs. Authority

A while back I retweeted a particularly good example of the “explain your expertise in one minute” exercise, by the microbiologist Susanna Harris, but now she’s taken it down.

In a way, I’m relieved. I’ve grown ambivalent about the value of these exercises for researchers.

On the one hand, concision rocks. And we should know how to tell other partygoers “what we do” in a way that doesn’t send them fleeing to the hissy fit dip.

On the other hand: “what I do” or “what I know” isn’t “here’s how what I do or know sheds new light on problems or concerns you have.”

That’s the difference between “communicating your expertise” and starting to build authority out of that expertise to create impact. It’s a quantum leap.

You’re not going to create big impact — for your brand, your organization or the world — out of communicating your expertise. If you’ve managed to get someone interested in your expertise, they might have a problem you can address, but what you’ve evoked in them is mostly curiosity. It’s a personal state, not a dynamic.

Authority (in the sense I’m talking about) is about how you translate your expertise into relevance, stakes, urgency, freshness, all which lead to trust. Authority is a compact — a social state.

Most researchers aren’t interested in generating authority, can’t do it, or aren’t doing research that lends itself to the cause. Godspeed.

Authority is for those researchers hungry to create impact out of their expertise-fueled insights, and hungry to create competitive advantage for their organizations.

Classic scicomm exercises — like “explain your expertise in one minute” — can help any researcher talk about themselves more effectively.

Building authority requires a host of other skills, and a very different posture toward public engagement. Check out my “Getting Started” series for more.