Abha Maryada Banerjee is fondly known as the “Asian Oprah” and the 1st International Woman Motivator. A qualified lawyer, she has created a niche for herself in a space not known for many women to make a mark – public speaking and motivation. Known to speak her mind (and not often liked for it!), Abha shares how she went about building her personal brand including the challenges and opportunities that she overcome with persistence, determination and drive. “I have a very diverse sort of profile. And just to introduce myself, I am a lawyer turned, people building expert and motivational speaking is part of my core. My work involves people building and growth, teaching and helping people achieve their goals. So, shifting from being a lawyer to a motivational speaker to people building expert to as a leadership educator. That’s been the journey so far. The whole idea is about focusing on people interventions to bring about social change”, says Abha.
Watch the YouTube video interview and read the complete interview below. Look up more such stories on my YouTube channel and on LinkedIn.
- What according to you is personal branding?
It is how your stakeholders associate with you. It is how people or your clients or your stakeholders associate with you. Very simply, what is the kind of value you’re creating? And what kind of association can you create in the minds of people? It is a crowded mind space. How do they relate to you? How do they associate with you? What kind of work are you doing, which can be called your value differential so that you can stand out amongst the crowd or amongst your own community or practice? Because a lot of people are doing the same thing, but they stand out for various reasons. So, what kind of association you’re creating in people’s minds in terms of the product that you’re selling in terms of the value that you’re creating?
2. Do you consider yourself a personal brand? How do you know it?
Yes, I have a personal brand, I would say, because what I do is a personal brand business. So, if you saw my LinkedIn profile, a lot is about me, because I am also the product. So, it’s not just what I talk about is the product. You will see my face in 20% of what I do, that’s also part of the personal branding. Because in this business, you need to be seen and seen in a way that people can associate with you. So, For me, it happened over a period of time. The brand keeps building. Start with what you want to project and as you grow, keep adding to the brand. You start out with an initial version of how you would like to project yourself in the field that you are in. You are what are your core strengths are. Or what are your core value drivers are. You want to put that out into the open and as you grow, I think it keeps adding to your brand. I want to hear from everybody else, and they keep giving me feedback to help me create my brand. I cannot say things for myself, as much as my audience tells me. So, as a speaker and as a very firebrand speaker you need to keep it very real. You know, it’s very real, it’s very lifelike. So, people can connect with that in terms of the real person that comes before them. That is part of my speaking portion of the brand. But when it comes to the kind of education that you’re putting out there, I have been able to, associate with other brands to enhance my own brand – be it through the TV web series, multiple appearances in different initiatives, I get called in as an expert. Over the years, you keep adding to that profile, and your repertoire of activities adds to your brand. In the end, you are the expert in the field who can add more value than everybody else, or maybe more value in a particular area. So that’s where it stands.
4. What does one do to go about building a personal brand?
Especially in a field like mine, it is all about people and branding. Now companies are teaching their leaders how to put the company out as a brand or themselves as a brand so that the people can associate with real people. We have access to cameras, and we have access to visual talking. Branding has changed from earlier days. I feel is very important is to be able to keep it authentic. Authenticity is the core of who you are, what you do and what you trying to say. How you want to relate to people, how you want people to relate to you – you got to put some time for it. This is going to be a projection that is going to stay with you for a very long time. This is a long- term strategy. It’s not about today. It’s not tomorrow. It’s going to stay with you forever. It is important for people to sit down and think hard. What is it that they could project and where do they want to be seen in the next 10 years? If I needed to be a motivational speaker, if I needed to speak globally, among Asians or in the West, then I needed to do things differently. That is how you go about building a personal brand. If you think of say, Ratan Tata, you can see him as a simple human being who is very humble. You know they are already creating this version in the minds of people as to who they are what they stand for, what are they saying, what they are conveying. Consider therefore, your personal traits. What is your strength? What is that you do better than others? Bring that to the table. Then you will stand out instantly. For me I was a practicing lawyer, so speaking wasn’t such a difficult part. But making sense while speaking was the part that I had to work hard on. I have read over 2000 books as part of my practice and have put in 67,000 hours of actual talking. All this leads to you being the expert on your subject and master what you say. All this obviously happened over a period. So, if you want to put all this together, then 10 years from now, what is it going to look like?
5. What are the attributes of a personal brand? And what do people associate your brand with?
The first words that comes to people’s minds about me are guts and courage. I don’t think there is a space to be inauthentic. You must be very relatable. So, trust is very important. To me, they know she’s is straightforward. Sometimes, I feel I should be less straightforward! If I can mellow myself down a little bit, but I do not allow myself to be inauthentic in any way. I do know the consequences of being straightforward rather than speaking something which does not match with what I have projected in the beginning of who I am as a person. As a speaker, the other thing is agility that a lot of people associate me with, like, I’m, a hyperactive child. If I’m on the platform, I am all over the place, you know, but that works as a motivational speaker. If works because that’s, that’s exactly what people would watch you for or listen to you for because a lot of people are very, very stiff in their bodies, their bodies are still not comfortable in doing those kinds of activities. The other word is energy. I think that’s, that’s a gift that I have. It’s something that I think I have acquired from God. You know, God has gifted it to me, so I play with it. My energy levels are usually quite high and when I’m speaking. that’s what people associate me with. If I if I would walk into a room, so I’d be probably the jumpiest person, just as a natural so that works on stage very well. When I’m during people then I have to sort of contain that energy a little bit. So, I don’t look like a naughty child, but I am a happy child.
6. Based on your observations and learning who according to you is a personal brand? What characteristics do you admire about them?
I have learned from people who have never worked with me, my juniors, my associates, my friends. And I remember a couple of people I used to have a senior lawyer senior. We were freshly minted lawyers. We used to be like very serious youngsters who used to feel life is going to be some kind of heavyweight activity. And I used to see the senior laughing all the time. Well, he was joyous in the sense that he could draw crowds because he was always in his elements. He would keep motivating people and keep telling them to become a little bit larger than life. And I watched him, and I thought why is he so happy? He should be working hard. We were taught to be serious lawyers and look at him! So I used to think this in my mind, and then I realized that, I was probably 30 years behind that gentleman’s experience and I did not understand that. You arrive at a point where your job becomes something that defines you. You need to be who you are, not the job that you do. You become the person who is leading the show. From that person I realized, that traits such as a light-hearted person helps; if you can engage people. I picked that up because that helped me in some ways. Seeing the authenticity in people is important. I learned some very exciting things from everybody.
7. What steps did you take to build your brand? How do you know it is working?
I used to be a theatre actor. I’ve done a lot of theatre to explore the creative side of me. Nine to 10 years of creativity – after school through college and after post-graduation. I’m also a poet. So, in self-publishing books, it helps me to understand that side of me and I have learned that I’ve got to work both sides of my brain, the left and the right. So, when we’re working with the left brain, we are expressing the analytical side. But when we’re working with the right, we can be very creative. It is about how to put those two together to get the best of both, is the reason for me to work on the creative side. I use that in my seminars. Two of my poems have gone into films and TV series as well. So, the acting certification was primarily for the reason I needed a space where there were cameras and I needed a reason to be in front of the camera. The course in acting was to discover that side of me. I was a senior in a classroom of 19-20-year olds. The Director tried to dissuade me, but I persisted.
8. What challenges did you face while building a personal brand? What techniques did you use?
The first challenge is that the industry is male dominated. As a woman, I was excited about it because I was more about the value that we were creating. I did not even think that being a woman would be a problem. Suddenly being an Indian came in the way of speaking and motivating globally. if you are a woman abroad in the western world and you put yourself out there, it’s alright. If you are practicing in India it is not always right. And even putting your picture on your website became an issue. This is about my personal brand so you cannot do without a picture. Wasn’t sure but I initiated the personal development industry in 2000 much before it became so in the country. They wondered if a woman could do what men were already practicing with personal development. I said okay, this is now about learning about the business of buying and selling. For me, it was more than the challenge of doing business, it was the style of going about being a speaker which never was a problem. I fell many times I but I made sure that whenever I’m out there to do what I have promised to do, I do a good job. It is a different ballgame altogether. If you have good 2-3 hours, then that is important. You’re helping people grow and that’s what you need.
9. What did you gain in the process? What did you lose?
Gain was obviously more. When the brand starts leveraging itself, that is the biggest gain – the organic process takes over. Adding more value is my whole commitment. I am a growth freak. There are losses when you give and take and there are sacrifices along the way. How much you have given up going where you want to do. People who were with me as friends, were not with you when you needed them; and you realize you suddenly have left people behind. That has been my biggest pain point. You must be focused. Not aligning to what you do – like your social life. You need to concentrate and be relevant, In the process have made myself look arrogant .to lots of people. A lot of your own thought process and belief systems change. You start with one and falls apart when you get to the next level. if you are able catch on to that, then your social life is zero. You don’t have time since you end up writing blogs, series, time for kids, family, other business you are doing….all becomes one…
10. How can someone starting from scratch build a personal brand? What is the first step he or she must take?
Today it has become very important to go around reading the business books and those coming out of business school are joining organizations without much direction. Update your LinkedIn profile in such a way that you are presented as a brand. Add your hobbies since people go to your LinkedIn profile and see what you’re doing, and that’s a pretty interesting You need to start thinking now for 10 years from now. So people are learning to create personal brands. It is not about going to Facebook and letting people know what you are for breakfast. My son, in college, was asked to create a page and asked to think of 10 years from now.
11. If you had the opportunity to change something about the way you built your personal brand, what would that be?
I wish had some experts to work with me. I had a PR agency to do marketing for me so that I didn’t have to do all the brain work. I could have spent lesser time on those aspects and focused on key areas. Started with being honest, authentic although this is not easy at all. People judge you all the time and you need to manage it. I needed to be motivated and innovative and know how to position myself and keep evolving.
12. What is your recipe for personal branding success?
Keep it real. You should be transparent and have integrity.
13. With COVID19 and other crises what steps can personal brands take?
We can do something meaningful during this time. Lots of people have gone overboard. Not qualified to advice and this is a serious advice. I decided to not advice and focus on keeping up the spirits. Lot of real advice is needed, and health is the primary concern. We tend to hold ourselves back. We need to act as a team to control the pandemic. Need to help people cope and give relevant advice. Not worrying not fearing. I am a mental health coach for Indian Olympians and help discover their mojo.
14. What’s your advice for youngsters (Gen Z and others) who want to consider their personal brands?
From a professional perspective you need to start by asking what do you want to see yourself as and 10 years from now? You may not be that today. If I were wanting to be International speaker at some point, I wasn’t at that point. So, I started off saying, “I want to be here as an International speaker” and then we work backwards from there. What would it take me to do that and what are those five to seven actions that I would want to when I’m going to go out as an international speaker? What kind of what I like to project myself as? What is the message that we are putting out? Who am I? Because that real person is going to go out so we can’t convert it that way. Who am I? Defining that and then connecting it with associating it with things that. I have used a lot of associations because sometimes people ask – you are a mother – so how do you manage to do the role? Was a very simple? My kids have been raised to be totally independent. So, you know, sometimes it’s being a mother, sometimes it’s being a woman. Sometimes it’s you know being a ‘growth activist’. I’m so obsessed with it that I feel it is important for people to be able to incorporate in their lives. People say, she is gutsy and very courageous. This is who I am. So I channelized my entire energy to be a motivational speaker.
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- Take a FREE assessment on personal branding.
- Refer to the 3C model on Personal Branding
- Sign up for a 60-minute personalized chat on personal branding
- Personal branding for corporate communicators
Missed the earlier episodes? Read the interviews with Muqbil Ahmar, Tinu Cherian Abraham, Joseph Fernandez, Christina Daniels,Karthik Srinivasan,Gautam Ghosh, Alexander Michael Gittens, Mubeen Azeez, Itzik Amiel, Mangal D Karnad, Abhijit Bhaduri, Sandeep K Krishnan PhD, Scott Shirai, Sunil Robert and Latha Vijaybaskar PhD online and share your thoughts.