Become your brand. Ask yourself, “what do you want to be known for?” Everything I do is intentional to make me stand out, even the bowties. I branded myself as a millennial engagement expert who was a millennial, all the “so-called experts were baby boomers” so my perspective and image gave people a reason to want to listen. I would never be seen at a conference without a bowtie.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Romy Antoine.
Romy is one of the only millennial engagement experts who’s actually a millennial! He’s the author of the Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennials, as well as the founder and CEO of One Stop Wellness, a digital workplace wellness company empowering employees to make informed health decisions, have better relationships with their doctors. Romy was also the 2018 recipient of the National Wellness Institute’s inaugural Young Wellness Professional Award. His work has been covered by Men’s Health, Thrive Global, and he was named Top 100 Modern Man Influencer by Black Enterprise. Furthermore, Romy is a fitness trainer and nutritionist who’s coached clients all over the world! He is a speaker and thought leader on how organizations can inspire well-being, as well as how managers can better engage millennials to attract and retain top talent while navigating through a connected and multigenerational workplace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Romy! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I originally wanted to go to medical school and become an orthopedic surgeon, so my entire path from high school throughout college was focused on that. My reason for being a doctor was “to help people or save lives,” however, that was so cliché and not a strong enough reason for me to pursue medicine. I received a degree in Biology with a minor in Exercise Science and Wellness Management. Fitness has always been a passion of mine, so I became a personal trainer during college which led me to start my 1st business, a fitness blog with online coaching. It wasn’t until a few years of running this business that I met a client who opened my eyes to the corporate wellness industry. I knew I could use my background in helping people to improve their behaviors along with coaching and my love for storytelling to improve how employees experience well-being at work.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I found an opportunity to create a niche in corporate wellness. With all the negative and conflicting publicity around millennials and the disconnect between employees and employers, I knew I could offer insight and get people to listen to me. I entered the industry in 2017 and within a year, I was presenting at some of the leading industry conferences, sharing the stage with some of the same thought leaders who share their insight with me. I spoke on Panels for Corporate Wellness Magazine and the American Heart Association. I also won the Young Wellness Professional award by the National Wellness Institute for my industry contributions which required me to create a task force that would help to engage millennials and younger generations into the wellness industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was listening to the radio in the car in 2017 and heard that Fortune 500 companies were paying “millennial consultants” 20k dollar per hour to help them with their employees. I immediately logged into LinkedIn and changed my headline to Millennial Consultant. In less than a week, I started getting contacted by organizations who wanted to book me to speak at their conferences. I did a lot of research, included my own experience, and read the work of other millennial experts to create a presentation. That led to many more presentations and ultimately my book: The Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennials.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was doing research on all the upcoming conferences to apply to speak at. I soon was booked for one and was excited. About a week later, the schedule changed and instead of the main conference which was in 6 months, they’d be doing a series of mini sessions and they wanted me to do one in 2 weeks on a topic that I was not prepared to speak on. I still showed up and knew that my lack of preparation would show, so instead of doing the typical format, I turned it into a conversational presentation where I opened up for the audience to ask questions along the way. It took a lot of pressure off me to focus on a prepared speech and share my expertise. Had I not done this, I would have looked extremely bad and my speaking career would have ended immediately. The lesson is that even if you’re starting out and you’re hungry for opportunities, its ok to say no, or that’s not in my wheelhouse, instead of putting extra pressure on yourself to do something outside of your expertise. I learned moving forward; I need to be extremely specific on my messaging.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is influential, a disruptor, someone who sees the status quo and shines a new light of insight, provoking others to think differently. I think a thought leader is an expert who knows their industry and can provide a lot of value and offer resources to help their audience. An influencer can be a thought leader if they are providing value to an industry, engaging with their audience, and have some industry expertise.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Anyone can become a thought leader. I would suggest investing in education, coaches, certifications, and anything to help you refine your message and resonate with your audience. In the beginning, you will do a lot of free work and take on many opportunities to get some experience. You want to be known as an “expert,” not a “generalist.” People trust your opinions and once you become a thought leader, its less about the amount of years you put in, but rather the value you bring to the industry. By investing your energy into this, you end up being sought out for interviews and speaking. Being a thought leader can create opportunities to meet with other leading experts and build your network. I have been invited to events where I’d look at the roster of experts and celebrities and wonder if I’d still be there had I not done a lot of the prep work or invested in myself.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Thought leadership can lead to major revenue streams because you can get paid to speak at events or consult. As a thought leader, you have an opportunity to connect with people who resonate so much with your message that they want to use your product/service. When people see you as a thought leader, they want to have access to your knowledge and open countless opportunities. It can lead to publishing a book or creating a podcast.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Do your research and be more knowledgeable than everyone else. When you’re the newcomer, everyone will find an excuse to discredit your “experience and expertise,” you need to prove them wrong. I came into this industry from the fitness industry and had to learn everything about how corporate wellness programs worked, the terminology, etc. I started to connect with organizations that were heavily involved and started to get a deeper understanding and then I read about every book I could find, watched hours of videos, and completed multiple certifications.
- Seek the Experts, I quickly learned how to get in touch with almost anyone no matter how hard they were to access or if they were a celebrity. People love when you read, cite, and appreciate their work. If there was someone I wanted to meet with or speak to, I would learn everything about them, buy their book, then write a blog post citing something from their book. Then I would reach out on LinkedIn and explain how valuable their book was and would love to speak for a few minutes. I used this time to ask as many questions as possible. I have never gotten a “no” with this strategy and it led to me getting industry mentors who ended up showing me the ropes.
- Create Content Consistently. To be a thought leader, you need to share your knowledge or perspective. You must create content and it needs to be thought-provoking or controversial to get people to talk. I remember when I wrote an article on LinkedIn at the end of 2017 titled “10 Reasons Employees Hate Wellness Programs” and tagged all the thought leaders — it went viral overnight. One of the leading experts in my industry reposted it and wrote a review how I was spot on, then went to say “I don’t personally know Romy Antoine, but you all need to follow him, he exemplifies the next generation of leaders in wellness.” I woke up to over 200 LinkedIn requests, lots of emails and over 12k shares on my post. To keep the momentum, I wrote a part 2 which was a success and made sure to continue writing or that “overnight fame would go away.” That expert became a mentor and helped me along the way.
- Become your brand. Ask yourself, “what do you want to be known for?” Everything I do is intentional to make me stand out, even the bowties. I branded myself as a millennial engagement expert who was a millennial, all the “so-called experts were baby boomers” so my perspective and image gave people a reason to want to listen. I would never be seen at a conference without a bowtie.
- Become a storyteller. I am glad I learned the art of storytelling early on which helped to carve out my niche in my past two businesses. I worked with a storytelling coach Andrew Linderman who taught me this art form and how to use it to connect with others and win their trust. Instead of just telling someone what you do, you need to paint a picture of how you want them to feel while providing all the concrete details. Storytelling is a skill every thought leader must have and without it, your ideas will never get valued.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Arlan Hamilton from Backstage Capital is someone whom I’ve admired for some time, especially while I’m building my startup. When reading her book or even listening to her interviews, you’ll see how great of a storyteller she is. Having a background different from everyone else in her industry, meant she had to own your craft and be the best at it. She has a way of connecting with her audience on a human level where it seems as she doesn’t place herself above anyone and makes them feel comfortable. She also is extremely outspoken, according to what I mentioned — your content needs to evoke emotions or inspire thought. While she is a VC managing her fund, she still offers a lot of insight and responds to a lot of comments on Twitter. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s a mentor of mine, and maybe after I finish her new book, I’ll send her a message on LinkedIn to start the conversation.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I believe when you introduce someone as a thought leader it still causes people to pay more attention. I think that term can sometimes be interchanged with expert. I don’t mind using the term if its in the right context.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I’ve been there many times and I feel it’s common among entrepreneurs. Take some time to recharge — I like to meditate, play the piano, or try a new hobby completely unrelated to my work. When your brain is all work, you’ll get a lot done in the beginning, but eventually, your immune system takes a hit and you start to feel run down and lose mental clarity. You need to be in tune with your body and dedicate a small amount of time each day towards self-care, even it means setting a reminder on your calendar.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
With TikTok, everyone is doing some sort of challenge. You can type in any phrase and there’s a challenge about it. I want to inspire a gratitude challenge where people would use social media to challenge each other to reach out to 3 friends or family members each day to express gratitude and appreciation. Creating a movement to spread love will help to reduce a lot of the anger and tension in society right now and remind us all to focus on the small things and making a few people smile each day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Doesn’t matter if the glass is half-empty or half-full. All that matters is that you are the one pouring the water.” Instead of comparing my situation to others and worrying about what I have or don’t have, I believe that I am in control of how much water I pour into the glass. Regardless of the situation, I am in, I will control how I react to it and learn from it.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Gerard Adams is someone I’ve followed for a long time, I even used to write articles for his Elite Daily site when I was in college. We’re both from New Jersey and he is a great teacher. Gerard connects with his followers on a very deep spiritual level. One of my goals is to be interviewed on his Leaders Create Leaders show because he uses it to share the voices of our generation and people who are making a difference without the traditional backgrounds.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.