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How Can Thought Leaders Keep Their Edge in the Age of AI? Human-First Communication.

Original Publication

Mar 8, 2024



Mar 17, 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) is outpacing humans in content creation.


In fact, a majority assert that AI can enhance text quality, creativity, and efficiency in various contexts.


Worldwide, over 250 million people are using AI tools – a number expected to triple in the next seven years.

And yet...


It’s never been a better time to be a leader of ideas.



Because people need your expertise.

In our data-driven, AI-generated content world, it takes time and energy to think critically, to act conscientiously, to connect the dots between what you’re doing and how it affects others.

Today, value lies not in products you create, but in how your brain integrates information from different sources, synthesizes that information, then explains concepts in thought-provoking, emotion-filled ways specific to unique circumstances.


In other words, to win, don’t tell people what to do – make them think, deeply and critically.

It's no longer about creating more - more content, more social posts, more page views.

Machines now - and always will - win that battle.

Now, it's about helping people think - deeply and critically.

People will always need help staying on the leading edge of ideas to know what’s coming around the corner.

AI can't do this; it can only process and repackage what's already out there. Like data sets, AI is a reflection of the past. 

What's more, people want to elevate their thinking, to be challenged, and to be motivated to take action

There's also the issue of lack of trust in AI.

Over one-third (38%) of global business leaders are skeptical of AI, a figure that jumps to nearly half (48%) among employees. 


To counteract AI, thought leaders need to push further into their humanity. They need to adopt a human-first communications approach.


Our leading edge isn’t our brilliance, but our wisdom earned through decades of insatiable curiosity and failed experiments.


It's in the conversations we have, the people we meet, and how we connect the dots.


It's in the humility of admitting we don't have all the answers and the confidence to figure out the solution.

I've seen impressive, yet-to-be-published AI models take demographic inputs and generate custom messages in a matter of seconds (market research will never be the same).


I've seen AI generate life-like video from simple text instructions (lookout Pixar). 


Yet, despite all the promising possibilities, algorithms can't feel, emote or generate nuanced-filled ideas. Its 'imagination' is limited.

Which means, AI can't connect as human beings do.


That's why, to increase your visibility, think beyond the SEO rat race and deepen your connection with your audience.

Forget proving yourself and just be yourself.


Look past follower counts, likes, or shares and instead direct your attention to conversations started, opinions changed, and mindsets shifted.

What is human-first communication?

Let's break it down into three parts


What Being Human Means For Your Communication

What does it mean to be human?


For starters, we’re messy and full of contradictions. We lead with emotion. We’re quick to judge and slow to trust, especially in this age of information overload.


Our negativity bias attracts us to stories of violence, loss, and struggle like moths to a flame.


Evolutionary instincts have us surviving at all costs, yet our preferred mode is stasis. We often don’t like change. In fact, we won’t change our behavior until another offer outweighs our anxieties and habits.


Which means... 


If you want to influence how people think, not only do you need to understand their challenges, you also have to acknowledge fears along the way.

Trust comes after connection.


The Mindset of Human-First Communication

To succeed in the uphill climb that is earning trust, you not only have to remember your audience’s humanity, you need to lean into your own.


Your humanity – not your brain – is your greatest asset.


Up until now, it’s been about what you know. Moving forward, it’s also about who you are and how you communicate.


The rules changed when you set out to influence industry decision makers.


And no, you can’t make a living on stories and emotions alone. But humans aren’t machines; we feel first and think second.


To change minds, people first have to trust you. Which means you need to connect with them. Which means you need to share what’s in your head and your heart.


So, where do you start?


Lead with personal vignettes that pull back the curtain on your values. Tell us why you do what you do. Show us where the fire in your belly comes from so we can understand your motives. Start from a place of humility.


Then, we’ll know you see us as people – not statistics, demographics, or dollar signs.


This isn’t easy. In fact, it’s really hard to do because the ‘doing’ looks like a never-ending see-saw between unwavering belief in your ideas and humility that there’s always more to learn.


Which means, to have the wind at your back, you need to communicate in ways that play to your strengths.


How To Practice Human-First Communication

Good news: You’re not obligated to have an opinion on everything – and no one is entitled to your opinion.


Bad news: You need to figure out how to show, not tell, while being the real you.


Once you’re known for something, people may want to hear your take on everything related to it – and then some. Leading thinkers prefer to stay in their lane and comment publicly only when the topic is relevant to their expertise.


But ultimately, it’s your choice. You set the guardrails. You choose when to enter the arena and what to share.


When you do decide to speak, the question to ask yourself isn’t, “What is the market demanding?” but, “How can I show up for my audience day after day, in a way that's genuine to me and valuable to them?”


Video is effective because it leads with emotion. Writing can be powerful and easy for your audience to share.


Presentations are opportunities to harness the best of visual and text-based mediums while revealing a bit of personality.


And podcasts can be a great way to pull back the curtain and share off-the-cuff conversations that reveal how you move and breathe in the world.


It doesn’t matter how you show up, as long as you’re honest (we can smell fake a mile away) and consistent (humans need to hear something seven times before it sinks in).


But that’s not all.


The final step is taking your ideas and filtering them through a human sieve of emotional intelligence to ensure your message resonates with your audience.

How to apply human-first communication to thought leadership

It’s easy to get caught in the mind game of: 'Are my ideas good enough? What will decision-makers think? What if someone cancels me? But wait – what if this is the thing that gets me noticed?'


To help stop the chaotic ego-driven swirl, human-first communication takes the spotlight off of you and centers it on the connection between you and your audience.


It starts with trust, empathy, and humility – things you’ve likely de-emphasized up until this point.


And yes, it will feel weird. As experts, your natural instinct is to lean into your intelligence because that’s what’s gotten you this far.


If you want to influence the broader conversation, it's time to change tactics.

It's time to hit the brakes on fancy words and cumbersome concepts and put your foot on the gas of emotion.


Understand your audience

To connect, you first have to understand your audience. Not their demographics or perceived needs, but what makes them tick. Their values, the context of their struggles, and the progress they're trying to make


And of course, their fundamental need for connection.


With human-first communication techniques, you'll win the battle against the algorithms every time with messages that resonate.


So what does this look like in practice?

  • Listen with laser focus.

  • Sense in your body what dynamics are at play.

  • Be mindful of what’s not being said.

  • Ask a lot of questions, respectfully.

  • Reflect on what happened and what you learned.

  • Stay curious!

Break down your idea into easy to understand parts - but don't oversimplify

The goal is to translate your brilliant (but perhaps complex) ideas into language that honors all starting lines.


Your sweet spot is the happy medium in between cumbersome research data and sanitized marketing speak.


A place filled with nuance, but not excess. Unique insight instead of guru-speak fluff. And where success ultimately looks like a duality of self-interest (to keep people wanting more so you can earn a sustainable income) and moral sentiment that acknowledges human circumstances while inspiring change.


The secret?


This place is different for every leader.

Translate your message into language that's genuine to who you are, and resonates with your audience

It’s not only what you say but how you say it that matters.


Word choice, tone, literary techniques (e.g. metaphor) – regardless of the medium, these are critical if you want your message to stick.


That’s because humans register not just what’s in front of them, but also everything not being said.


In the spaces between words, we decipher tone, affect, and personality. When we read a byline, we see a human being.


AI understands code and thinks in black and white. Humans understand nuance and see in all shades of gray – and infinite colors!


What’s more, facts and figures don’t make us feel. By illustrating your concepts using personal anecdotes, learning moments, successes, and failures, you become a 360-degree human being. Suddenly, you’re real to your audience.


And because you’re real – warts and all – people are more likely to believe you.


Even better, speak generously with genuine concern and practice what you publish. “Do what I say, not what I do” puts you on the fast track to irrelevance.


Stories resonate deeply because they are the most enduring way humans have shared information through the millennia.




Your stories, values, intelligence, and life experiences will make you the person we should – and want to – listen to.

But what about the bottom line?

I know what you’re thinking: “Human-first communication sounds great, but how do I make a living with this strategy?”


If you stick to generic, AI-generated content, you’ll be swimming with the masses.


of marketers using generative AI say they use it for basic content creation or copywriting


of organizations using AI say they do so for most of their marketing and communications

⬆️ That doesn’t mean it’s working.

There are no shortcuts, no matter what anyone tells you.


AI is not a fast-track.


Trust is built one step at a time through consistent interaction (in person and online) that resonates, not an SEO or marketing strategy alone.


To disarm skepticism, it’s one article, one video, one podcast at a time.

"Rising generations of professionals are more adept at spotting inauthenticity and disingenuity in [the] digital space. They grew up in this world. Their 'BS detectors' are finely tuned."

Less is more


You can’t compete with the ever-increasing volume of content out there, nor should you.


It’s time to stop adding to the deluge of mediocre content vying for our attention.


To stand out as a leading thinker, trust and nuanced explanations – not likes or followers – is the goal.


Lean into your emotional intelligence – not your book genius – while speaking to values-driven audiences.


Machines are smart – and are getting smarter. And while they can ace standardized tests, they fall short in what makes humans unique.


The gold lies in quality over quantity – in digging deeper and exploring questions to get at what’s really going on. Then, explaining ideas with nuance and a perspective unique to both you and your audience.

Knowledge + empathy = connection.
Connection leads to trust.
Trust is the fuel that spreads ideas.
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