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Sharpen Up:
From Experience To Expertise

By PJ Wade

You know a lot, but do you understand enough?

Years of experience do not automatically make you an expert. Nor do ‘know-it-all’ confidence, an encyclopedic memory orJeopardy-speed retrieval always add up to expert status.

The difference between experience and expertise lies in the:

•  depth of understanding,
•  strength of analysis,
•  clarity of observation, and
•  flexibility of thinking.

The effectiveness of these attributes is intensified by genuine enthusiasm for the subject and subtle personal quirks. Are you aware of what it takes to achieve expert standing in your field, profession or industry?

You know you are an accomplished, experienced, successful professional and one of The Best, but what strategies do you employ to ensure you stay on top? How do you continually ‘sharpen up,’ so colleagues, clients and therefore media fully appreciate the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills at your mental finger tips?

Of the tenSHARPEN UP strategies considered essential to effectively polish and refine experience into cutting-edge expertise, four strategies relevant to media relations were selected for adaptation in this Book Excerpt and included here:

1. Value expertise in others to prove your worth

Demonstrate respect for the knowledge, training and accomplishments of others

Sourceshas earned its solid reputation with the media by understanding the importance of accurate, reliable, timely expert content to journalists who work to high standards with limited resources and tight deadlines. Demonstrate your respect for media expertise by being prepared, working to their deadlines, sticking to their topic and placing their interests (and those of their readers/audience) before your own.

2. Commit to accuracy as a given to build credibility

Sloppiness and errors jeopardize the journalist's credibility, too, so get it right.

Learn about the media which attract your target readers/audience, and about the editors and journalists who consider your area of expertise their beat. Gradually introduce yourself by being proactive about relevant breaking news or emerging trends. Earn a reputation for consistently providing the most up-to-date information and insightful analysis available. Whenever you are not sure about something, don't guess or hedge your comments. Offer to verify any missing figures or details immediately. Ask whether the interviewer would prefer you quickly check online during the interview, or that you commit to timely post-interview investigation.

3. Avoid generalizations, stereotypes and ‘bla bla bla’ to create relevance.

Address specific contexts with clearly-made points, followed by concise proof and dead-on examples.

Don't just say what everyone says. Use your knowledge of the media and their target readers/audiences to dig into your subject for ‘so what?’ context. Decide on your specialization(s) and concentrate on becoming the best resource on the topics covered by your ‘knowledge umbrella.’ Anticipate the types of questions you may be asked, so you can organize thoughts and content in advance. Carry your comments beyond the ordinary to make fresh, interesting connections. Add spice to your opinions, but avoid criticizing colleagues or getting too clever. There is no ‘off the record,’ so do not say anything you would not want to see as a headline.

4. Overcome limitations and biases to enhance value.

Experience creates the biases that expertise overrides to achieve depth and balance.

Accept the fact that in today's information-overload world, no one knows everything about anything. Regularly delve deeply into your wealth of knowledge to discover what has slipped to the back of your mind and what has become dated. Even if technology is not your subject, learn how current and emerging trends impact on your topics.

Analyze your background and your thought processes to identify preferences and biases – professional and personal – everyone has them. They are a weakness or a danger when you are unaware of them and how they impact your thinking and communication. Prejudice must be eliminated, but biases are not all bad. Some emerge as entrenched values and ethics.

It is not necessarily what youknow that creates expertise, but how youemploy what you know that identifies you as an expert:

•An expert is usually the first person to say, “I have a whole lot more to learn.” This is not false modesty, but a genuine appreciation for the depth and richness of their subject.

•Someone with true expertise is rarely impressed with what they have accomplished and what they know. They're always searching for room for improvement and continually wonder what they have overlooked.

•Usually accomplished listeners, those who have developed expertise view others as catalysts for further learning.

© 2007 PJ Wade, The Catalyst. Excerpt from SHARPEN UP: From Experience To Expertise. Reprinted with permission.

PJ Wade is THE CATALYST – Strategist, Futurist, Boomer Authority and Speaker who shares practical, real-life insights on leaving "the box" behind and embracing Forward Thinking – talent PJ regularly demonstrates. More on PJ's 7 th and latest book “SHARPEN UP!” at See PJ Wade's Sources listing on page 222 of Sources #60, or online at