I’ve been watching and working with influencers – economists, politicians, business leaders and authors – for nearly two decades. For a large part of this time it was also often my role as owner of a talent agency – to decide which ideas my team and I felt would get traction and which we would decide to let pass.

During that time it became really clear that some people immediately stood out – and got the lion’s share of opportunities and attention. While others (sometimes with better ideas, deeper insights and more experience) ended up on the side lines.

This led me early on in my career to start asking the question – are there any common links between those that do cut through? After many years of trying to get these decisions right – four red flags rose to the top as those that tended to set real influencers apart:

INFLUENCERS ARE TREND TRANSLATORS

For at least one hour per week, usually over coffee, true influencers usually check their radar to see what’s happening around them. They read industry publications and blogs of other influencers in their area, follow certain people on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. They also watch trends emerging in other industries – and translate how these trends will impact consumer expectations or innovations in their own space.

Then they take it one step further. Once they have gathered insights, stories and examples they think are interesting – they share them. Along with their own personal insights as to why they believe it to be relevant or valuable. Sometimes publicly on platforms like LinkedIn – or privately by sending a direct message to another person via text, email or Facebook Messenger. The latter of these is often referred to as ‘dark social’ and on average gets 400% more engagement than a normal social media share. Here’s what it looks like: “Dear John, I saw this article and thought of you; it reminded me of a conversation we had recently about (insert topic) and I think you’ll find it interesting.”

ACTION: Set up your own radar; list the people you should be following and blogs you should read. There are plenty of content curation tools available today that will help bring the right content to you, such as Google Alerts, Flipboard and Quora. Set aside some time to share these articles and key trends with people you do business with, or would like to do business with, translating for them why they might find this piece of information useful.

INFLUENCERS THINK IN STORIES

A vitally important part of building influence is the ability to think in stories. I know this sounds like it might take a total brain rewire – but believe me it’s a skill anyone can learn. Storytelling is the most powerful tool you have for cutting through the noise. We are already primally wired as story tellers – we just need to turn it on. The key is to start making a habit of including epic stories in all your presentations, posts, videos and pitches. A story can be something that has happened to you, to someone you know, a case study or interesting example. The more colourful and specific you can make it the more engaging it will become.

However – here’s the key – always finish your story with ‘Here’s what this means for you…’. It may be obvious to you why this story helps illustrate your point – but for most of us we need it spelt out. Once you start you doing this – I guarantee you will build that muscle up to the extent that you start thinking in stories. The subconscious part of your brain will start looking for them, remembering them and translating them as if it’s second nature.

ACTION: Everyone you meet, everything you read, everything you listen to can become part of an epic story. Think about how you’ve helped customers in the past. Start listening out for the stories that apply to you and your customers – stories that you can re-tell or use as an example in your sales presentations.

INFLUENCERS COMMIT TO MATCH FIT

Sound like I want you to do 200 pushup before dawn? Not quite, but close. ‘Match fitness’ comes from the willingness to be uncomfortable and do the work to become an influencer, and that requires a commitment that not everyone is willing to make. That’s exactly why these people stand out. For example, the majority of people I meet consider themselves not to be strong at presenting in public. A true influencer would own that, embrace the discomfort as a signal to say they need more tools – and then invest in getting themselves a presentation skills coach. Or if the budget doesn’t allow – commit 30 minutes a day to watching world-class speakers and speaking coaches on Youtube in order to absorb the skills.

Here is a great example. I met a friend of my husband recently at a local café – we got talking about his business and the difficulties he was having getting marketing cut through. He said: ‘I know I would get more traction by posting videos on social – but I just have no idea where to start’. I nodded, gave him a couple of tips and carried on with my weekend. A few weeks later I bumped into him again. I asked him how his commitment to do more video was going and he said: ‘It’s amazing. I decided to set myself a challenge to do a 3-minute video every day for 30 days, no matter what – even if I did it in my boxer shorts!’ Luckily he had no intention of ever using these videos. However, he would watch them and critique himself each time – also send to trusted friends and ask for feedback. At the end of the 30 days, he felt match fit enough to press publish – and hopefully start wearing clothes.

ACTION: Getting match-fit means training, especially when you don’t feel like it. Including listening to yourself speak or watching yourself on video (even if you don’t like it). Where do you need to do to get match-fit in order to engage your intended audience?

INFLUENCERS DON’T WAIT FOR CONFIDENCE

Unfortunately, in business (and in life) there is never a ‘magical moment’ where the clouds part and bestow upon you enough confidence to go out there and own your space. I’ve spoken about this many times – but I truly believe the word confidence sets most of us up for failure. Confidence shows up when we show up – over and over again. Confidence is the result – not the motivator. I can’t think of a single influencer or change maker who waited for confidence before they jumped. Once confidence arrives – you’ve already finished the race.

Instead of focusing on feeling confident ask yourself “What can I contribute with certainty”? What ideas or insights do you have that would be helpful for other people to hear? What conclusions have all your experiences led you toward? In the words of the influence powerhouse that is Oprah ‘What do you know for sure?’. Start there, speak with the certainty you have earned, be open to feedback and keep showing up. That’s the simplest – and more effective – a recipe I know for influence.

ACTION: As a place to begin – start looking for industry conversations you can contribute to. You don’t have to drive the conversation at first, but get in and start contributing your point of view. Ask questions and provide insightful comments. Most influencers I know appreciate and notice the people in their network that consistently show up and add their ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong, this list isn’t a magic button. There are plenty of times (more unfortunately than I care to remember) when an idea I thought would go nowhere – in fact, went on to be the ground-breaking concept in its space. If you’re looking for an exact science I would stick to chemistry. However, there are definite trends. There are clues. There are noticeable similarities and commitments that true influencers make to ensure they have the best chance of cut through.

Which takes us to the final question – are you prepared to make them?

Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the soon to be launched weekly podcast Inside Influence. An exploration into what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes, Spotify or juliemasters.com.