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Branding Room Only Interview with Jay Sullivan: Helping Others to Be Nimble

Interview with Jay Sullivan: Helping Others to Be Nimble
Interview with Jay Sullivan
Interview with Jay Sullivan
Branding Room Only Interview with Jay Sullivan: Helping Others to Be Nimble
Jay Sullivan is an author, an experienced consultant, and the former Managing Partner at Exec|Comm LLC.  Jay volunteered at an orphanage in Jamaica, chronicling his experience in his first book, Raising Gentle Men: Lives at the Orphanage Edge His second book, Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work & Beyond, instead synthesizes his expertise in business communication.In this conversation with Paula, Jay discusses his new book, The New Nimble: Leading in the Age of Change.  The book is an actionable guide to implementing flexibility and creativity in your career and leadership.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How to define a personal brand by value addition rather than achievement
  • What Jay offers in his book The New Nimble: Leading in the Age of Change
  • Strategies for building a multi-faceted brand
  • The key to evolving and adapting throughout your career
  • Refining your brand through writing

In this episode:

Personal brands are often presented as a list of personal achievements. It is all too easy to rehash your resume and forget to establish yourself as a person. While that information is valuable, what matters most is your value addition. Starting there both humanizes and appeals to those in your network. Jay Sullivan has built this philosophy into his brand from the beginning. The result is a winding, fruitful career. His main focus is helping others communicate well and remain flexible in an evolving business landscape. So, how can his expertise add value to your career? In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula Edgar invites Jay Sullivan to talk about brand building and staying nimble. They discuss his unique story, how he defines his brand and key reflections in his new book The New Nimble. They then break down how to adapt throughout your career, the value of focusing on your audience, and refining your brand through writing.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Episode Highlights

00:00:00 Introduction and Welcome

00:00:33 Introducing Guest: Jay Sullivan

00:01:57 Understanding Personal Branding

00:04:02 Jay’s Personal Branding Journey

00:08:05 Jay’s Life Experiences and Lessons

00:13:38 Jay’s Career Evolution and Personal Branding

00:20:15 Jay’s New Book: The New Nimble

00:25:26 The Role of Writing in Jay’s Personal Branding

00:28:08 Advice for Building a Personal Brand

00:30:49 Jay’s Personal Life and Hobbies

00:32:52 Branding Room Only Moment

00:37:05 Conclusion

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Hi everyone. It’s Paula Edgar, the host of Branding Room Only, where we talk to leaders and influencers about how they have built their personal brand and of course reflections on personal branding in general.

And I’m very excited today because I have someone who I’ve known for a long time who’s on the podcast and his name is Jay Sullivan.

And let me tell you a little bit about Jay. Jay Sullivan has spent a career listening and learning. He’s helped run an orphanage in Jamaica, provided legal counsel to people experiencing homelessness, and advised senior executives and law firm partners on strategy issues. In all of his roles, he has learned that listening is the most important skill for being an effective mentor, advocate, and coach.

Nevertheless, his wife thinks that his listening skills could use some work. So I’m going to just go back and let you know who Jay is because of course I forgot that. Jay is the author of “The New Nimble: Leading in the Age of Change, “Simply Said”, and of “Raising Gentle Men: Lives at the Orphanage Edge”. Also a consultant and former Managing Partner at Exec|Comm.

Now, I did that backwards but that’s okay I got it all in. Jay, welcome to Branding Room, how are you?

Jay Sullivan: Paula thanks so much for having me I really appreciate it. It’s great to see you.

Paula Edgar: It’s good to see you too. I’m really glad that we had an opportunity to do this, so…

Jay Sullivan: I almost wore those glasses today, but I’m glad I didn’t. ‘Cause we would have looked like twins.

Paula Edgar: For all of you who are not, who are listening and not watching, I’m wearing my new brand addition, which is my red glasses and their cat eyes. So, take a look and look at me on the YouTube. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. Thank you. So Jay, tell me what is a personal brand to you. How do you define it?

Jay Sullivan: Sure. Personal brand to me is letting people know what you stand for, what you don’t stand for. So what is beyond what you’re willing to do, and how you add value to the world. And that’s really what it comes down to.

It’s how you contribute. I do an exercise in a lot of classes where I ask people to just explain, like, take a scenario of you’ve just met somebody for the first time. They don’t know you. You don’t know them. And I have them write down how you introduce yourself and say, here’s who I am. And almost when I said, respond to the question, what do you do? And almost everybody, instead of saying what do they do, they write down who they are, meaning what it would say on their business card, if we still all use business cards. And almost everybody gives their title. So they’ll say, I am a tax partner at Smith & Jones, or I am the executive VP of whatever.

And then I have them say, that’s not, that’s who you are necessarily, but it’s not what you do. And when they reframe that, and instead of using the “to be” verb, I am, they use the verb, help. I help who do what. That is a statement about you and how you add value. And it’s so much more of your personal brand than to say, I’m a tax partner somewhere.

Paula Edgar: I love it because it gives you the context piece about how you do it, as opposed to just what you do.

Jay Sullivan: Right. It’s about how also… if you use the “to be” verb, I am such and such, you tell people you view yourself in terms of a status you’ve achieved, as opposed to if you say, I help this group do this, then you tell people, you’re telling people you view yourself in terms of value add.

Paula Edgar: Which also is impactful for your brand, right? Because…

Jay Sullivan: It is what your brand is. It’s how you help others.

Paula Edgar: I love that. That is a wonderful focus. And I think really tangible way of thinking about it. Okay. So I’m going to put you in a spot, Jay. Tell me about yourself.

Jay Sullivan: Well, I help people communicate better. That’s what I do for a living. So, that’s where I spend all my time. And at Exec|

Comm, where I’m still involved, obviously used to be the Managing Partner there, but, what we do is we teach all sorts of things, public speaking and writing and negotiating, and yet we do that, the theme behind everything that we teach is that we are all more effective as communicators, if ultimately we’re less focused on ourselves and more focused on the other person. So the goal is always asking yourself, why is she reading my email? Why is he attending my meeting? Why are they listening to this presentation?

And if you think about what the other person is trying to get out of the exchange, you simply do a better job communicating and putting the other person – putting the focus on the other person does not mean walking away from your own needs. You have to have your needs met. You’re just more likely to get those needs met if when you’re communicating, you focus on what the other person is trying to get out of the exchange.

Paula Edgar: You just reminded me of something that I, I realized about you that I liked about you from the first time I met you is that – and I met Jay at the New York City Bar Association where I’m a proud board member now – and I just remember that you, when you spoke, you did it in a way where it was like, I care about you and that’s why I’m telling you this. And you don’t often, I mean, I would say that there’s not a lot of people who do that well – whether it’s authentic or not – to feel cared for as an audience member, attending a training session, it’s something that I strive for when I’m doing training sessions, but I don’t think that I often have that experience, so you just reminded me….

Jay Sullivan: Well, Paula I think that one of the reasons you’ve been successful the way you have been is that when people think about somebody coming in to talk about personal branding, very often, those people get up on stage and talk about themselves.

And when you get up on stage, you talk about your audience and you make it immediately applicable for them. And that’s what has made you successful. That in my mind is part of your personal brand.

Paula Edgar: Well, thank you. Okay. Well, speaking of personal brands, describe yourself in three words or short phrases.

Jay Sullivan: Getting older, feeling younger and still trying to make a difference. I turned 60 recently, and, I got to tell you, 60 is the new 57. Like, we’re still doing well, so…

Paula Edgar: I would, I would say that that is very, very true because, most of the people who I know in their 60s are not what I remember thinking the 60s were when I was younger and so, I would agree with that.

Jay Sullivan: Hang on, hang on. I’m not in my 60s. I’m just 60.

Paula Edgar: Sorry, sorry.

Jay Sullivan: I’ll be in my 60s when I turn 61.

Paula Edgar: Who have emerged in the 60s space? There we go. There you go. There you go. I’m like…

Jay Sullivan: When I say getting older, what I really mean is like able to bring more value because you’re, you’ve got more wisdom.

You got a little, well, there’s an old line that, that wisdom only comes with age, but sometimes age arrives all by itself. And, but I like to think I’ve got a little more wisdom, a little more maturity and a little more perspective.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Yes. Yes. Agree on all those fronts. And that was probably my favorite describe yourself with three words or phrases that I’ve asked any guests yet. Okay. What is your favorite quote?

Jay Sullivan: Ah, um, my favorite quote is from Mother Teresa, and it is, who I once helped climb into a minivan, but, she once said, not to me, this is just one of her well known quotes, that if you judge people, you have no time to love them. And I will not claim that I don’t judge people, I am as judgy as they come, and my kids will point that out to me occasionally, but, I try to keep that in mind, that that’s not about judging people, it’s about loving them.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, it’s a great reminder, but you think I’m going to let you go with not telling me the story about you helping Mother Teresa into the van?

Jay Sullivan: I spent two years between college and law school living at a convent in Jamaica, helping a small group of Jamaican nuns run an orphanage. And at one point, Mother Teresa came to visit her sisters, and I was living with the Sisters of Mercy, her sisters are a different Catholic order, and she came to the island, and so everybody had a chance, everybody who was living in religious communities had a chance to go meet her, and the nuns looked at me and said, you’re part of our convent, let’s go.

And so I had a chance to meet Mother Teresa. I was at, standing off the side of the stage when she was done talking to everybody and greeting everyone, and this young priest turned to me and I was kind of in the way and he said, Hey, would you just help Mother Teresa over to the van? And so she took my arm and I escorted her to the van and helped her up into the van.

And the van pulled away and I’m thinking, did I just help like boost Mother Teresa into a minivan? But, you know, life has those moments.

Paula Edgar: Life does have those moments, but that is, that’s a, that’s a special one. That is literally a special one. So since you’ve already brought it up, let’s talk about a little bit about your experience because you wrote about this in your first book, in Jamaica.

Tell me a little bit about what brought you there, what your experience was, what you learned, et cetera.

Jay Sullivan: Sure. Well probably there in the book, I talk a little bit about it, not to go too off track, but I know that you believe in people being their authentic selves. So, in the book, I talked a little bit about, being duped by God that, like, if I’d really put a lot of thought into where am I going?

What am I going to be doing? I would, I don’t know that I would have done it. So I really didn’t think about it a whole lot. A lot of my, Boston College had the Jesuit University, there are about 25 people my year, my graduating year. Or 12 my graduating year, 12 before, heading down to Jamaica to work in different Catholic schools there.

And so, all my friends were doing this, so I went along and did it. And really wasn’t thinking of moving into a convent, but I moved into a house with other volunteers, started teaching at a boy’s high school. One of the projects was to take our students to volunteer places because even in a country like Jamaica with a high poverty rate compared to other places, even students who were not wealthy and not in a high end school have to go do service work. And so we would, I would take my students, some of whom were in fairly needy, but I’d take them to the local orphanage, and we’d work with the kids there. And I just fell in love with the place. And so the nuns let me move in and teach all day at St. George’s and then work at Alpha in the evenings and then the weekends with the kids there.

Paula Edgar: Wow. Wow. I can’t imagine having such an immersive experience anywhere for that long and in that much of a shift from my normal. So…

Jay Sullivan: I know that a lot of, I’ve listened to a lot of your podcasts, which I just think are terrific.

And a lot of them are with senior women leaders and general counsels and other women who particularly in law firm settings and whatnot. I think that one of the most – you mentioned immersive experiences – one of the biggest experiences in my life is reporting to three Jamaican nuns, like, you might as well be in the military and you learn how to take direction and you learn how to say yes ma’am and you get the job done.

Because even though they all had their own style, they had, we had 250 boys to take care of and three nuns, me and a crew of about 10 staff members. But that’s a lot of kids to take care of.

Paula Edgar: It is. And having had a Jamaican mother and several Jamaican aunts and cousins, I can say that it’s – military is not a, it’s not misaligned in terms of me thinking, um, but that’s, that’s fantastic in terms of that experience.

Okay. Let me go back to my questions. And I want to come back to your other book, your new book. So tell me what your hype song is, if you have one. And again, telling you, this is either when you’re walking into a room, they’re going to know what they’re going to get, they’re going to get full authentic Jay, what song is playing in your head, or I’m having a terrible day, I need a song to boost me. Either or both.

Jay Sullivan: I stay pretty even keeled. So, but my daughter got married a month ago.

Paula Edgar: Congrats!

Jay Sullivan: And she asked, well, thank you. And my son is getting married this weekend. So we were crammed in between two weddings here. But, when my daughter got married, she said, Dad, what do you want our father daughter dance to be?

And she threw out a couple of songs and they didn’t really have a lot of meaning to me. And I said, you know the one that keeps coming back to, in my head? And she hadn’t recommended it. So the one that is one of my favorite songs is… What a Wonderful World, particularly Louis Armstrong, and, you know, sometimes the world is in so much pain and crisis, and we get to just remind myself, it’s a wonderful world, and it’s a painful world sometimes, but we can need to remind ourselves it’s a wonderful world. And so that tends to help me stay really even keeled. And of course, like, Louis Armstrong’s voice, like, you just can’t beat it.

Paula Edgar: It’s a great way to remind us of our shared humanity. Yes. Yeah.

Jay Sullivan: Beautiful way to put it.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So you have been an executive, you have been an attorney, you have been a trainer, presenter, speaker.

You have been an author now twice. What are the ways that you have – three times – that you have built your brand in that space in all of those spaces?

Jay Sullivan: Thank you. Thanks for asking me. I think what it comes down to is that the common themes, because when I reflected on it when the last book came out last month, “The New Nimble”, I thought about what are the common themes here?

Why, why, why these books? And the themes remain the same. And the basic themes are threefold. So number one, you have to know who you are. And, like, we really have to reflect on who we are. Who we are evolves. I’m 60. I’m not the same person I was at 50. I’m not the same person I’ll be at 70. So, who we are evolves.

But you have to know who you are. And like Socrates said, you know, the unexamined life is not worth living. But I think that, just examining your life’s not quite enough because what if I examine my life and I say, okay I really thought about who I am and apparently I’m a jerk, but that’s okay because I’ve thought about it. You know, that’s not enough. So you got to go to the next step and say once you’ve examined your life you got to figure out who you are has to add value. You have to be contributing meaningfully.

We all want to connect and do something good for the world and make the world a better place and impact positively those around us. So step one is you’ve got to know who you are and really think about it. Step two is once you’ve thought about it, you’ve got to make sure who you are is adding value. And then step three is about building that community of people around you that helps you accomplish that goal because none of us gets anything done on our own.

And I think, and you know, your podcasts are a great example of that. They’re all, many of them are people you know, you have built these relationships. And so many of your topics around personal branding are about building relationships and figuring out how to make sure in those relationships you’re helping other people, because there’s karma, and what goes around comes around.

Paula Edgar: Indeed. Indeed. And I want it to come around wonderfully. So, okay. So you sort of gotten to this answer, but I’ll ask it to you specifically just to see if there’s anything else you want to add. How has your brand evolved and changed, as you have navigated all the different roles you’ve been in?

Jay Sullivan: Great. So I’ve had – my wife and I have four kids and I’ve always told our kids, you’re not going to have two or three different jobs in your life. You’re going to have three or four different careers in your life. I mean, think of all the different things you’ve done. So I, as you mentioned, I’ve been a grammar teacher.

I’ve been an insurance lawyer. I’ve been a, you know, one of my hobbies is just watching a lot of history stuff. Between just those three – grammar teacher, insurance lawyer, history buff – my wife says I have six different ways to be boring. So your brand evolves over time. And even in the 25 years I’ve been at Exec|

Comm, I started out obviously a lot younger and had different kind of energy in the room. I still have a lot of energy in the room, but it’s a different kind of energy at 35 than it is at 60. And as you’re maturing in that role, you’re asked to do more and better things. So, I was doing the same programs over and over again, and then clients would say, You know, you do this part really well, do you think, I know this isn’t on your, on your list of things, but do you think you could do X?

And then clients recognizing you, some value you can add, and they ask you to take on a different role. Sometimes we grow not because we think, I now want to become that person. It’s because somebody says to us, I think you can do this thing. Do you think you can do this thing? And we have to be brave enough to say, let’s take a shot at that.

And let’s see what we can do. So, that’s, that’s I think part of how our brand evolves. Is if we think about all the people in our careers who said to us, this isn’t, I don’t know if this is in your wheelhouse, but I think it could be. And I think you’d be really good at this. Would you be willing to try this? And we step up onto it.

Paula Edgar: That is so, so very true. And I think about the times that that’s happened to me, in particularly me being a bar leader, someone said to me. Not just someone Joe Drayton – I’ll shout him out – said to me, you should be President of the Metropolitan Bar Association and I was like… me?

And then I in my mind was like, Oh, now that’s something that I can do. And I will say that one of the shifts that I’ve had as a leader is understanding that I need to be that catalyst for other people to see that thing, to be able to say, Hey, have you considered, because if I needed that spark, then probably a lot of other people need it and want it as well.

So I’m glad that you brought that. I think that’s a… that’s already I know a clip that I’m going to pull and throw back out to the internet because they need to hear it because it’s so super true.

Jay Sullivan: Well, I’ll give you a quick example of it. You know, when I graduated law school Skadden had just started doing the Skadden Fellowship Program.

And they – I was very fortunate to be one of the first Skadden Fellows in the inaugural year, way back when. And the leadership of the team, Susan Butler Plum and other people, were really good at just, in my mind, just spotting talent. I’m not saying like they spotted at me, but she has been so good over the years with all of the different people who’ve been Skadden Fellows in particular, which is a public, for those who don’t know, it’s a public interest, they call it a public interest law firm without walls because they have 25 people a year brought into this program to then go do public interest work for a couple years.

That’s how I ended up being in house counsel at Covenant House. And, they just recognized this – we’re not sure where this person’s going to end up, but we think they’re going to end up in some place where they’re really adding a lot of value. And, and that’s one of those groups that I think does a good job at asking people to step up and take on roles that they may not have realized they could do.

Paula Edgar: I mean, when you said that they’ve done a good job at selecting folks, everyone who I know who has been a Skadden fellow has been fabulous and the value add is so tremendous in terms of how they connect in the work that they do. So I’m glad – we’ll definitely link the Skadden Fellows in our, in the show notes too, so folks can know a little bit more about it.

So one of the things that have been core to your brand building is being an author. So, tell me what made you write your new book, “The New Nimble”, and what some of the core pieces of the book are about.

Jay Sullivan: Right. Thank you. even prior to COVID, but certainly during COVID, my job as a communications consultant is to meet with the leaders and they share with me, here’s this presentation I’m going to be giving.

I need to make sure it’s hitting the right notes, or I’m just coaching – sometimes you do things in group programs, sometimes it’s coaching. And in coaching people, they’d say, here are the challenges I’m facing. And one of the things that was becoming really apparent is that even prior to COVID, people would make decisions and a lot of group of senior leaders are used to making decisions that then the rest of the world just has to live with, especially their employees.

And then with the advent and push of social media, all of a sudden, the blowback on some decisions was so immediate and so dramatic, that senior leaders who were used to laying down the law all of a sudden had to say, well, okay, I guess we’re not going in that direction. We’re going to go in this direction, and they’re not used to that.

And then COVID happened, and I was coaching people all through COVID, and people would say, well, we’ve got a new normal. And then two weeks later it was, well, I got a new, new normal. And then 48 hours later it was, I got a new, new, new normal. And I kept telling people, I just think that our new normal is all of us learning to be more nimble.

So we are being asked to make decisions faster, with less information or with just incomplete information, and then living with the consequences of it and being ready to pivot when it’s not quite going the way we thought it should. So, having, because I deal with so many different industries, I spend a lot of time with lawyers, but I spend a lot of time with financial services and lots of other places, and I’ve just known so many organizations over my career.

And was having so many conversations that I picked nine different industries, so that the book has nine chapters in it, nine different industries, each chapter is a different industry, and how they dealt with either COVID, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the heightened awareness and belated heightened awareness of racial and social injustice in the U. S., the insurrection on January 6th, and how they’ve dealt with having to rethink just how we think in some cases, was really dramatic. So it’s got everybody from Covenant House, to Salve Regina University up in Rhode Island, where I’m on the board, to the NBA, to a congressman who was in the House chamber on January 6th when it was attacked, so lots of different stories about how we have to learn to be more nimble, and then each chapter ends with questions, because I believe everything is only valid if you make it really Immediate for people.

So every chapter ends with questions that you can ask yourself or your team about, okay, do we know this aspect of ourselves well enough that we can grow into a more nimble organization? So the concepts are at the beginning, we have, you have to, again, it goes back to, you have to know who you are. So, do you know your mission?

Do you know your values? Do you know your limits? And the second part, the middle three chapters are all about how to ask the right questions of whom and how to stay humble in asking questions. Because if we’re arrogant about things, we don’t think we need any answers and we think we can do it ourselves.

And the last chapter, the last three chapters are all about how to make sure you move. Like how do you get things to move forward?

Paula Edgar: Wow. Number one, I’m just sitting there thinking to myself, well, this could be The New Nimble, The New, New Nimble, you can have several, several Nimble 2023, 24, 25.

Jay Sullivan: No, no, no, because my wife, it’s very clear. I’ve learned over time that the author writes the book, the family of the author endures the book. If I, every time somebody says to me, you’re going to write another book, if Mary is within earshot, I have to say, If I do, the only possible title is, “Do You Know a Good Divorce Lawyer”? I think this will be it for a while.

Paula Edgar: I gotcha. Well, I will think about that as I embark on writing my own book. So it’s important. I want, I need to stay married no matter what. Okay. Well, that is helpful to think about because when you just talked, spoke about the pivot piece, it’s, I like to use alliteration a lot.

And I talk about pivoting and personal branding all the time because it is better for your brand when you’re able to know who you are, know what your values are, what your sort of baseline is, but that you’re not so stuck in it that you’re not, you don’t have the growth mindset to be able to move…

And so, I think that perfectly relates to how you show up and how you evolve. That’s fantastic.

Jay Sullivan: You asked about writing and being an author in terms of personal brand. Because a lot of branding is about marketing yourself and getting your word out. The books are only part of it.

I have about 60 articles on and I now write for a blog post called, or not blog post, but an online magazine called The Business of Law Digest. And those are pieces of writing, that most are quick articles, but I’m then able to, you know, share some ideas and then post them on LinkedIn and put out, create my personal brand that way of saying, here’s some thoughts.

And, I think one of the challenges with writing as part of building your brand is that – and I advise a lot, I coach a lot of people on business development. People think they have to do a little bit of everything. And I always tell them, no, you have to try a little bit of everything, but if something doesn’t work for you, or it’s too much energy, or it’s just a time suck, just don’t do it. So, writing is actually, I won’t say easy for me, but it’s, it’s not hard, whereas some other types of marketing, and like I get up and do presentations all the time, obviously. I had 150 people on a webinar this morning at Citi, I spoke to 200 people yesterday at a law firm. So, the public speaking part’s not easy, but again, it’s, it’s doable.

But certain networking events, I just don’t like, and I like some types of them, others I don’t, so I just don’t do them. And we, you have to be judicious about where you spend your time. But writing’s a great way to do it, because once it’s out there, it lasts forever, and you can always post it again and share it with specific people.

But when you’re encouraging people to build their brand, you want them to build it in a way that’s authentic for them and relatively easy for them. Otherwise, they just won’t do it.

Paula Edgar: I mean, and, you know, of course, give me a problem, I’m going to try to solve it. Right. So when I just thought about the brand building around your book, I mean, I would be asking people some of the prompt questions, right?

Like, well, how have you, you know, engaged in X, Y, Z thing. Give me an example of… right? Just as ways to have people want to delve in deeper into what your reflections have been and to know more of the questions that you’re asking and to be using it for their teams and other interactions, I’m sure, not just at work.

So, yeah, that’s, that’s fantastic. I love it. I’m excited. Okay, so. Well, we already answered that. Okay, great. So tell me about this. You just talked about how you have built your brand around the book and writing, et cetera.

Do you have any advice for folks who are trying to build a brand? And I’m thinking of this in the perspective of leadership and maybe even also people who are thinking about business development, et cetera.

How do you, how should they show up? What should they do in your mind?

Jay Sullivan: I think it really does all come down to thinking about how you’re perceived by others as opposed to what you’re putting out about yourself. So if you’re framing who you are with the “to be” verb, I am this, then you’re – that’s fine and in the way you communicate there’s no right or wrong, but it’s more about less effective and more effective.

So it’s not wrong to say, I am this, but I just feel it’s more impactful to say, I help by doing this, or I contribute by doing this, or I add value by doing this. And it’s also just something more relatable to other people. And so I think that the first thing is, know your personal brand, not in terms of the adjectives with which you describe yourself, but by the benefits by which other people experience you.

Paula Edgar: I love that you just said, how you add value, because it’s one of the questions when I’m networking and relationship building at events, you know, people will be like, Hey, how are you doing? What do you do? And I hate, I hate it so much. Cause I’m just like, or they’ll say, where are you from? And they’re like looking fervently for my name tag.

And I’m like, I’m from Brooklyn. Is that what you’re looking for? Which what they mean is where do you work and how, and are you important for me to speak to? So my question always is how do you add value to the world? And people are like, what? I love seeing the shock on their faces, but they’re like, how do I add value? But you get fascinating responses, not just what they do.

Jay Sullivan: So when, when somebody says to me, what do you do, in response to that question – for 12 years I was Managing Partner of Exec|

Comm. I never once said I’m the Managing Partner of Exec|

Comm. We’re a tiny company, nobody knows what it is.

And what does it mean to be managing partner? Like, that is not a clear response. I always just said I help people communicate better. And then we’d have a conversation and they’d ask am I at a school, but I’d say, no, I help manage a consulting firm and we go out to the world and do all these different things, but that’s the fourth sentence, not the first. And so making sure that you’re framing yourself in terms of the value add.

Paula Edgar: That’s core, core, core advice. Okay. So tell me, what about fun stuff?

Paula Edgar: What do you like to do for fun?

Jay Sullivan: For fun? I do watch a lot of nature shows. I’m pretty boring. Like there’s not a whole lot of fun going on, but I watch a lot of nature shows.

I’m not a big – like, I don’t watch a lot of sports, I don’t watch any sports period. I play squash, which is a racket game, like an indoor tennis kind of thing, and I did prior to COVID at least. And, yeah, I spend a lot of time reading and enjoying my family. My kids, as I mentioned, two of them are about, well, one just got married, one’s about to get married, a third one is engaged, for it to get married next year.

My other daughter just started – was just admitted to the bar and is now practicing at the Environmental Defense Fund in D.C. So I’ve got a lot to do to catch up with my kids and stay in touch with them. And then my wife and I like, you know, walking on the beach when we can. We have a house in Rhode Island and like to go walk on the beach.

Paula Edgar: Oh, I love that. I love that. I love that. Okay. So I have two core questions that I ask everybody when they come onto my show and that is the Stand By Your Brand moment. So what is the authentic aspect about you that you will never compromise on?

Jay Sullivan: I like to think that I am always truthful with people – that when people ask me, how did that go? I want to help people get better at what they do. And so I like to think I’m honest with people in terms of our relationship and in terms of whatever they’ve asked me about.

So I don’t find a lot of value in – I’m diplomatic, but I don’t find a lot of value in trying to maneuver and I don’t play a lot of politics. No.

Paula Edgar: Okay, so this is an interesting one because I think you’re the first person who’s been a speaker who I’ve asked this question to, right? So, the second part is, what’s your Branding Room Only moment – when I ask the question, what’s your magic, what’s that skill that people would be standing room only in a room for?

But I’m like, you just talked about talking to 200 people and 150 people, but I’ll still ask you the question anyway, because you may answer it differently. What’s your magic? What’s the thing that they would show up for?

Jay Sullivan: That when – and I think what has made me successful or helped me be successful – is when I’m in front of a room, as much as possible, I make it about the audience.

And I really, I’m always telling people that when, I literally did this morning, did it yesterday, but when you’re talking to people, you can really only talk about one of three things. So I’ll give you a quick example here. So you can only talk about one of three things. You can talk about yourself. You can talk about your content.

You can talk to the audience about the audience. Those are the only things we can ever talk about. Ourselves, the content, the audience. Well, nobody cares about us. When I’m speaking in front of the room, nobody’s there for, nobody comes to the room for me. They come to the room for themselves, hoping they get something of value from me, but they don’t come for me.

So it’s not about me. They don’t really care about your content. And if you ever want to see horrified looks on people’s faces, tell a room full of law firm partners, no one cares about your content. They’re like, I spent all my time on my content. Nobody cares about your content. They care about how your content impacts them, which is different from the content itself. So the goal is spending all your time talking to the audience about the audience. So a real quick example of this is how most people start a meeting. Most people start a meeting by saying, so what I want to talk about today is – so think about those words.

What I want to talk about today is… You, content, audience. That’s all about you. If you say what I want to talk about, and almost everybody starts a meeting by saying what I want to share with you, what I want to do today, what I want to go over today, listen to the newscasters. They’re the worst, like CNN and Fox, no matter who you listen to, everything is what I want to tell you about now.

I’m like, how about what I care about? So instead of what I want, start with what I thought might be helpful to you. If you start the conversation by saying what I thought would be helpful to you today, it forces you to think, Why is this helpful to them? And how do I make this helpful to them? And that’s the real challenge.

Very often, because of what I do for a living, people will ask, how to get over their nerves. And how to, like, that they’re concerned about being in front of the room. I promise you, in high school, I was… I was the shyest kid in my high school class. So, picture the most awkward, the shyest kid in your high school class.

Picture him for a second, okay? Picture him? Yep. I was so awkward, he thought he was too cool to hang out with me. That’s where I was on that spectrum. So, but, then I realized, particularly when I was teaching in Jamaica, that when you get in front of the room, what’s everybody nervous about?

They’re nervous about, oh my gosh, everybody’s looking at me. And so what I tell them is, no one’s looking at you. Everyone is looking through you to get something of value for them. And if you believe in the value that you have to add, then how dare you not share it with the world. So, I’m on the stage.

I’ve got value to add. You’re there. You want that value. I think this would be valuable to you. You’re not here for me. You’re here for yourself. I’m just the conduit of information. And you’re looking through me to find something for you. And then, it becomes much easier. And I’m not discounting that, that getting up on the stage can be nerve wracking for people.

Not discounting it at all. But, if you take away the fact that it’s not about you, then it makes it a lot easier to get up there and do it.

Paula Edgar: True. It runs over that great thing that we all have to navigate, which is your ego, right?

Jay Sullivan: And I got as much ego as the next person, but I know when I’m on the stage, nobody showed up at the room because I’m there.

Paula Edgar: I think that that is fantastic. I really, really enjoyed our conversation today and I thank you for joining me on the show. Tell me, where do you want people to find you and more about you and connect with you and tell me how they can find you?

Jay Sullivan: Oh, sure. Thanks. I don’t want to give you my cell phone number, that might be a bit much, but if you go to, you’ll see all of my books there. I’ve also linked on that website all of my Forbes columns and all of my law firm columns, law-related columns. I wrote for the New York Law Journal for a couple of years, way back when.

So, but they’re all there. And, you can sort through them and read whatever you want. But hopefully it’s helpful to you. And I’m glad to answer any questions from people.

Paula Edgar: I love that. Well, thank you so much for joining me in the Branding Room. And, I can’t wait. Everyone share this because there’s definitely some things that some of the folks that weren’t listening need to hear and folks who listening should tell other people who need to hear.

So I hope that you will share it, like it, and tell a friend about this fantastic conversation, Jay.

Jay Sullivan: Thanks. Really appreciate it. Thanks.