Have you ever stopped to think about what makes someone an expert? Being in the PR world, I’m constantly thinking about this. So when a member of our PitchRate community emailed me this week, I thought now’s a great time to discuss the topic. Here’s Kate’s exact question:

“What makes an expert, exactly? Everyone at PitchRate wants us to be certified experts… help!” ~ Kate

There are actually three answers to this question: A simple answer, a societal answer, and a philosophical answer.

Let’s start with the simple answer first. You’re an expert because you say so. Ta da! That’s it.

Now, will this stand up to “real world” scrutiny from society and the media? Probably not. But it’s a good start.

There are certain criteria that we as a society use to determine if someone is an expert. And for sure, the media uses those same criteria to evaluate if they’re going to use someone’s expertise. For example, a key to being perceived as an expert, particularly in certain arenas, is having the “right” letters after your name. We place a high value on education from certain institutions and having those letters after your name can automatically mean you’re an expert, i.e. we should all listen to what you have to say.

Needless to say, if attending Harvard or Yale is in your future (or your past), you’re probably well on your way to being perceived as an expert.

The next criteria is having a book. Although note that while being an author does still hold water, this is becoming less and less of a credibility builder. With self-publishing being so easy now, writers no longer have to jump through all the traditional publishing hoops. In saying this, having a book published by a name-brand publisher does boost your audience’s confidence in your expertise. As for self-publishing? I believe that writing a book and having a book is still a powerful calling card, a great way to establish yourself as an expert, and a great way for you to share your thoughts and ideas with the world.

The last ingredient that establishes you as an expert in the media’s mind is experience. This doesn’t necessary mean you have to have been around the block a time or two. But it does mean you need to have a track record. No one really cares if you’re a physical trainer that’s worked with thousands of people over the last 20 years. What people care about is that 90% of them have lost 100lbs or more. The latter makes you an expert.

Philosophically, none of this really matters, though, if you don’t think you’re an expert. The most important thing to realize is that you do have something of value to share with the world. You have an expertise that’s going to make a difference. No one else can do exactly what you can do.

I know people can get tripped up with the word “expert”… but for me, an expert is a person who is committed to teaching others something that’s going to make their life better, whether it’s how to bake the perfect cake, reduce stress through meditation, or communicate more effectively with their children. An expert isn’t someone who’s superior, but someone who chooses the path of teaching and does whatever it takes to get his or her message out into the world.