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Gamecocks Learn Lessons in Building a Personal Brand

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

Student-athletes attended an informative session on brand-building as part of the Beyond Sports Program.

Building a personal brand is more important than ever for college student-athletes with the emergence of Name, Image, and Likeness, as well as in the search for jobs in life after sports, and South Carolina Athletics provided a learning opportunity in that area as part of its Beyond Sports Professional Development and Summer Internship Program. Will Baggett, a highly regarded speaker, author, and founder and C.E.O. of Emergent Executives LLC, spoke to Gamecocks student-athletes on Monday to offer best practices for building a personal brand and crafting a professional image beyond athletics.

Covering several topics, Baggett emphasized the importance of always being willing to learn and stressed his “ABCs.”

“Always be communicating,” Baggett said. “Always be learning. Find a way to get better. The reason why people stall out in their careers is that they stop trying to learn.  They stop trying to get better.

“Be current.  You should never be in a room where aren’t able to add value to a conversation. You don’t have to be an expert. Understand context so you can have conversations because relationships are formed through conversations.”

Baggett noted the importance of the individual’s ability to communicate without speaking and how it can be an outward display of professional conduct that is essential to making a good impression. He also discussed ways the student-athletes can control how they are perceived as well as lessons in how to use social media channels such LinkedIn to elevate their personal brand.

“Are you the best at your craft? If not, then you should aspire to be,” said Baggett, who has a wide variety of work experience, including several years working with the College Football Playoff. “If you frame yourself as the best at what you do, then you’re going to be recruited.

“Social media is the front porch to who you are.”

“You need to have an ‘and also’ attached to your brand. Don’t be good at just one thing.”

“First impressions can be instant, based on three things: your appearance, your behavior, and your communication skills.”
– Will Baggett

In that regard, Baggett stressed the importance of volunteer experience.

“Until you immerse yourself in someone else’s environment, no one really cares, what you have to say or how smart you are,” Baggett said. “The two things that people value their most are their money or their time. When you can donate either of those, that’s when people know you are truly engaged, and you truly care. Find things outside of your job.  Make sure you have an ‘and also;’ something that you like to do outside of your job.”

The student-athletes were challenged in different scenarios to help them become aware of listening and perception skills as well how they can improve in how they are perceived by potential employers, co-workers and in public. This includes the importance of making positive first impressions within the first seven seconds of meeting someone and understanding that more than half of those impressions can come from body language.
Taylor Steele, 2019-20 head shot
Taylor Steele

“First impressions can be instant, based on three things: your appearance, your behavior, and your communication skills,” Baggett said. “These are things you can control. How do you choose to present yourself? How do you choose to behave?

“In communications, only seven percent of what you say is actually heard. The other 93 percent is comprised of your voice and tone and your body language. And temperament isn’t talked about enough. Are you pleasant to be around? When people are hiring, they’re doing an evaluation if this is someone they want to be around day in and day out. What is your unique value proposition?”

While it’s not a new concept, Baggett stressed the importance being willing to work your way up, and to take on every task in the same manner.

“There’s a saying, how you do anything is how you do everything,” Baggett said.

For the student-athletes, there was a lot to digest, but each walked away with an understanding of how to improve themselves.

“I feel like you can never learn too much when it comes to branding,” said Jackson Davis, a rising junior on the swimming and diving team. “I also learned a lot about public speaking, which is a big fear for a lot of people, including me. I’ve been working on it, and I learned some new ways to go about it and refrain from using filler words. That will be very important for me in learning how to communicate effectively.”

“I learned a lot about how to speak properly,” said Taylor Steele, a rising senior on the swimming and diving team. “I learned a lot about my body language that I didn’t realize before. I’m definitely going to take this with me! The exercise where we had to notice small changes in other people was interesting and showed me how I need to be more observant when small changes happen.”

“What stood out to me was how much your appearance means in terms of how others perceive you, and so does your body language,” said Jackson Hall, a freshman on the football team. “I learned that I really don’t know what to do with my hands when I’m speaking to a group, and I need to cut out a lot of the filler works, such as ‘um’ and ‘like’ and things like that. I work on it! I think it will help me in interviews and to be more prepared in a business setting.”

Beyond Sports provides South Carolina student-athletes with meaningful professional development and work experience opportunities, while also helping them to be better prepared for professional life after college.

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