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Nadia Kaplanskaya – Personal Branding With a Heart in Mind

Nadia Kaplanskaya is a Personal Branding specialist. She helps business leaders and entrepreneurs to boost their chances to greater success by building a strong and responsible personal brand around their authentic self.

After receiving MA in foreign languages, Nadia joined a stock photo agency where she learnt a great deal about the photography market and advertising. Following her passion in image-making and photography, she entered London College of Communication where she continued broadening her knowledge in visual art and cognitive psychology. After almost 10 years of seemingly successful career in business and portrait photography, Nadia still didn’t feel fulfilled. She created a photographic experience for business women who wanted to dramatically improve the quality and appeal of their images.

The idea was not only to take gorgeous portraits of my clients, but most importantly to show them what it really takes to have a good picture, why it is so important and how they can become photogenic and feel confident in front of any camera,” Nadia says.

When Nadia realized to what extent the influence of an authentic personal image is underestimated in the business world and how many business people struggle to project correctly their personal identity, she decided to step further into Personal Branding.

In January 2014 she moved from Paris to Prague and she is eager to share her knowledge and develop her career in this exciting new direction.

But what is your personal brand? Nadia describes it as “the word or phrase that reflects the value you stand for and comes to the mind of your audience when they think of you.” There are plenty of great examples of strong personal brands that we all know, like Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady), Steve Jobs (The Innovator) or Anna Kournikova, a retired Russian tennis player and a sexy woman with a very short skirt). It’s interesting to note that when Anna was playing, the tickets were sold out. Surprisingly, she never won a single competition! But she made a lot of money on the endorsement of her personal brand.

There are a lot of phrases that can represent a personal brand. Is there anybody you know who is “The Wiz Kid”, “The Simplifier”, “The Forward Thinker” or “The Fixer”? Most probably, there is. Most likely, you can also think of “The Complainer” or “The Loser”? And there are certainly those who you can’t say anything in particular about. We all have a brand: positive, negative or neutral. And, alas, we all make snap judgements. That is one of the reasons why you should take care of your personal brand.

Among other reasons there are:

  • the need to differentiate yourself staying true to who you are

  • to represent well your business

  • to become an influential figure with your audience

  • to make sure that you are perceived the way you want to be perceived

  • to be consistent in the impressions you produce on others


Nadia says there are three key elements that you need to consider if you are willing to create a strong and authentic personal brand: The Heart, The Body and The People.


The heart of your brand determines “the word or phrase that comes to the mind of your audience when they think of you”. This is one of your core values for which you stand for. The value that will determine your brand’s promise. But what is value from the Personal Branding point of view?

Value is a purposeful and acting reason, a result of the highest level of abstraction, which drives a person to initiate activities whose purpose is the realisation of the value.

Why should you build your brand around one of your personal values, rather than, say, your profession?

Nadia says that it is your value that determines your vision, your targets and your goals. It is your value that influences the way you live your life and the decisions you make. And it is your value that is your most stable “possession”. Your passion, profession, or vision may change. Your values are very rarely changed. So if you want your personal brand to be sustainable in time, as well as if you don’t like the idea of “playing a role”, you’d better figure out what your most dearest values are. And when you are clear about your values, keep your grounds.

Sometimes, Nadia says, people start to “adapt” their values to the situation, trying to fit in or simply to please somebody. Let’s suppose you own a start-up and one of your values is risk-taking. Let’s suppose your employees love your adventurous nature. And they totally “get” your passion for risk. But you might find yourself hesitating whether your investors would “get” it, too. So, in spite of what you stand for, should you position yourself like somebody stable, secure and reliable? Now, let’s think wider — are all investors the same? Of course, not! They are all different people with different values. And what you should do is find somebody who also loves risk (for example, for a potential of a bigger return). If your values and those of your investor match, you can reach much better understanding and support.


In the language of marketers this is your “targeted audience”. They can be your team members, employees, your boss, your potential investors, your clients, etc.

Nadia prefers not to use the term “my targeted audience” which doesn’t produce any emotional response. Instead, she suggests “my people”. Try to pronounce it aloud. You’ll feel much more connected to the people you serve.

Nadia likes to repeat a quote from Tim O’Brien’s book “The Power of Personal Branding”:

“We must look at ourselves through the eyes of our targeted audience and never lose sight of what they see and how what they see makes them feel about us.”

“I can’t stress more the importance of caring about what people think about you, Nadia says. It doesn’t mean you should stop being authentic, take things too personal or try to adjust to every judgment you come across. It simply means that if you want to understand your people well and be understood by them, you should look deeper into their opinions and beliefs. What they say matter. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you come across as arrogant, cold or even rude. Moreover, if you don’t care, you miss an opportunity to learn a great deal not only about them, but also about yourself. So, please, care.”


The body of your personal brand is the elements that help your brand message to “come to the mind of your people”. There are quite a few of them and during her presentation at Wayra Nadia mentioned the ten major ones.

 1. Personal style / Wardrobe

“Dress for success” is not just a catchy phrase. There is a science behind it.

If you never wear a suit, you don’t have to put it on all of a sudden. But neither put on a t-shirt when talking to investors who expect you to be dressed in business attire. There are always options, be creative.

2. Grooming / Make-up

“If your hair are clean and nails are taken care of you are still a man!” nadia says.

Also she talks about a study in the US that showed that women with make-up are considered more confident and more competent. What does competence have to do with make-up? Nothing. But yet, it is true. We might simply associate the ability of a person to take a good care of her look with the ability to take a good care of her customers.

3. Photogenic skills

“Yes, these are just skills and my experience as a photographer has proven it many times. Everybody can learn to look good on pictures,” Nadia comments.

4. First impression

“First impression is really important but if you screw it up, it’s not the end of the World. You can fix it and being confident in yourself helps.” Nadia mentions “power posing”.  “There are certain poses that project confidence and power. Stand in front of the mirror and take one of those poses. And smile. Feel stupid? Hold on. This stuff really works, even if your smile is completely fake. Stay this way for a few minutes and then go and rock your presentation, meeting, public speaking event or an interview. ”

5. Non-verbal communication

“We “read” each other, Nadia says. Don’t underestimate the “non-verbal power!”

She gives a quick example of a “bad” VS “good” handshake, which should be not too soft, not too hard, always matching your opponent’s level of pressure.

6. Networking

“It is not an exchange of business cards or hunt for potential clients. When you network with the idea of “giving” and bringing value to the people you meet, the real networking begins.”

7. Conversation skills

“Listen. This is the most important act in a conversation. Dialogue is not about how much you talk, it’s about how much and how deeply you listen. Get truly curious about the people you talk to.”

8. Presentation skills

“Even if you are in business and you don’t practise your presentation skills now, at some point you will have to. Think of a presentation as of “giving a present”. That alone will make you a much more engaging and enjoyable presenter.”

9. Public speaking

“Lots of people think that public speaking is about them — I am coming on the stage and I give a speech to you. But what if we think of it a little bit differently. What if we think of an act of public speech as an experience for everybody present in the room, an experience which everybody is a part of. It stops being “me & them” (the audience). Now, it’s simply “us”.”

10. Online presentation management

“It’s a very large area. But, for now, just  have a second look at your Facebook profile and check how much stuff is private and how much is for everybody to see. You might be surprised. Also, keep in mind that your avatar is the most important photograph you have online. So take a very good care of it. Make sure it does you justice.”

In business, the way people perceive you can make the difference between success and failure. A true leader must take control of her image and her reputation, and align them with her core value in order to achieve greater success. Therefore, Personal Branding is not an option anymore. It’s a necessity.

“First of all, Nadia says, we should learn to observe how our own mind tries to “label” different people. To help you to start off from the right foot, I would like to propose you a little mind exercise.”

Take a blank sheet of paper and write down the following:

I commit myself to 21 days of observing my own mind in order to catch all the snap judgements I make of people. As soon as I notice the formation of my first impression I would ask myself the most important question in the universe: “Why?”

Date ____    Signature _____

More information about Nadia:

Nadia was brought to Wayra CEE by the Prague Entrepreneurs Meetup.