How would you define your personal brand? What is a personal brand?

These questions challenged participants at the inaugural American Institute of CPAs' EDGE (Evolve, Distinguish, Grow, Emerge) Conference for the next generation of CPAs last month in New Orleans. Brian Kush, president of coaching and professional development services firm Moxie Partners, who led the topic-specific session, stressed authenticity. An audience member agreed, confiding that one way a colleague judges potential clients is by monitoring how they treat wait staff in a restaurant.

The Big Easy was an appropriate place to discuss the idea, and not just because of all the delicious culinary options. There are, after all, also plenty of amazing bars.

It was at one of these, the Funky Pirate, that several EDGE-ers gathered one night for a Tweet-up and witnessed the kind of authentic brand Kush and other conference speakers were talking about.

It came in the form of 500-plus-pound blues and jazz singer "Big Al" Carson, and if you've ever visited Bourbon Street, you've probably seen him perform. And you definitely remember him.

Personal branding, Kush stressed, is how you make others feel, and also "opens up new opportunities."

For Big Al, it's the honor of being used as an example for accountants on at least two occasions: In the conference's closing session, Maryland Association of CPAs' CEO Tom Hood used Big Al's leadership attributes as a starting point for attendees to list some of their own.

He asked them, in small groups, to record on sticky notes what leaders need and how leadership is changing. The groups then pieced together a mosaic of answers on one wall, where redundant answers emerged visually as powerful ideas.

One word that popped out more than a few times in scrawled Sharpie: authenticity.

Remember to tip your waiters.

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