Bragging Rites

In our hyperbolic business environment, all working people—Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and everyone else who must earn a living—are expected to promote their successes and ambitions in face-to-face conversations and social media platforms. Everybody has to be “on,” i.e., camera-ready and prepared to roll out an elevator pitch to prospective clients, an investor pitch to potential backers, or a sales pitch to browsing would-be customers.

Job-seekers sell their skills and work experience to search committees. Apartment-hunters sell their credit rating and rental history to landlords. The marriage-minded package and promote what they hope are desirable traits that will persuade Mr. or Ms. Right to swipe right. Everyone is pressured to sell themselves, but sounding like you’re selling is a turn-off. No one one likes an obvious self-promoter and heaven help you if people think you’re bragging.

While we’re busy telling possibly interested parties how talented, resourceful, creative and dependable we are, we risk violating a powerful social norm in American culture that prefers modesty, cautions Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of MA /Amherst. Bragging is not popular. Do an internet search on bragging, and you get 55, 900,000 results, including How to brag without making people hate you.

Communications consultant Peggy Klaus says the fear of being perceived as pushy and vulgar can lead professionals to hide behind modest self-effacement, even when speaking up about their accomplishments would be perfectly acceptable. Klaus, the author of Brag: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It  (2003), says that the very thought of self-promotion is difficult for many to embrace, including those who are fully aware that they must create business in order to survive. “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, that many people simply avoid talking about themselves,” writes Klaus.

Valerie DiMaria, Principal at the 10company, a New York City firm that helps high potential executives at companies such as Verizon, L’Oreal, Raytheon and BNY Mellon reach the next level in their careers, offers encouragement to the introverted and shy. She points out that if the goal is to make a strong, positive impression at work, you must be willing to tell your story and bragging doesn’t necessarily mean boasting.

Di Maria suggests taking a calm, confident, matter-of-fact approach to sharing what’s special about you. Her firm offers leadership and communication coaching and she recommends these five tactics:

  1. Define your brand One of the best professional investments you can make is to learn to articulate your own value proposition, also called your personal brand. DiMaria explains, “A brand describes who you are, what sets you apart from others, what you contribute and what you want to accomplish. In this information-overdosed world, a brand helps you cut through the clutter and make a memorable impression.” So it’s important that you spend time thinking about how you can convincingly describe your secret sauce.
  2. Give your pitch at every (appropriate) opportunity DiMaria recommends that you “master the art of speaking up.” Create scripts that you can use in different business and personal encounters: an elevator pitch that is also a self-introduction, to use at networking events; a “small talk” version of your elevator pitch to use at social or quasi-business gatherings; and stories you can use whenever, to illustrate how your hard work and ingenuity produced results for an important project.
  3.  Give credit to everyone, including yourself   Always thank others for their contributions and don’t shy away from acknowledging your own contributions as well. Do not relegate yourself to the background. DiMaria wants you to remember to find a way to weave in your own role when recognizing achievement. “If your team accomplished something significant, you likely did something wonderful as well,” she says. “You’re not stealing the spotlight by describing how everyone contributed; you’re sharing it.”
  4. Amplify your reach with social media Complete as many sections of your LinkedIn profile as possible, so that visitors will find solid evidence of the depth and breadth of your professional and volunteer experiences. If you have only one or two recommendations, ask a colleague to write one for you that highlights a strength you’d like to highlight (and offer to write a recommendation in return). If practical, upload examples of your work to the Portfolio section, so that browsers of your profile can understand what you do and gauge the quality of your work. Search for groups associated with your profession and join one or two. Be sure to select the option to receive updates, so that you can join conversations every once in a while. If you don’t have a flattering photo that complements your professional aspirations, have one taken. If you’re feeling brave and ambitious, open a Twitter account that you’ll confine to business purposes and announce conferences that you’ll attend or courses that you’ll teach, if those are things you do regularly. If you get a promotion or receive special recognition at work for a job well done, share the announcement. You can do the same on Facebook. Always respond to replies and inquiries, since generating conversations is an important objective.
  5. Avoid the humble brag It’s impossible to ignore that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with humble bragging posts that try to disguise boasting with a nasally whine (“Now that I’ve reached 500,000 followers, I never have time to cook or do laundry….I barely have time to sleep….”). Everyone sees through the humble brag and it does nothing for your integrity. If you have a success to share, own it because you earned it.

Finally, choosing to remain silent about your accomplishments can diminish your earnings. “It’s those who visibly take credit for accomplishments who are rewarded with promotions and gem assignments,” writes Klaus. As our economy has resulted in less job stability, self-promotion has become more important. Even if you aren’t a Freelancer or entrepreneur, advises Klaus, you need to think like one and start talking up your most valuable product: you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Narcissus (1597-1599) by Caravaggio (1571 – 1610 Milan, Italy) courtesy of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

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Upgrade To A Branded Elevator Pitch

Think about it.  Your elevator pitch and your personal brand are co-dependent.  The two share a mission-critical objective, to create a positive and memorable first impression of you and your enterprise when you meet personal and professional contacts.  The all-important self-introduction known as the elevator pitch is, while brief and simple, nevertheless your most important marketing tool, because it’s often how people first get to know you and your business.

From the opening line to the final sentence, your elevator pitch is Step 1 in  communicating your personal brand.  Its content must be clear and concise, and persuade people that you are worth knowing and doing business with.  Build the introduction to your brand by choosing two or three of your services or products to use as talking points; write them down and rehearse your pitch frequently.  Like a singer or musician, memorize the melody of the song that is your elevator pitch and improvise as needed.

Your delivery is as important as its content.  Polish your presentation by speaking in a pleasant and energetic tone of voice.  Exude a welcoming and friendly demeanor as you greet people with a smile, all the while standing up straight and maintaining eye contact, as you extend your right arm to initiate a comfortably firm hand shake and give your name.

Networking is a 365 days a year activity and your elevator pitch can easily be tailored to fit any context, whether you’re at a holiday party or a business association event.  Purely social events usually do not require mention of your business life, unless the topic comes up a little later, as you chat with your new acquaintances.

What matters most is that your pitch ensures that you are perceived as competent, credible and authentic.  When introducing your professional role, use easy-to-understand, jargon-free language as you succinctly describe two or three of the services you provide (What you do) that solve two or three problems that your clients encounter and must resolve (Why you do it).  Depending on who you’re meeting, you may choose to reveal the types of organizations that you work with (for Whom you do it) and the value (benefits and outcomes) that are achieved when clients work with you.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Take the time to develop an elevator pitch that creates a trust-building first impression for prospective clients, influencers and referral sources and serves as an effective first touchpoint for your personal brand.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Brilliant Idea, the Set-up and the Pitch

You envision a project concept that has the potential to significantly benefit both you and a particular organization.  You wrangle a meeting with either the decision-maker or one who has influence.  Convincingly,  you show that the proposed project will add money or prestige to the organization and that you are uniquely qualified to put the plan in motion and make it work.  You are invited to submit a formal proposal and you see dollar signs twinkling for all concerned.  Needless to say you are stunned when the proposal,  which you perceived to be a confirmation letter since you received the decision-maker’s unqualified invitation to submit,  is shot down.  What the heck happened?

Kimberly Elsbach,  associate professor of management at University of California / Davis,  has done research that shows it’s not only the perceived value of the project that is at issue,  but also the perceived value of the seller—you. According to Elsbach,  the decision-maker makes a judgment about your ability to generate a genuinely creative and beneficial idea and that prejudgment diminishes its perceived value.

Elsbach reached this conclusion when she studied the Hollywood film industry,  where filmmakers regularly  “pitch”  movie concepts to studio executives.  She also attended meetings where entrepreneurs pitch business concepts to venture capital investors,  yet another venue where brilliant ideas are proposed to those with the potential to fund them.

Elsbach emphasized that there are no reliable criteria on which to base creative potential,  so decision-makers rely on purely subjective and often inaccurate evaluation stereotypes,  which kick in very early in the pitch meeting.  From that point on the decision is made,  no matter what they tell you.

However,  Elsbach discovered that there is sometimes a way to redeem oneself.  The trick is to make the decision-maker feel that s/he is participating in an idea’s development.  In other words,  rather than bringing it in all wrapped up in a red ribbon,  showing that you’ve thought things through and you’re basically ready for the roll-out,  devise something for your decision-maker to do to feel needed and  important.  Make the decision-maker feel like a creative collaborator.

First,  set the stage and gain the decision-maker’s empathy by finding common ground or perspective.  If you’ve worked with this person before,  then mention some shared memory of mutual success.  “How is that program going these days?  I so enjoyed working on that project.  It is great to know that your customers have responded well…”  If you’ve not worked with this person previously,  go to their LinkedIn profile and look for common ground there.  After the greeting and other pleasantries,  slip into a shared experience or perspectives story,  whether it’s a project you did for him/her,  or an accidentally-on-purpose reference to a company that the two of you worked at  (“So you worked there, too? I remember the days…”)

Second,  when you segue into pitching your proposal,  show the proper level of excitement and passion.  Moreover,  resist the temptation of being so thorough that you don’t give your decision-maker,  who has an ego,  a chance to put their hands in it and impact the project.  As you are enthusing about the features of your proposal,  ask qualifying questions that will engage your decision-maker in a discussion of what the organization and its customers really need from the concept you are pitching and together with the decision-maker be willing to improvise and compromise on your original proposal.  If you can make the decision-maker feel some ownership,  s/he is much more likely to identify with and support you at the meeting where projects and proposals are reviewed and the executive team finalizes what gets funded and what doesn’t.

Coming up with a brilliant idea is the easy part.  Selling the idea to the organization with the means to fund that idea is the hard part.  Psychology is a sales resource and the successful sales professional makes expert use of it.

Thanks for reading,

Kim