You’ve been there. Stuck at another rubber-chicken networking lunch, shoulder to shoulder with one of those self-promoting machines. You haven’t even gotten passed the gravy boat before you know that the guy has an MBA, took pets.com public, and has 5,000 followers breathlessly awaiting his next 140 characters of Twi-sdom. He hates it when people describe him as a marketing “guru” but if that’s what people want to say, then who is he to stop them? And by the look of his so-white-they’re-almost-blue bleached teeth, he’s also got a thing for Crest Whitestrips.
Tacky. Boring and tacky.
Any business owner knows self-promotion is totally necessary if you expect to be successful. So what’s the difference between self-promotion with a scalpel and Crest Whitestrips Guy?
Frankly, it’s knowing your audience.
If It Isn’t Relevant, You’re Bragging
Here’s the best marketing and promotions advice you’ll ever get: People only care about themselves. It’s one of those things like gravity and the sun rising in the east. It’s just the way it is. So what does that mean to your self-promotion ninja strategy? If the accomplishment, accolade, or thing you think makes you sound cool and competitive isn’t relevant to the person you’re talking to, you’ve officially become the bragging one-upper. It really turns people off.
Did you just land a big account? No one cares. They only care about the account they just lost.
On the other hand, if you’re talking about sales strategies and you happen to mention what helped you land a huge account, that’s totally impressive and fair game. It actually might help the person you’re talking to close more business of his own. Well played.
The difference? The second approach has something to offer your audience beyond hearing about how awesome you are.
More Listening, Less Yapping
Think about it: The people you respect and listen to the most in your professional life probably have a tendency to say very little. But when they talk, everyone listens.
It’s especially easy in socially awkward situations to babble endlessly to avoid uncomfortable gaps in conversation. Instead, focus on asking the person you’re talking to open-ended questions that give him room to talk and maybe do a little of his own self-promotion. Again, people are most engaged and interested in conversations about themselves. Once you’ve given that person ample time and space to talk, pick up on something he said and use it as a segue to throw a little something complimentary about yourself in the mix. You should find a very receptive audience.
Master the Elevator Pitch
Successful business people, especially in sales and marketing, can tell you in two minutes or less—about the same amount of time as an elevator ride—what they do and why it matters to you. Come up with your own self-promotion elevator pitch that lets people know who you are and why you’re cool. You’ll find that, just like in politics, if you have a disciplined message, you’ll be far less likely to stray too far off topic, even under the most strenuous of circumstances.
Practice your elevator pitch in the mirror, in the shower, at the breakfast table, and on your family until you have it down cold. Once you do, you’ll never sweat another interview or networking event again.
Be Honest, for Pete’s Sake
One little white lie under pressure can irreparably damage your reputation forever. Sure, it goes without saying, but it’s still worth mentioning: Never ever lie, embellish, inflate, strategically omit, misrepresent, or bed the truth or give anyone the slightest inclination that you’re not being completely forthcoming about yourself. Sometimes you may feel pressure to act a little more athletic, seem a little more sophisticated, or appear to be more successful, but it’s too hard to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Besides, honesty and self-deprecation are the hallmarks of someone who is secure in who she is and what she has to offer.
Sometimes no amount of self-promotion can beat that.