By Gary Hernbroth
Have you ever been asked to “toot your own horn,” to tell others about or list your talents, abilities and qualities? How did it make you feel to answer that query?
It can be a bit off-putting, right? Whether you’re on the sending side or the receiving side, if it’s overdone it can be downright uncomfortable or cringe-worthy. But love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that it’s a necessary thing in our world today, especially in business.
While some people see it as a welcome opportunity to talk about their brand or do a bit of self-promotion, others are very uncomfortable with talking or writing about themselves because to them it seems like bragging or being narcissistic.
But that sentiment can be a big detriment to one’s career. You can’t successfully interview for a job, justify yourself to a customer or build your social media profiles without talking about yourself, your accomplishments and your attributes.
Let’s face it, we’re not all wired the same way when it comes to self-promotion. How much do people differ on this? Plenty. But if you’re in business you just can’t avoid it. Muse.com offers this: “Whether it makes you feel too self-promotional or you simply don’t like being the center of attention, talking about yourself isn’t a skill that comes naturally to everyone… (But) there’s no getting around it: You have to learn to talk about yourself.”
The good news is that you already do it!
In my role as a speaker and business trainer I build programs for clients that usually include a section on personal branding or sales entrepreneurship where people have to come to terms with their attributes and share them among the group in various ways. We have a lot of fun doing these “reveal” exercises, though some people need a bit of extra encouragement on how to identify their top traits and talk about themselves in first-person terms.
One way I help them get started is to point out that they already do it! Whether it’s in their resume, on a job interview, or a part of their social media personal profile, they have already listed or discussed their top skills and attributes with others at some point.
Sometimes I’ll hear a person say, “Gee, I don’t like bragging about myself.” I respect that, but is it really bragging to discuss one’s strongest traits or behaviors to others? Sure, if you do it in a bullying, stand-offish way. Don’t be a jerk about it. You must be able to articulate to others what you bring to the table, and be solidly confident about it, too. There is a big difference between being self-confident and being a jerk.
When discussing what qualifies as bragging and what doesn’t, I’m reminded of Will “The Thrill” Clark, a former major league baseball player and six-time all-star. Playing for the San Francisco Giants at the time, he was asked by a reporter during an interview if he was indeed bragging about beating the other team in the upcoming National League playoffs. He famously replied, “Well, it ain’t bragging if you back it up.”
Be proud of your attributes – it’s your personal brand
Everyone has stories, everyone has attributes. You should always be prepared to have yours ready to use and ready to discuss. After all, your personal brand depends on it.
For example, how about these instances when others are asking you to toot your own horn: “So, can you tell me what your strongest attributes are, the ones that would qualify you to be the manager of our department?” Or, “I’m considering booking with you and entrusting my company’s annual event into your hands. What strengths do you bring to the table that would show me that I’m making the right decision?”
Boom! Those are deer-in-the-headlights questions, aren’t they? Before you snicker, think about this: Even though someone may not ask you those types of questions one-on-one, it’s likely that they (your potential bosses or customers) are already thinking them – and you’d better have believable answers and self-confidence ready to go in order to prove your worth.
Does your on-line story need an “Attribute makeover”?
Are your best traits and strengths squarely positioned in your on-line profiles, for all to see? They should be. When I help people with their LinkedIn profiles, the most critical areas we begin with are the description below their name and their “About” section. If people only spend 7-15 seconds checking you out, it’s likely they are reading your personal description and then, if so intrigued, they’ll go on to read more in your “About” section. Now, guess where many LinkedIn profiles need the most work?
Too many people think their “About” section is the place to copy and paste the talking points about their company, often lifting them word-for-word right off the company’s website. No, no, no! It’s a sure cure for insomnia.
In addition to being sleep-inducing, it’s the wrong usage of that precious space. It wasn’t designed to be a company manifesto. That space is for YOUR STORY, not your company’s. It’s YOUR profile, not your company’s. Mentioning something about your company is certainly acceptable, but remember that people visit your profile to read about you – if they want to read about your company they’ll go to its website.
If you simply feature your company’s factoids on your profile you’re losing a terrific opportunity to tell others along the e-highway about your own unique story — what makes you tick, what strengths you bring to bear, and what it would be like to do business with you. Tell YOUR story in this space — it’s your billboard.
Questions that help us talk about ourselves
When I’m helping people build their LinkedIn “About” section (or their biographical sections on other social media platforms and resumes) it can understandably be a bit of a challenge for those who find it uncomfortable talking about themselves. Thus, I’ve developed a series of questions to help them get their thoughts and writing going.
My best advice is to be genuine. Be authentic. Stay away from bland, over-used trite phrases that many others tend to employ (Check out the list of over-used phrases and words LinkedIn makes available). Avoid them like the plague. Terms like “proven track record” is traditionally on their list and is my most disfavored. Yuck. It’s a term that means nothing.
These questions will help you come to grips with your best attributes/traits and other interesting anecdotes that other people will find compelling and interesting about you. They will help you tell your story. Put them in the order that suits you best:
- What inspires me?
- Why am I in this business?
- What do I enjoy most about what I do?
- What kind of person am I?
- What kind of person am I to work with?
- What do I find most gratifying?
- What am I most proud of?
- What are my top 3 attributes? (A good place to use what others have said about you — customers, peers, colleagues, etc.)
- What 3 adjectives best describe me?
- S-A-R (Situation that I inherited; Actions that I took; Results that occurred as a result)
- What do I bring to the table? (Why you would want to do business with me)
Finally, please remember to Keep It Real. Nobody walks on water, yet some peoples’ profiles come close to insinuating just that. Use your answers to these questions to proudly tell your story, and you will see your connection invitations increase. You will compel more customers and colleagues to engage with you. You will also be telling the world in a good way what your competitive advantages are and what makes you unique.
And remember: “It ain’t bragging if you back it up.”