Image courtesy of The Jopwell Collection.
I spent over a decade leading global public relations and brand reputation campaigns for some of the world’s biggest companies, working closely with CEOs and senior leaders. During that time, I came across so many accomplished women who didn’t feel comfortable or see the importance of promoting themselves.
I used to feel the same way.
When I started my career, I thought it was enough to put my head down and just do good work. I quickly learned, however, that this wasn’t the case. My contribution was not always clear to leadership, or worse, others took credit for my work. To succeed, I had to start putting myself forward and speaking up, even when I felt uncomfortable.
So I joined the public speaking and leadership organization, Toastmasters to learn how to master the art of storytelling. We think and remember things in stories, rather than facts. It is both a great way to influence others and key to forming emotional connections and building trust. I’d encourage anyone who wants to improve how they promote themselves to think in terms of storytelling — it’s about constructing a narrative of your achievements with a start, middle, and tangible end result. The more you practice sharing your story, the more confident you’ll feel telling it.
That’s just one of the tips I share with clients of Women Who Influence, the personal brand and publicity firm for female entrepreneurs that I founded in 2017, and with readers of my new book, The Personal Brand Bible For Ambitious Women. Here’s what else I tell professionals of all sexes and backgrounds about mastering the art of self-promotion without sounding the least bit fake.
The only way to get more comfortable promoting yourself is through practice. Toastmasters was invaluable in helping me improve my storytelling ability and overall presentation skills, because it gave me a non-judgemental environment in which to practice. Improv classes are also an amazing way for professionals to access new means of communication and hone their public-speaking skills.
In the end, people care much more about how you can help them or solve their problem than the person delivering the message. So when my clients tell me they are scared to put themselves out there, I remind them that they have a powerful and unique message to share with the world. This helps them shift the focus away from themselves and to emphasize the message.
Consistently write down your key achievements and prompt yourself to seek feedback from colleagues and/or clients. LinkedIn testimonials are one way to do this. This way, when it comes to annual or semiannual review time, you have solid, data-supported evidence of the great work you’ve done. It’s also sometimes easier to share positive feedback we’ve received than to acknowledge or celebrate our own achievements, which makes this not just a powerful but also an anxiety-relieving tool.
Your network truly is your net worth, especially if there is a strategy behind building it. When meeting people for the first time, you need to be able to say what you do in a way that leaves people excited to find out more. That’s the art of an effective elevator pitch that highlights s the value you add. From there, it’s a matter of etiquette. Don’t make the conversation all about you; instead, see it as an opportunity to learn something new about the other person and how you can also help them. A one-sided conversation will negatively impact your personal brand.
Studies show that women are more likely to often feel they have to have all the boxes ticked before going for a promotion or starting a business. This holds us back. Before launching Women Who Influence, I spent months attending conferences and seminars in an attempt to “perfect my knowledge.” Only later did I realize that a decade of professional experience equipped me with more than enough expertise to take action. I just needed to get out there and do it. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just take the first step and then the next step after that to build momentum.