Cozying up to the idea of self-promoting was very hard for me. I didn't like talking about myself, whether prompted to or not. An unlikely introvert, I'd wait for someone to talk me up or ask me the right question. While those moments did occur, they never happened when I really needed them. To progress on my own terms, I had to get over the thought that I was wasting someone's time, boring them with details or coming across as self-centered and overly assertive. I reminded myself that every time I share myself and my story (or stories), I’m taking the power of my life into my own hands. I compared this to taking hold of a mic, instead of feeling like one was being put in my face.
Earlier this week, I was introduced to a new acquaintance who recently became VP at a Fortune 500 company. This brilliant Caribbean-born woman had concerns around pitching herself, more specifically, sharing her story. She recounted experiences where she’d been asked probing questions that made her feel uncomfortable at cocktail dinners or in conference rooms. It was clear her work ethic and intellect got her promotion after promotion after promotion, but as she pointed out, the further up she climbed, the fewer people looked like her and the more personal the questions grew in reference to her background, qualifications and abilities. To no longer feel caught off guard, she wanted to know how to talk about herself when answering the same, recurring question.
“So tell me about yourself."
When it comes to answering this not-so-simple, non-question question, you basically have two options: seize the opportunity to promote yourself or trust that everyone already knows how awesome you are. Inasmuch that you need no introduction, in which case you’re probably Oprah. The way I see it, sharing your story is similar to sharing yourself, but with a little oomph. Your pitch or introduction should be a little more personal, a little more creative, a little more memorable than listing the places you lived, the schools you attended, and the jobs you held.
Sometimes, you won’t be asked to talk about yourself, and need to decide whether or not you want to get the word (or words) out. This can be hard if you’re afraid of attention, don’t feel the need to share or don’t believe you have something worth talking about. To force yourself past those limiting thoughts, you just need to prep. To promote yourself (i.e. share yourself) you need to know yourself (who you are, how you are, why you are) before you talk about yourself; you need to know what you're comfortable and confident sharing; and you need to know what you want to get out of sharing and what you want your audience to walk away with.
Self-promotion doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable or embarrassing act. Sure at first it seems self-serving, but re-imagine self-promotion as having the confidence to share something that is worthwhile to others and yourself, such as your experiences, your perspective, and your knowledge. Trust that what you have to offer is of value. If you have something worth sharing—and we all do—then you should share it. It's really that simple.