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How to Self-Promote Without Sounding Obnoxious: 5 Tips to Keep in Mind

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Given the choice between talking up your accomplishments or cleaning a bus station toilet, many guys would answer with, “Where’s the mop?”

A lot of words come associated with self-promoting: unseemly, obnoxious, and the No. 1 adjective, shameless. With none being particularly inspiring, it’s easy to remain quiet. While that avoids the discomfort, it doesn’t help. Like it or not, if you want your work and skills to be noticed you have to loudly blow your own horn. Your talent will not be magically sensed; your work will not speak for itself. 

“Life is too busy to overtly be checking out other people,” says William Arruda, personal branding consultant and author of Digital You.

The trick to self-promoting is restraint. It can’t be all-you, all-the-time. But it can be you a consistent amount of the time if you’re delivering something that helps. And that’s the key. You’re not saying, “Look at me and my greatest.” It’s more like, “I think I have something that’s valuable.” Fool-proof? When social media is involved, no way. But with clear intent and authenticity, your chances of success go up.

“It’s not about saying everything to everybody,” Arruda adds, “It’s about being selective for what you want to be known for.” 

Here are some self-promotion pointers to keep in mind.

1. Find Your Focus

You might have a bunch of skills, but guess what? “Lots of people can tick boxes,” Arruda says. You need to figure out what you deliver like nobody else. It could be asking the best questions, saying what everyone wants said, or breaking tension with the right joke. 

Sometimes that’s hard to determine since we can underplay our talents. If you’re unsure, start to pay attention to your day. If you have bits of advice, write them down and if people come to you looking for the same kind of help – Hey, can you cut 200 words out like you always do? Hey, can you punch up this script? – take note. That’s your “thing” and you’ve already laid the foundation, so you end up sharing, not self-promoting.  

“It’s turning it into a micro-channel,” says Mike Ghaffary, general partner at Canvas Ventures.

2. Stick to a Schedule

In a job interview, don’t hold back with all your accolades. In every other place, it’s about restraint. You want to show more than tell your superpower, not sometimes, but all the time. In every meeting, ask those good questions. When you post something, make it about a sales tactic or leadership skill.

Ghaffary says that you can venture off-topic and sprinkle in personal stuff, but 80-90 percent of the time, stay on what you’ve determined is your area of expertise. That patience and persistence – it’s not an overnight process – will pay off and have your colleagues promoting you without having to ask. Think about Apple. The computers have a look. The stores have a look. The packaging, well, you get it.

“Over time, people will inhale it and tell others about it,” Arruda says.

3. Don’t Clog Everyone’s Feed

Consistent doesn’t mean constant. Ghaffary advises reading much more than you post. You’ll see content, both good and bad, and how it’s being presented, both good and bad. You can borrow a style and that can make it feel more comfortable. By taking this methodical approach and waiting to “speak”, your words will stand out even more. It’s like you’re releasing a daily greatest hit.

“What you give is that much better,” he says.

4. Focus on Your “About” Section

Instagram is best for visuals; Facebook for personal, and Twitter is a mix of politics, art, news, and some professional stuff, but not all of it. Save that for LinkedIn. “People are there for that content,” Ghaffary says.

But help yourself, Arruda adds, by focusing on your “About” section. The first two-to-three lines are what shows. Make those compelling, even provocative, so people will want to see click and see more. And what helps is rather than bullet points, craft a narrative. I always loved the environment. I cleaned beaches as a kid and now I get to develop solar storage … You’re just talking about your motivation or history. There’s no chest-pounding when you “wrap it up in a compelling story,” he says.

5. Toughen Up Your Skin

You can be as laser-focused as possible and some people will still take issue with what you share. That’s the nature of social media. Ignore the trolls, but take in the constructive feedback as a way to beef up your opinions and broaden your perspective. In the best way, going online is meeting people you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. “It’s reaching far outside your bubble,” Ghaffary says. 

How your words fall tie back to your intent. If it’s to advance you, it will most likely backfire. But if you’re committed to offering something useful and making people feel a little better, at least not any worse, you have a better chance.

“That’s the north star,” he says. “Who am I helping here?”

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