Self-promotion is rarely done well.
Maybe this is why the term “self-promotion” is regularly used interchangeably with showboating, and “self-promoters” are often considered jerks. Self-promotion is so problematic that some experts discourage it all together. Many of us, introverts and anxious types in particular, get squirmy at the possibility of being seen as a braggart.
However, it is possible to speak openly about your ideas and work in a way that benefits you personally and professionally rather than setting you back.
The Benefits of “Shameless Self-Promotion”
Shameless self-promotion is not the same as boasting.
Talented and effective self-promoters are “shameless” because their self-promotion is balanced, constructive, and beneficial to the group. They literally do not have anything to be ashamed of.
Constructive self-promotion is magnetic and energizing, helps you connect with the right people, grows your ideas through collaboration, and clears obstacles to progress. This is because healthy, shameless self-promotion focuses on ideas, growth, and passion—there is little ego involved.
In contrast, destructive self-promotion—or self-adulation—keeps your focus in the rearview mirror, on past successes and accomplishments that blind you to opportunities ahead of you. Attempts to set yourself apart are effective but in a negative way. Self-promotion focused on your accomplishments, your work, and your success isolate you from passionate supporters and collaborators along your journey.
So, how do you hone successful self-promotion without a hint of guilt?
The Essentials of Effective, Guilt-free Self-Promotion
1 Actions Are the Most Authentic Form of Self-Promotion
What you do speaks far louder than what you say you’ll do or have done. Whether you are trying to get a promotion, attract partners, or inspire your team, what you do (results), how you do it (attitude), and when you do it (consistency) far outweigh what you say you have done.
2 Constructive Self-Promotion Is About Ideas and Vision
Introverts will be glad to hear that the most effective self-promotion doesn’t actually focus on you directly. Instead, it focuses on the passion, interest, and vision that you have and are working toward. You shouldn’t focus on “selling yourself” but rather selling your values and unique perspective on the world. This is what you want others, whether it’s your boss or a prospective employer, to buy into.
3 Self-Promotion Is About Your Present and Future, Not Your Past
If you’re stuck rehashing past victories, you aren’t going to be able to sell your ideas and vision of the world (or a field of expertise, or a big project) in the future. Self-promoting pros know that you should focus on what you’re working on right now and what you want to do—not what you’ve done in the past. The only exception is if some lesson from your past directly informs your current work in the present and where you want to go in the future.
4 Mastering Humility and Modesty Are Critical to Shameless Self-Promotion
No one enjoys listening to, let alone working with, a pompous blowhard. Humility and modesty are two sides of the same coin and ensure that you can contextualize your own success within the big picture—the really big one. (If your successes look pretty small from that perspective, congratulations, your humility is showing!)
Though these terms are used interchangeably, I will make a distinction. Humility reflects your internal understanding of your achievements, while modesty is how you choose to express that understanding.
It can be difficult to become humble overnight, since the internal monologue you have is influenced by your environment and culture over years. Though there are great resources here and here for improving humility.
Modesty, unlike humility, is a behavior that can be changed and cultivated more quickly. No, we’re not talking about how you choose to dress, though you may choose that as an expression of modesty. What we’re really getting at is how you choose to present yourself overall, particularly in conversation. A simple way to discuss your past experience more modestly is to change half (or more) of the I dids and I decideds to we dids and we decideds.
Whether you’re revamping your LinkedIn profile, getting ready for a job interview, or just trying to navigate networking mixers, learning to toot your horn without putting people off is essential to success. By letting your actions speak for you, focusing on your ideas and work in the present and your vision for the future, and balancing your pride in your successes with humility, you’ll successfully—and pleasantly—set yourself apart from the crowd.