3 Ways to Get Over the Fear of Self-Promotion

In the age of selfies, YouTube, and a host of other ways one can say, “hey look at me” many women find self-promotion off- putting. We all know those people who shamelessly self-promote and their overconfidence tends to annoy us.

If you grew up like I did, you may have been taught that is not “lady like” to draw attention to yourself. The “lady” of yesteryear is supposed to wait for others to praise her, and then graciously divert attention away so as to remain humble. According to one study published by Jessi L. Smith, a psychology professor and Meghan Huntoon, a psychology student, at Montana State University, the reason many women reject self-promotion is largely due to American gender norms around modesty. Women have been conditioned to promote others over themselves. It is a deeply ingrained habit in the American woman’s psyche. However, in today’s business world, women must assert themselves in order to take on new opportunities, breaking glass ceilings, or be considered for a promotion. This means women must proactively override the ingrained habits to get ahead. The good news is that the Smith and Huntoon study proves that with intervention, or help, women can override their habit to reject self-promotion.

You don’t have to be obnoxious about promoting yourself but you DO have to learn how to comfortably and effectively talk about your accomplishments.

Why self-promotion is necessary:

  • To build your self-confidence by reminding yourself how awesome you really are

  • To get that next big job, client, or contract

  • To showcase your skills and accomplishments

  • To compete in a global workplace

  • To differentiate yourself from all the people who do the same thing

Honestly, my biggest mindset challenge these days is still self-promotion! When you are a business owner, self-promotion is called marketing. Marketing is important, in fact it’s essential. But in the beginning, I didn’t like it because it felt proud. I’ve had this conversation with many of my coaching clients and I discovered that they often feel the same way in their jobs. These hardworking women hope and pray that their hard work will be all that’s needed to get them further. And that’s just not true. Many studies prove that.

Here are three ways I, and my clients, have overcome the fear in order to embrace the habit of self-promotion.

  1. Redefine what self-promotion means to you.

In the beginning of this post, I mentioned how you probably knew someone who shamelessly self-promotes and the negative impression you have of that person. What they do has you saying “Uh-uh, no way.” Don’t define self-promotion by the annoying people. Set a new definition for yourself. Just as you can pinpoint the “all-about-me” folks, I bet if you think hard enough, you can also identify the people who self-promote in a way that feels authentic to you. Take notice of those individuals. How are they self-promoting without being boastful? What are they doing? What are they not doing? Start by taking inventory of their effective leadership qualities and try them out for yourself.

In the article, Self Promotion Lessons Inspired by Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women, the author, Caroline Ceniza-Levine, shares a simple way to look at self-promotion based on the advice of the 100 Most Power Women. Their collective advice boils down to “put yourself out there.” But Ceniza-Levine takes it a step further and breaks down what “putting yourself out there” can look like.

In her words:

“Put” = what do you do to self-promote

Self-promotion can be a 1:1 conversation with your boss about your accomplishments to date and your near-term goals. Or it can be a social media campaign to develop an engaged audience and a powerful brand that attracts opportunities to you. Or it can be multiple things including both proactive, scheduled meetings with decision-makers like your boss and more passive marketing efforts…

“Yourself” = what parts of yourself do you showcase

…which specific accomplishments, skills and experience are most relevant to share[?] If you are aiming for a leadership role, then the results you’ve achieved before as an individual contributor, while impressive, may be less relevant, than examples where you propose ideas or set strategy.

“Out There” = who are you trying to attract

The best self-promotion resonates to your target audience, so you need to know whose attention you are seeking. If your goal is advancing in your current company, who are the decision-makers for promotions? If your goal is a career change, who makes the hiring decisions for the roles you want?”

  1. Keep a Triumph Tracker

As women we make lists for just about everything, don’t we? Some of us live and die by our to-do lists. So why not keep a running list of all your professional accomplishments? It is much easier to talk about your accomplishments when you know what they are and how they impacted your organization. One of my biggest personal breakthroughs came several years ago when my career coach asked me to make a list all the successes I had in my jobs. This simple task was nearly impossible because I couldn’t remember what I achieved. I knew I had accomplished some great things but my failure to list them made it as if they didn’t exist. From that, I learned that if I didn’t pay attention to my accomplishments, no one else would either. This is a lesson I share with all of my coaching clients by encouraging them to keep a “Triumph Tracker”. It is a running list of every win, success, or big step you take in your professional life and the results of those actions. This is a powerful exercise because it encourages positive self-talk, fuels productivity, and builds confidence. When performance review times rolls around, you are ready with specific lists of what you achieved and the results of that achievement. Sometimes, you will find that your list will give you the courage to ask for that promotion, role, big project, or new role.

  1. Start small

Once you’ve found examples of people positively self-promoting and started your list of wins, the next step is to start practicing. Enlist the help of your mentor, coach, or a good friend to keep you accountable to finding small ways to self-promote. One of the easiest ways to start is with your elevator speech. Make a point to attend a networking event and the next time someone asks you—what do you do?—don’t give the boring answer of “I’m in sales” or “I work for ABC Company”. Select an accomplishment from your tracker and use it.

For example, one could say, “I help small to mid-size businesses save over $20, 000 on their taxes every year.” Or “I set the financial strategy for small to midsize organizations to avoid the most common business pitfalls.” Isn’t that more impactful than just saying I’m an accountant?

Self-promotion is a skill and as with any skill it takes some trial and error before you can master it. Using these strategies you can overcome the fear and start experiencing the benefits of self-promotion. Bottom line: If you don’t talk about your success, identify the ways you’ve met or exceeded expectations, and highlight your big wins and their impact to your industry…who will?

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