How to Promote Yourself Without Seeming Like a Jerk

The first rule of a good personal brand is that it should capture people’s attention and make them want to get to know you better. That’s what help leads to job offers, promotions and consulting contracts. So how can you become more intriguing to the people you meet without seeming like a relentless self-promoter?

1.  Cultivate passions outside of your work.

People want to do business with people who are fun and interesting. You can (and should) differentiate yourself by being excellent at your job. But you can really stand out through your avocations. Become an expert at something – whether it’s chess or pole-vaulting. Travel widely – especially to places off the beaten path (you’re more likely to engage people’s interest if you talk about your trip to the Baltics instead of Paris).

2. Get ready for the Question.

The minute you enter a cocktail party, you’re going to be asked The Question: What have you been up to lately? Some people fumble and demur – “Oh, nothing much.” Or, even worse, they talk about something boring  – “Well, we went grocery shopping last weekend.” Frankly, there’s just no excuse to not have a ready answer that will lead to an interesting conversation. Try “We’ve been taking fencing lessons” or “I’m working my way through the collected works of Nabokov.” Almost anything is fine, as long as it’s personal, true, and not the lame answer you get from most people.

3. Find your wingman.

Many people worry about seeming like a self-promoter. They might have just completed an Iron Man Competition or published an op-ed in the New York Times, but they fear it’ll seem like bragging if they raise the discussion. Having a wingman, a friend who will talk you up, solves that problem. (Leil Lowndes discusses this to great effect in How to Talk to Anyone About Anything.) Of course, in exchange, you should talk up his or her accomplishments too.

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Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You. She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, the National Park Service, and Yale University. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.