Sunday September 23, 2012
Share an idea and pass it on to another
Culture Cul De Sac by Jacqueline Pereira
Instead of just selling yourself, why not share an idea that people can pick up and pass on to another.
HE definitely didn’t get me at “Hello”. Neither did I get him at the end of our rather long, turgid conversation. I actually lost him after four sentences, and had to conclude, as he continued his one-sided conversation, that he must really like the sound of his own voice. Not that it was particularly attractive, either.
Perhaps he was not aware of my muted response and glazed-over eyes, so he could not stop himself. On and on he went, fuelled by his own prattle, assured in his convictions. While failing as a listener, I could not fail to observe him.
He confidently continued to talk about himself, his wonderful work and his numerous achievements. It was all about him, strictly speaking, building a strong case for self-promotion. He had all the right gestures, maintained eye contact and was carefully placing the right jargon in his sentences. He was telling me about himself, yet I found his method painfully dull and him an utter bore.
Self-help books and leadership guru talks advise us to extol our virtues. It is no secret that, to get ahead in today’s world, one has to promote one’s self. People do it all the time. Whether you are an employee seeking a new position or a multinational company CEO intent on securing a key client, self-promotion comes with21st-century territory. We are bombarded with self-congratulatory images and messages from every direction. Yet very few of these messages come across as genuine and sincere. Let alone believable.
Recently, a well-known author wrote glowing reviews of his own book on Amazon.com, only to have his duplicity discovered. Best-selling crime writer R.J. Ellory, under the veil of anonymity, gave his own book a five-star rating, calling it a “modern masterpiece”. Using online forums to his advantage, he also criticised his competitors’ works with equal vigour.
This is not the first case of this practice, now known as “sock puppeting”. It has been going on for years, or so news reports confirm. To save his damaged reputation, Ellory had to publicly apologise after admitting to faking reviews, which he had been doing for the last 10 years.
In a career advice column in The Globe And Mail, Toronto-based leadership coach Jim Murray reaffirms that, in modern business, if you can’t get excited about your accomplishments, no one else will. “People who can’t promote themselves can’t advance their agenda. Self-promotion is the ability to convey authenticity with grace and impact and to connect with others through interesting story-telling.”
That’s a new angle. It’s another way of looking at this tyranny of overstatement. As Murray says, “It’s the skill of talking about yourself in a natural way without coming off as a self-aggrandising braggart.”
His tips make sense, too. Develop a colourful, convincing and conversational story about your past achievements and what you are trying to sell – either your capabilities or your products. This story must also be relevant to the listener’s interests for it to be credible. Learning to schmooze, says Murray, is the art of engaging others thoughtfully, while discovering what’s important in their lives for them to connect with what you are saying. Keeping it personal also helps others remember you positively.
Which is not something one would say about Will.I.Am the Black Eyed Peas front man, who seems to be the current consummate self-promoter. Despite his musical success, which includes selling more than 50 million albums worldwide, he became interested in business branding and marketing after noting that the music industry was on a downward spiral with the advent of free music downloads.
He is everywhere now: bearing a torch for the London Olympics, tweeting a picture of himself with Prince William at the Diamond Jubilee Concert, judging The Voice in Britain, collaborating with Coca Cola and Blackberry. He is also Intel’s director of creative innovation. Not to mention leading numerous charity initiatives and making a viral video for Barack Obama in 2008.
Will.I.Am is not afraid of his ideas and is usually the one pursuing them – on hindsight – with very successful partners. What is even more revealing is in a recent FT Weekend interview, he reckons – when questioned about the presidential video which went viral – that that is no longer the way to go. He claims people now want something “baton-able”. Inspired by the message, people want to take the baton, run with it, and pass it on to the next person.
That’s like self-promotion. But self-promotion should not be about past or present achievements. Instead, how about promoting inspiring ideas? These idea-sharing instances will not only make us sit up and take note, but will also want to pick them up and share them.
Unfortunately, “I” specialists like the one I mentioned earlier cannot wait to take to the rostrum and run away – with themselves.
>Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.