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Branding Room Only – Ask Paula: Self-Promotion

Branding Room Only -
Ask Paula: Self-Promotion
Paula T. Edgar is an attorney, speaker, and CEO of PGE Consulting Group LLC, a strategy firm specializing in professional development and diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions for organizations. She is an expert in personal branding, leadership, networking, leveraging social media, and business development. In the last year, Paula delivered keynote speeches and facilitated workshops for over 10,000 attendees. Paula has written for and been featured in publications such as the New York Times, Bloomberg Law, Business Insider, and US News.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Strategies for leveraging self-promotion and not appearing as bragging
  • How to overcome imposter syndrome and stop acting out of fear
  • Learning how to deal with passive-aggressive criticism

In this episode:

Self-promotion is one of the most challenging parts of impactful personal branding. Although proficiency and accomplishments are crucial, lacking effective self-promotion may hinder you from realizing your full potential. It can be tricky as the process deals with emotions, manners, cultures, and social politics.  In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula T. Edgar answers questions about the topic of self-promotion on her new segment: Ask Paula.
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Resources mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to www.paulaedgar.com or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Hi y’all, it’s Paula Edgar here, the host of Branding Room Only. And this week we’re going to be doing something special. We’re going to be talking about a new segment called Ask Paula, where I essentially take questions from my audience, from my listeners, from my viewers and answer them like I used to do as Coach Paula on one on one with my clients.

And so this week we’re going to be talking about the controversial subject of self-promotion, something that must be done but is often challenging for people to do. And the reason why I chose this subject is I recently did a keynote speech called Shining Brightly: The Art of Self-Promotion for a group of law firm associates and general counsel, all whom were women lawyers.

And this was a special topic because obviously these folks have gotten to the echelon of their careers or were selected for this opportunity. And yet for all of us, and I include myself in that (sometimes) can have a challenge when it comes to, effectively and, authentically self-promoting. So I’m going to start with how I started with them, which is to do a little self-promotion myself and give you some of my highlights. So as mentioned, I am Paula Edgar. I’m the founder and CEO of PGE Consulting Group, and I am the host of the Branding Room Only podcast. I am also an international speaker and facilitator on a myriad of professional development and diversity, equity, inclusion topics across industries, but with extensive experience at law firms and in corporate legal departments.

In fact, last year, I presented keynote speeches and facilitated workshops for over 10,000 attendees. I’m a subject matter expert in professional development, and I have an emphasis on the soft skills that really have concrete results for my clients. In addition to that, I’m an impactful leader with deep roots in bar associations.

I am a past president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, which is New York State’s largest Black bar, and I am a current officer in the New York City Bar Association, which has 26,000 members strong. I’m also a thought leader and very sought after. I currently sit on six nonprofit boards and I was recently appointed as one of 12 commissioners on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Legal Profession.

In addition to all of those things, I’m an award-winning attorney, a fun sidekick, an excellent dancer, a savvy selfie expert and a past contestant and winner on Wheel of Fortune. My name is Paula, Paula Edgar. You’re welcome. So that is how I started the presentation, essentially showing the participants the bragginess of self-promotion that we also cringe on.

And so I did that as a number one to remind you who I am and what I have done, but also to show you what we kind of think in our minds when we think about self-promotion, but truthfully, great self-promotion, effective self-promotion is really thinking about the skill set that you have and, how to infuse it into the opportunities you may have, effectively without necessarily seeming braggy.

So in that same presentation, what I did was I talked about the difference in impact for women and men when it comes to this. So the reason why self-promotion tends to be challenging and women tend not to want to do it, and I will also include other underrepresented groups, is that societally that has not been an open sort of door for us, right?

It’s been a place where people have essentially said, you should not be able to do this because of the role that you’re in. And specifically for women lawyers, that has been the case because of the patriarchy, right? Because of the ways in which we, our society is built, that women, we’re not looked at as equal and equity does not exist and it still does not to this day and so that also shows up when it comes to expectations on how people will talk about themselves, women will talk about themselves. So let’s keep going. Let’s go ahead and get, let’s get started about this. So a couple of things. Challenges when it comes to self-promotion also have shown up because of biases, right?

And one bias in particular that we have to navigate in addition to sort of gender bias generally, is a bias that we have in terms of expectations of how women, and underrepresented groups show up. Right? And so if the expectation is you’re going to be X and you don’t, then it triggers all of our biases.

It triggers in the way that which we expect people to present and that can challenge our effectiveness and navigating and organizations and other places that we want to have an impact. So I have about 10 questions here today that I’m going to answer. And we’re going to start with the first one, which we’ve already really started getting into.

The first question is How do you self promote without bragging?

So I will say this. Sometimes I think it’s okay to brag. I know that there are societal and cultural challenges in that space. So it really is thinking about the core pieces of how self-promotion works. We often think that self-promotion only shows up in the form of bragging.

I have a four part way that I think about self-promotion, which is number one, you can either, you can do it yourself, right? So you can say, all the things I just said, my elevator pitch is telling you all the things that you need to know about me and the value proposition that I have and the accolades and skillset that I have accomplished.

That’s one. I can also have it that I promote other people, right? So I can promote myself. I can promote other people. Why is that also self-promotion? Because you can do it in the form of we, as opposed to I, right? So say someone is talking at a cocktail party about, now what is it that you do? Well, you know, I’m a part of a team that has X impact and does X thing, and I’m so happy to have had the individual opportunity to do Y, right?

So that you are incorporating, you’re starting with the we, and then you’re slipping in the I in there in order to not seem so much I in your interaction, which can often be off putting and thought of as bragging by some. The other thing is you can ask others to promote you, right? So it’s still self-promotion because you are the one who is still driving it.

You’re still the person who is catalyzing it happening. So that might show up in the, you know, you’re about to go into a meeting. You ask someone else who is a colleague of yours to ask a certain question that you have an answer to, or to introduce you to someone in a way that talks about who you are and how you add value or nominates you for an award.

So there’s lots of ways that can happen. And the last piece is that you have someone or a group of people who will encourage you in your self-promotion, right? So it’s sort of an accountability team, and that’s helpful because it kind of leads into the number one piece, which is you’re doing it yourself, but they make sure that you are not falling to the wayside because oftentimes when we think that we put our head down, and just get the work done and step up with excellence that that’s going to be enough, but I can tell you it is not.

You need to be number one, excellent, right? You strive for excellence, but you also need to make sure people know your impact, know your value. And that is often not done by just sitting there and doing it, right? We hope that somebody is going to come in and say, my goodness, Paula, you’ve been sitting here, with the door closed and your head down, but really killing it on all of the assignments, so I have come to give you this raise. It just doesn’t happen that way, right? You need to have one yourself in your own corner, other people in your corner and people who know how it is you add value. And it’s that challenge of being able to let people know strategically that folks, you know, have difficulty with.

Right. So other than those sort of four ways, you also want to think about not necessarily sharing the bullet points, but sharing stories that incorporate those bullet points, right? So it can be, you know, insert question here, and then you tell a story that enables you to talk about your skill set or accomplishments or experiences that you may have had that are relevant to the conversation.

Similarly, as you’re doing it and sort of, you know, trying to take baby steps and all that you do, and working towards strategic self-promotion, you can ask for feedback, right? Ask your friends, your colleagues, your mentors. You know, I’ve recently been working on this. As we’re talking to other folks or you see me in meetings or other opportunities for self-promotion, I would love to hear your feedback – there’s the things that I should have done better or, was I doing well, or should I continue on the course? Right? So then it’s not bragging. It is being thoughtful about how you’re incorporating your who, your what, your why, and your impact, in order to be seen and hopefully elevate and to you know promote your value.

Okay, next question. How do you toe the line between advocating for yourself and falling in line to be a good team player? So I don’t think those two things are separate I think that you can advocate yourself and be a good team player as well, but they’re like everything else that I’ll be saying today there’s a time and a place and there’s context around what you do and when you do it right so I think it is helpful for you within team opportunities to continually have open communication right to be talking about what the needs and goals and vision for the team is and then how figuring out how you can add value there and how you can share your perspective so that people know and listen to your value add as opposed to thinking that you’re not focused on the team and its output, but you’re thinking only about yourself.

There’s a balance there, but it requires you to maybe sometimes you watch other people and how they do it if you think they do it well, or if you don’t think they do it well at all, figuring out what you shouldn’t do. But in addition to that, thinking about, their perception and then how you can navigate with the culture that you’re in, in order to get what you want.

Also again going back to the we right? Thinking about how you had collaboration before and how your individual output and individual impact has affected and impacted the team. And then remember, if you think that folks are perceiving you as not being a company person or being a good team player, then, think about when you want to pick your battles, right?

Sometimes it’s not the right time to self-promote, sometimes it is and you want to really say that I’m frustrated with the fact that I’m not thought of in this way when in fact I am. And here are some of the things that I have done to help with the team. And so while you’re doing that, you’re also self promoting. The irony.

So, I hope that is helpful with that answer. And the next question is, What can I do to stop acting from fear? And I thought this question was interesting because there is a challenge, there’s a fear in what happens if I self-promote and it doesn’t go well. And number one, it is sort of understanding yourself.

What is it that you need in order to have confidence or to step up in that space in ways that you may not have done before? And I remind people when I’m doing presentations that even world renowned, fantastic performer and entertainer Beyonce has to show up as somebody else, as Sasha Fierce in order to go on stage, right? Because she has some imposter syndrome she has some fear of going on stage as herself, so think about what you’re hearing.

What your internal dialogue is and then remember and I’m going to actually group the next question in which is How to deal with imposter syndrome? Into this one because I do think imposter syndrome can come from fear as fear from a lot of different spaces, is that you remember you hear the negative thoughts in your mind, and then you have to have something immediately after that to say, no, that’s not true. And I always say, it’s why try and find the lie. Like, why is this happening? Is it because this is something that is really intense for you that you’re nervous because it’s a high stakes thing, whatever the thing is, that’s making you feel scared and have that fear and it’s triggering the imposter syndrome. Think about what’s why, like, why am I feeling this way? Why do I have those butterflies in my stomach or whatever, however, it’s impacting you. And then think, okay, I know why. Now, what is the voice in my mind saying? It’s saying that, oh my gosh, they’re going to figure you out.

They’re going to realize that you, you know, you did your bio in ChatGPT and it’s fake or whatever the thing is that you’re making up in your head and then realize that that is wrong. Right? So remember. You were hired for the space that you were in. You’ve received accolades for the things that you’re able to do, like all of the wins that you’ve had in the past, tell them to yourself and have those in a place where you can quickly find them, so when you need to counteract that fear and the imposter syndrome, you have tools there and if that doesn’t work for you, you know, replacing those thoughts, find somebody else. Say, Hey, I’m having a challenge right now. I need you to tell me how fabulous I am. And that’s a good way and having that, you know, your personal board of directors or your squad, like I like to call them or your just good friends and family to remind you that you are in fact wonderful and your value add is tremendous. And then the other thing I would say to you is that if you are consistently sort of experiencing fear or that imposter syndrome, whatever you’re trying to do, don’t necessarily think about having to do it in a huge motion, like a huge way. Think about doing it in small baby steps, like small risks to see how it goes, right?

So those little wins help to make big wins happen faster and again I think just grouping it in with the other question about imposter syndrome is to find people to give you feedback, people to say to you, you know, remember all of the accolades that you have, remember how great that you are.

And then when you do have those achievements, celebrate them. It helps to mitigate that on your shoulder that’s saying the bad stuff and to highlight and hype the shoulder that’s saying all the great stuff. So I hope that that is helpful.

The next question is, I find that the hardest part about doing it – referring to self-promotion – is doing it in a way that’s authentic to me.

How do you know what’s authentic to you? I mean, the key to authenticity is knowing what your value is, what your values are, I should say, and also, what you don’t want to do, what you’re just sort of hard no’s are. That can help you to put everything through that lens and enable you to then navigate in a much more authentic way.

Authenticity is often thought of as this sort of one and done or zero to ten but really, when you think of authenticity, it’s a scale. In some places you can be fully authentic as soon as you are in the space. In most spaces though, you are towards the earlier end of the scale, which is like I’m going to put baby steps in to kind of see how I can navigate.

And as I become more comfortable as I become more able to bring my full self, then I know that my authenticity continues to take on to, you know, being more towards – on a scale of 1 to 10 – more towards 10 then that 1. You also want to think about authenticity in that, you have to modulate your communication and the way that you navigate depending on the context, right?

So, I might be really authentic with a group of people who are similar to me, but be cautiously authentic – because I’m never and we should never be not authentic, just in that scale – in a group of people who are different or new for me. I’m just kind of navigating in order to check out what makes sense.

Okay, next question is, How do you gauge a barometer for where the self-promotion becomes aggressive rather than helpful? It feels impossible. So I would say that, again, going back to that strategy of asking for mentors or your peers or even folks who you trust who are in a more supervisory role to help you to gauge how you’re showing up, because if you perceive it as being aggressive, it may just be that you are internalizing some of the biases that exist within our society and within your perhaps your institution to feel that way, but it might not actually be so.

So, you know, I often think that sometimes we are uncomfortable, not because of ourselves, but because of where we are seated. And so you just have to be able to get enough context and feedback to gauge for yourself which it is, right? Are your values being met? Are your skills being recognized? Can you and do you have supporters?

Can you get support and do you have supporters? So let me think. The other thing that I would think about here is that sort of gauging the barometer is if you feel like you’re doing it often, like you are consciously self-promoting often then maybe take a pause right to see how that shows up for yourself as well as for others.

And then thinking about maybe being more strategic and doing it with certain people because you want to have visibility, and again, not always it being you, but thinking about other people speaking up on your behalf, etc. This really takes iteration. It’s not always going to be 1 plus 1 equals 2, sometimes you’re going to have to divide and multiply it. And I don’t even know why I’m using a math analogy because I definitely do not like math, but you know what I mean. And then the other piece is thinking about after you’ve done it, how do I feel? But remember, sometimes your gauge of your feelings is not correct.

So I would do a combination of these things to ask others, to see how you feel, and also using that sort of emotional intelligence to see how it’s being received from the people who you are targeting in your self-promotion.

Okay. So next one is. I was told that women, unlike men, work trying to prove value.

How do you self-promote without falling into that proving value situation? So yes, because of the way bias shows up in our institutions and our society, there’s something that’s called prove it again bias that women and underrepresented groups often will experience and that essentially is that they are often asked to prove over and over again their value. What this person is asking is how to not fall into the trap of doing it without being triggered to do it. Not internalizing the need to continue to be like, I’m the best thing or I know how to do this because society has questioned your worth and your value. So I don’t think it is often as having to repeat, but it is when you’re having the opportunity to self-promote, again strategically, lead with the ways you contributed. Think about how you’ve had tangible impact and been able to shift towards whatever the vision and mission is for your team or your boss or your individual, rather than thinking about having to validate your value of work. You’re going to say that these are the things that I’ve done, which show your value and worth, as opposed to being like, you know, I promise you, I’m great.

I’m great because I’ve done these things. No, you’re going to really talk about the impact, which lessens your need to be able to say, hey, you know, I know that you might be questioning it, but here’s the things. You’re just doing it automatically. And I think this also shows up with thinking about confidence. And confidence is hard to instill in someone, right?

You can’t say, okay, now I know you had a bad day yesterday, but now you got to be confident. And the way that I encourage people to do it is to find folks who do it well and try your best within your own authentic way to emulate some of the things that they do. But also you know, coach yourself, right?

So I would often have some of my clients when I was coaching individuals, to go into the mirror and say 10 things about themselves that they really thought they did well. And I can tell you that it is a challenging thing for folks to do because we are taught to make ourselves small as women and people of color and other underrepresented groups.

And so even with ourselves, even in the mirror, it can be hard to actually say, you know what? Here are the things that I have done, of course, I have value and do it in a confident way. And so it takes practice and anything that you want to do well takes practice. And anything that you want to elevate and solidify in your skill set can be helped by a coach. And so before I move on I want to tell you that I recommend strongly utilizing coaches in order to help to up your professional and personal game. So, if any of you are looking for a coach, I have a list of coaches who have been recommended to me because people have worked with them on my website.

If you go to paulaedgar.com/resources, you will see that list there. Similarly, if you have a coach that you want to recommend, or if you yourself are a coach that you’d like to be added to that list, please let me know. I want you to have the opportunity to connect with each other.

So please do, go ahead and do that.

Okay. Let’s see. Our next question is How do we deal with passive aggressive criticism or getting denied further opportunities instead of receiving clear criticism? So perhaps I’m going to make this into a full Ask Paula later on feedback, but I will say regarding self-promotion and this passive aggression is that passive aggressiveness happens when people are uncomfortable with your self-promotion or your assertiveness.

Now what I said during the session that I did for the women attorneys and I say often is this, we are sort of damned if we do because we are impacted by bias, if we are assertive and show up in ways that men often are not challenged by. And we’re damned if we don’t because if we put our heads down and hope that we are recognized, then we aren’t recognized and then we end up in the same place of not being able to elevate and have impact within our workspaces.

So if it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t, then you damn well better do. That is what I say, feel free to quote me on that one. I just think that if we’re going to be challenged either way, then it better be the challenge that you get by doing it versus the challenge that you get when you don’t.

So going back to passive aggression, passive aggression often shows up from people when they don’t want to be obviously direct, and they are challenged by actions or words and statements that you have made, and they don’t know how to interact with it. The way to navigate passive aggression is through direct and open dialogue.

To just essentially say, you know, I feel as if there’s something that you might want to say to me, and I’d love to have a conversation about it. It helps people to recognize, number one, that they’re being passive aggressive, and that truthfully, if you want to be helpful and you want things to shift because a person has gotten the feedback, then passive aggression is not the way to do it, it often triggers people, and angers people as opposed to, helps and supports what you may be looking for as a shift. So seeking that direct feedback and then against advocating for yourself, right? Talk about the things that you have achieved and the things that you want, because if you want opportunities, you know, we can often think that people will just know, like, you’ll just know that you want to be partner, just know that you want to, you know, get a raise and have a promotion, but there are oftentimes that people are looking for you to make the ask or to at least assert that that is your intention or your mission and your vision and your goal.

So self advocacy and self-promotion are key to letting people know, and then if it is not received well, then at least you can hopefully have a dialogue about the feedback to figure out how you can get to that space. All right, I’m not a big fan of no’s, it’s kind of like, what, what then, or maybe later.

Let’s figure out how to make that no into a yes eventually, and that takes strategy, but don’t be afraid to seek that direct feedback. Passive aggression is not the correct way to get feedback. Constructive feedback we all need in order to get better, but because people are not taught how to get feedback well, it can be very challenging.

So I will just say this: if you want somebody to get your point, say it. Say your point. I want to have a conversation with you. I have this and this feedback, right? You don’t have to do it in a mean way because it’s not mean if you’re actually caring about that person’s trajectory, and the organization culture, you should be giving feedback, effectively and impactfully.

Okay, next question. If we know people are going to react badly to bragging, why do we have to do it? Maybe we can just get farther by acting how the men want us to. So I actually answered this question live but I thought it would be helpful to answer it here on my podcast because, a part of branding is understanding who you are, what your value is and what your skill sets are and how it kind of creates that magic to what is your personal brand.

Not everybody is your person, not all people are your people, right? And so people will sometimes react badly to bragging, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It just means that you may need to modulate with those folks, right? Or it may mean that that space and that organization or that opportunity is not one for you.

It requires you to be self reflective and also thoughtful about the culture that you’re in and to receive additional feedback to know whether it’s you or if it’s them. But I don’t think the answer is not doing it. We have to do it. There have been countless studies that we’ll talk about the fact that women and people of color and underrepresented groups are harmed by our lack of self-promotion.

We are harmed by the fact that we expect people to just find us as opposed to letting them know. We are harmed by the perception that self-promotion is only bragging when in fact you can self-promote strategically and in multiple ways, like I talked about at the beginning of our conversation, and still get it done.

So, if I tell you nothing else today, it is there’s not an option here. You have to figure out how to do it, but it’s doing it. So not thinking of it as not doing it because that’s what’s wanted. I don’t think that’s what I – it’s not, I don’t think – I know I don’t want you to do that. And think about it, not as bragging, but sort of as self advocacy.

If you don’t do it yourself, who’s going to do it for you? If you don’t catalyze the opportunities and the knowledge about your skill set and your value add, no one else is going to do it. And you don’t have to do it in a way that makes you uncomfortable. You do it in a way that is authentic to you, in a way that helps you to feel, I wouldn’t say comfortable, I would say that helps you to feel authentic about it. Oftentimes the goal and wish – we all want to be comfortable, but my therapist always says, growth begins where comfort ends. And so in order for us to grow, we have to recognize that we shouldn’t be in the state of comfort.

We want to be a little bit uncomfortable all the time as we continue to go towards growth and elevation and new opportunities. So do that.

And then my last question for you before I close today is this: It’s hard to know when to self-promote. Not every situation feels like the right time. Any advice? So not every situation is the right time. Let’s be very clear that it requires understanding when to self-promote requires a lot of listening first, understanding context, understanding culture, to know when it’s appropriate. Don’t make that decision on your own. Ask others, have that in as part of your conversation with people who you trust.

And also, try, and the times in which those things, those attempts don’t necessarily go the way you want, you’re learning. Every opportunity is not failure. Every mistake is not failure. It is learning. It’s the opportunity for you to get, okay, I’m going to do this differently next time. It’s never, and I repeat, it is never not doing it.

So, you need to figure out the context. When are you doing it? Is it in conversations at group meetings? Is it always with the same person and that person is tired of hearing you? Is it in your performance review and evaluation? In all of those there’s opportunity, but you want to decide what, when and sort of what that scale is that you want to interact and interject some of those self-promotion points that can be helpful to your elevation.

Again, it is making sure you do it. It is make sure you’re listening so that you understand what is appropriate. It is using that emotional intelligence that I wish everyone had, but we all don’t have it, that’s another skill we have to sort of gain, and asking for feedback. When you do it and you maybe think to yourself that didn’t go well, or I want to see how it went, ask others who you trust. Mentors, colleagues, and then you’ll have an understanding of when the right time is. I will say a good opportunity to self-promote always exists when you’re doing your elevator pitch. And so in my trainings and my keynotes, I do talk about my strategy for giving an elevator pitch, to be able to kind of say, what is your value proposition and to weave it into conversations.

Okay. So that is the end of my first round of Ask Paula for the Branding Room Only podcast. So you will be seeing that on the website as well as in my newsletter, which if you’re not, if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, I hope you do that too.

It’s also on paulaedgar.com. There will be an opportunity, a link for you to submit questions as we go forward. And I will just answer them, and doesn’t always have to be on one theme. So if you just have a question about personal branding or networking, relationship building, or self-promotion, or diversity, equity, inclusion across the spectrum, or professional development, soft skills, just generally, throw it at me and let’s see, and we will take the time maybe once a month or once every two months to do an Ask Paula segment. And I look forward to hearing what your thoughts are about this Ask Paula segment. And also, wanted to hear if you have other answers to some of the questions, I’m happy to incorporate some of your answers.

So if you think, oh, well, Paula, I would have added these things. Let me know. I don’t think that I am the expert, but I definitely am an expert in some of these spaces. With that being said, make sure you share the podcast… you listen and you share – well you’re done listening already – and you share the podcast, and connect with me on social media.

I love to live on LinkedIn and on Instagram, and have a wonderful rest of your day. And remember, the Branding Room is yours. Let’s do this together. Bye.