As a marketing coach who made no secret of being an Introvert, I had many business-owner clients confide to me their distaste for self-promotion.
“It’s not in me to brag,” said Len, a former corporate training company head now offering web development advice to firms in that industry.
“Marketing gurus tell us we need to show off and be in-your-face. To me that’s icky and not my personality,” said Donna, who specialized in family photography.
“I hate playing that game where you promise big, say how great you are and then count up the suckers who fell for it,” said Kai, a martial arts teacher who had recently opened his own studio.
Len, Donna and Kai – all on the introverted side of the personality spectrum – were relieved to learn ways to describe what they did without exaggerating, grandstanding or claiming to be the world’s best. They could let something else or someone else lay out the case for hiring them and never have to engage in the kind of boasting that feels deeply uncomfortable for Introverts – and for some Extraverts as well. Here are the ideas that hit the spot for them.
Note that names and some details were changed in these case studies to protect privacy.
Just the facts
As in the motto, “If it’s true, saying so isn’t bragging,” Introverts tend to feel comfortable citing items of information that are incontrovertible facts, like degrees, awards, firsts, years of experience, or revenue milestones reached. After Len and I made a cold, business-like list of his expertise credentials, he agreed that simply stating all those facts would rightly give training companies confidence that he could give them well-informed advice. “That way, they’ll know I wouldn’t be taking their money and in return just blow a bunch of hot air at them,” he said. Such integrity mattered to him.
When we wrote the “About” page for his website, Len felt even more comfortable describing his qualifications using the pronouns “he” and “his” rather than “I.” Again, that seemed less like putting himself forward as important (which many Introverts don’t like) and more like simply saying what’s what. I warned him not to make that switch when talking to people, though, and he smiled. Using third-person about oneself comes off as pompous and a bit bonkers in conversation, while it’s perfectly natural in written marketing copy.
For Donna, the photographer, an extensive online portfolio of her best work and framed samples in her studio were obvious means of letting people know her capabilities. But she thought that left out a key factor that distinguished her from the average family photographer. “I’m kind of a kid whisperer,” she told me. “The bigger the family, the harder it is to get them all looking relaxed and happy at the same moment.”
So, we came up with the idea of having someone film her while interacting with a client family that included a sullen teenager and a rambunctious set of twins. With skillful editing, this video showed her talent for persuading all ages of people to put their best face forward for their family portrait. Posted on her Facebook page and her website, it made it obvious she was a “kid whisperer” without her having to say that about herself.
Included in the video were spontaneous moments at the end of the photo session when the parents praised Donna’s ability to warm up, calm down and pose the kids in the family. Third-party acclaim is another technique that bypasses Introverts’ reluctance to blow their own horn. In place of or in addition to those video moments, Donna could also have asked previous clients to write a short testimonial. When I did that for myself, I worded it this way: “Would you be willing to write a few sentences about what you got out of working with me, so potential clients would know what to expect?”
A shift in focus
With Kai, the martial-arts teacher, we landed on the strategy of highlighting his students of all ages rather than him. In still photos and short case-study narratives, his website presented the stories of five individuals who went from shyness to confidence, from trauma to recovery, from stiff weakness to flexibility and power and so on by studying with Kai. “I’m so proud of what these people have accomplished,” he commented. “By featuring them, it takes away the need for me to pontificate about myself or make unrealistic promises. Showcasing them is authentic, true and completely non-boastful.”
A larger context
Kai also created a page where he talked up the benefits of studying martial arts – something he felt passionately about. “It’s not purely about developing physical skills or learning techniques of self-defense,” he said. On his “Why Study Aikido” web page, he discussed several social or psychological problems that his discipline helps to undo in the lives of his students, including bullying, unproductive patterns of conflict and self-defeating habits like addiction. With this strategy, you create a halo for your cause rather than for yourself.
Some final words
Introverts don’t need to overcome any personality disadvantages to gain attention for themselves, their products or their services. They have plenty of low-pressure self-promotion tactics to choose from that don’t involve pushiness, exaggeration or bragging, such as letting facts or a demonstration do the talking and putting their work into a larger social context.
Undoubtedly, Introverts would be interested to know that according to recent research, most people find bragging annoying anyway. Those who crow about their accomplishments on social media tend to assume that distant acquaintances or strangers will either be happy for them or distinctly impressed. Quite the contrary ends up being true, especially when the underlying motive is actually to arouse envy.
“Braggarts generally underestimate others’ negative reactions to their bragging,” says Joachim Vosgerau, professor of marketing at Bocconi University. When people praise themselves too enthusiastically, it often backfires, causing more irritation than respect. Shakespeare put the downside of boastfulness much more colorfully in All’s Well That Ends Well: “Who knows himself a braggart, let him fear this, for it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass.”