Visibility vs. Shameless Self-Promotion

I have two colleagues who are extraordinarily talented and highly visible. While both are recognized for their drive, intelligence, and expertise, people tend to find one of them charming and the other one annoying. What accounts for the difference? It’s really pretty simple. One promotes ideas, while the other promotes herself. One shares information and the other shares what can only be characterized as personal press releases. One celebrates the accomplishments of her colleagues, while the other thanks her colleagues for making her success possible.

Getting ahead professionally tends is easier when one is recognized and well regarded. Evaluations are higher, nominations for positions and awards come more easily, invitations to speak occur more frequently, and referrals for consulting or advice are more likely. Being visible and connected also increases job security, as it is harder to oust people who have a solid base of support. There is really no question that a strong presence and reputation make new opportunities easier to identify and pursue. But how do we create personal buzz for ourselves? What’s the best way to build a solid reputation? How can we increase our visibility without being tiresome?

Here are a few thoughts.

First, do no harm. The goal is to have people talk about you -– in a good way. You can be perfectly brilliant, but if people talk trash about you, you’ll achieve the wrong kind of visibility. You probably have your own list of behaviors that lead to negative visibility, but I’ll admit to talking about people who are chronically late to meetings, cancel commitments at the last minute, hog airtime, pontificate, spout uninformed conspiracy theories, make people cry, steal credit from others, and yammer on about their many accomplishments.

Be focused. I know, I know, people in the academic world tend to blanch when they hear the phrase “personal branding,” but it matters. If it makes you feel better, we can refer to “creating a professional niche.” Regardless of what we call it, it’s important to think about the mental image we want others to have about us. A sense of consistency is important, so think about how you want people to consider your work and your style. Take a little time to write down three phrases or sentences that capture who you are or who you want to be and make sure that your behaviors, actions, and decisions are consistently aligned with those descriptors.

Share your ideas as much as possible. Debating whether you really have time to speak on a conference panel or deliver a paper? Wondering if you’ll draw a big enough crowd at a concurrent session? Unless you are likely to embarrass yourself by being unprepared, seize every opportunity to share your ideas and work.

Be appropriately visible, but not perpetually available. I received this advice many years ago and have to admit to struggling with it a bit. If people ask me to attend something, I tend to want to be accommodating. However, a mentor once told me that I suffer from terminal niceness. “Being too accessible also diminishes people’s perception of your value. You need to go to things that will advance your agenda, not their agenda, and that means saying ‘no’ even when there is time on your calendar.”

Let others promote you. Did you win an award? Have you published an article that might have popular appeal? Were you appointed to a professional-society leadership position? Make sure an announcement gets forwarded to your communication office or the local press. Having your institution or local paper publicize your accomplishments looks better than spouting off about yourself. Getting a friend or colleague to share your good news can be powerful as well. If you get into the habit of doing it for them, they will do it for you.

What are some strategies that have increased your visibility? What do you think constitutes shameless self-promotion?

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