How to be a self-deprecating horn-tooter

Andrea Howe
Category : Client relationships September 16, 2009

I recently ran for a seat on the condo board of the brand new community I live in. I lost. In front of about 60 people.

My reaction was a mixture of gratitude (“I think I just got spared a LOT of work”), huffiness (“How could they pass ME over?”), and a dash of embarrassment (“Oh no, I think I just looked like an IDIOT in front of a large group of people”).

In reflecting on what worked and didn’t about my little platform speech (I had three minutes to pitch myself to the group), I realized there are some important lessons about trust-based selling to tease out of my defeat.

What worked

My dominant strategy was to lead with high Intimacy and low Self-Orientation, and to differentiate myself a bit. How? By telling them first why they might NOT want to elect me. I shared openly that I’m a first-time home buyer and had never before been on a condo board – in fact, I had just made my first condo payment ever. My self-deprecation was effective, I think, in that it got a good laugh and set their expectations about what they could and couldn’t count on me for (couldn’t: Board/home ownership expertise; could: honesty and lightheartedness).

What didn’t work

There was one thing I didn’t do that left my constituents understandably less than confident in my abilities. I was too humble. I fell into the trap that (sweeping generalization coming) many women do of being tentative about tooting my own horn.

Sure, I told them a little bit about my professional background (close to 20 years in consulting, the latter half with an emphasis on teaming and relationship skills, which lends itself well to community-building endeavors). But I didn’t let them know that when it comes to starting something up (new community, new board), I’m your woman.

I didn’t tell them that eight years ago I launched a business that now boasts a client roster of global companies that generate millions and billions in revenue each year. I didn’t tell them about the community service program I created that, within six months of its inception, was given a prominent mention in SELF magazine and then acquired by a national non-profit.

(Even as I write this, my brain is screaming: Enough with the tooting horns already!)

Bottom line: I didn’t think about what would be of value to them, link that to what I brought to the table, and say it out loud.

What I’d do next time

Of course, this is all speculation; I might have lost because they didn’t like what I was wearing – who knows. I think it’s safe to say, though, that next time I’d be more effective (and certainly less huffy and embarrassed) by doing the following:

  • Take five minutes to prepare. Think about what my fellow condo association members might really want in their first set of officers, and know what the link is to my experience and skills.
  •  Lead with the same opening – why you don’t want to elect me. It’s honest. Plus it’s a little contrarian, and I like that.
  • Toot toot toot away. Confidently, succinctly, matter-of-factly, with an emphasis on the aspects of me that directly address their interests and concerns.

I’d leave them with a more complete picture of me–not one that’s either over- or underexposed.

Seems to me these guidelines apply no matter who we are, what we’re selling, and to whom we’re pitching the sale: prepare and be honest about both your strengths and your weaknesses.

That and choose your clothes carefully.

Originally published by Trusted Advisor Associates
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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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