Brown Bag February Session: BRAG! [Event Recap]

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Rochelle Grayson was the facilitator and presenter of this BrownBag meeting on Bragging. Rochelle has a list of professional achievements as long as your arm (see her full bio), so we were delighted to have her lead the session today. It was a good fit all around, as she explained that she likes to give back to the community and help the next generation of women achieve their goals. She primarily directs companies in expanding from traditional media channels to digital ones, and in her own words, “fights for the consumer’s wallet” in every industry she works.

Rochelle was a compelling and infectiously effervescent speaker, palpably bubbling over with enthusiasm about this topic: of why we should be putting ourselves and our achievements out there on a plate for all to see, and NOT hiding our light under a bushel, as the saying goes. We women seem to be particularly backwards about coming forwards; a study by McKinsey (as discussed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg) found that while men are promoted based on their potential, women are judged on their actual accomplishments. This seems unfair to women, but could partly result from holding ourselves back when it comes to directly highlighting our abilities.

She asked us the BrownBag attendees if we think about “getting to the top of the mountain”, and advised us to “Think BIG”! Confidence is key if we are going to succeed in convincing others that we are capable of doing the job well. We have to believe in ourselves first. Rochelle said that women and men tend to think about success and failure differently; while men attribute their successes to their innate skills, women tend to say they got there due to luck and help from others. Conversely, when an endeavour fails, men often brush it off and say it was due to a lack of interest on their part, whereas women believe that their own lack of ability failed them.

A useful tip Rochelle gave, in order to counteract that self-doubt, was to revisit your resume and LinkedIn profile, and update your accomplishments on a regular basis. This will remind you of what you have done and help you to believe in what you can do – and guard against the deadly Impostor Syndrome.

What it boils down to, Rochelle says, when talking yourself up (and getting someone to listen), is simply telling a story. All good stories have particular qualities: interesting characters, a plot, dialogue, emotions, conflict and resolution, choices and outcomes. And, imparting a genuine personal story that people can connect with will engage them a lot more than reeling off a list of your professional awards or achievements.

Rochelle suggested making a list of bullet points for your ‘elevator pitch’ that can be used at a networking event, a dinner party, or anywhere. Like any good story, it should have a beginning, middle and end. The beginning can simply be your name, and where you work or your job title. The middle contains the interesting stuff: you should include details like what exactly you do, and why: what problem are you trying to solve, and how will the right solution change the world? This is where passion and enthusiasm in conveying your message are essential, or else it won’t come across that you care about what you do (and nobody else will care if you don’t seem to!)

“What is your superpower” was the next point; meaning what can you do really well, that makes you stand out from the crowd. It may not be immediately obvious to you, but dig deeper, there must be something – what is it for you? Another important point to get across was what you are lacking in your work, i.e. the missing piece of the jigsaw that would enable you to be even more super – perhaps if you talk to people about this need, they might know of just the thing to match it.

The pitch ends with repetition: give your name again, to cement it in the other person’s memory, and briefly repeat what it is that you want. Using memory ‘hooks’ was another tip; if you have a memorable or unique feature, people won’t forget you as easily. For example, Rochelle always wears orange and is a black woman with big curly hair. For me, I think it’s the fact that I’m from Ireland and have a typical Irish name and accent. Whatever it is, the point is to use what you’ve got to somehow stand out from the rest.

Other general advice Rochelle gave included breathing and pausing when speaking, listening while the other person speaks (it is meant to be a conversation, not a monologue!), asking questions, smiling, and, if possible, doing your homework on the person you are speaking to or their company.

To consolidate the key messages Rochelle delivered, the main question to ask yourself when preparing your bragging points is: how do YOU add value to what you are doing? Or in other words, what is it that you bring to the table? Once you know what that is and you believe it, tell people about it and don’t fall into the trap of being too nice, a doormat for others. Stand up for yourself. Get excited about what you’re doing (again, if you don’t, no one else is likely to), and ask for commitment for what you want, whether it’s the raise, the promotion, etc – because you deserve it.

Written by Jane O’Hara, BrownBag Coordinator

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