One of my biggest challenges as an adviser to tech entrepreneurs is to convince them that marketing is required for their product, no matter how great it is, just to get it found in today's information overload.
A comparable problem is to get entrepreneurs to market themselves, for the same reason. Your abilities will be lost in the crowd, because competence doesn't speak for itself. We've all heard the saying that first impressions count big, but really, you judge other people continually by your impressions of their competence. That is, unless and until they provide you credible evidence of something better--through smart impression management or marketing of their experience, skills, and results.
This perceived competence gives you a competitive edge.
The challenge is to communicate competence without appearing to be self-centered or bragging. In the new book Convinced!: How to Prove Your Competence & Win People Over by Stanford professor and negotiation expert Jack Nasher I finally found some guidance on specific approaches, with pragmatic recommendations to make them work.
Here are the six takeaways that should matter most to you:
1. Raise people's expectations of what you bring to the table.
I can tell you from my experience as an investor, after hearing hundreds of pitches, that my expectations start very low. It's up to you to inspire me (and you) that you can do what you say is possible. In any business role, your manager only sees a fraction of what you know and do.
You can raise a low bar of expectation of results by demonstrating confidence regarding your abilities and the task at hand. You need to reduce anxiety by eliminating anything that speaks against you, and highlighting past successes and experience.
2. Highlight all good news around you, and reframe bad news.
Associating with good news, even if not yours, strengthens your competence. Without excuses, position any bad news in a positive light, and focus on what you learned.
Always start with the good news, then the bad news, and conclude with the second-best news to end on a high.
3. Frame your competence perception to reduce qualms.
First of all, emphasize up front any unfavorable circumstances that will make your job more difficult. Then, highlight the role that your competence plays by pointing out how earlier successes, training, and education show you were born for this job, having survived from bigger challenges.
For example, the legendary Steve Jobs and other captains of industry were quick to talk about their tough beginnings, how they overcame great obstacles, and to highlight successes. It raised and reconfirmed their perception of competence in the eye of peers and executives.
4. Learn to get heard as an expert through power talking.
Jobs also practiced incessantly to become a masterful speaker. He practiced speaking with confidence, pairing the most impactful words with strategic use of vocal range, emphasis, and pauses.
There are entire books written on this topic alone, so I won't spend too much time here. The one tip I do want to convey: Always avoid speaking too softly, repeating yourself, and cutting others off.
5. Communicate your competence through body language.
Positive body language--including eye contact, smiling, location while standing, and posture while sitting--strengthens the perception of your competence. Show enthusiasm during presentations by moving around and using large gestures. Position yourself near the front in meetings. If you look confident, you'll look competent.
6. Boost competency perception by increasing likability.
Creating an overall positive impression is of decisive importance, starting with always being friendly, polite, attentive, and educated. This extends to attractiveness and popularity as well--it always pays to look your best, which can help build relationships with key people.
While some of these techniques take practice to master, none require sacrificing your values or faking skills you don't have. The goal is to display and market your full expertise and competence, with authenticity and confidence, without waiting for someone to figure it out.
The business world is moving faster and faster these days. Don't fall behind by simply waiting to be found.