Why talking about yourself is so hard
Episode 3 - Developing your personal narrative - Part 1
In this episode, I am sharing the first half of a presentation I did at a conference in Sydney for the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (see link below). It was their Annual Leadership Summit, and I was invited to speak on personal branding. However, I decided to avoid "eyes rolling" and having mining engineers leave the room for a coffee break during my session. I decided to change the title to trick everyone. The topic is indeed about building your personal brand. So, there you go. Listen at your own peril!
The content of my presentation is based on years of personal trial and error, research, best practices, and anecdotal successes and failures from clients, friends, and co-workers.
I am drawn to it; I am interested in how we speak about ourselves and why it is so hard. And I find that people around me come to me for support when they need to tell a compelling story about themselves. So, I keep investigating the topic. Thus we now have a podcast and these notes.
It's awkward to do it. To talk about oneself. Even for the best storytellers out there, the best salespeople, to talk about yourself without feeling like a prick or being one is tricky.
Furthermore, having that clarity of purpose in your career is hard because you are so close to what you do that you project the understanding of it onto other people. For example, we often hear that people will work hard and expect to be promoted. And when eventually we find ourselves in a situation where we have no option but to speak about what we do, let's say a job interview, we run the risk of sounding unprepared, or we may end up conveying it in such a way that denotes a false humility, which only makes matters worse. So, you end up digging a hole for yourself: you either end up not owning your success and leadership, or you share it in a way that is perceived as disingenuous.
Another significant error in talking about what you do is vague or using jargon words that few people understand. Things like "industry 4.0", "internet of things," "project management," "agile," "RPA," "CX." "SAP," "business transformation" (this last one is my cross to bear!): many of the words floating around today are meaningless to most people.
When I speak about how a story you own ends up being told by people outside your realm of influence, this is the illustration I'm referring to (yes, I made this myself!):
And when I'm explaining the difference between Personal Selling (i.e., Marketing), Public Relations, and Branding, this following illustration may help (source below)
We will talk more about personal narrative soon in Part 2, so hang on and keep following the Job Hunting Podcast!
Leave a comment on the Podcast's private Facebook group if you also think "personal branding" is cringe-worthy, and let me know what you enjoyed about this episode. Do you have a topic you would like me to address in the future? Leave a comment there also!
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Resources mentioned in this episode
Transcript of this episode
Hello there, I'm Renata Bernarde and this is The Job Hunting Podcast, where we have very casual, unstructured conversations that will help you nail your next job. And if you want to have more of a structure and formal content for your job hunting and future career development, wait a couple of months and keeping in touch with us because I'm developing an online course and it will be available soon. In fact, if you subscribe to my newsletters, you will be the first to know. So hang on and it's coming. But this content today is one that I delivered a week ago at a conference in Sydney. I was invited by the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy to be one of the speakers at their Annual Leadership Summit.
And I said, yes, of course. And off I went to Sydney. It was a horrible rainy day and I almost did not make it to Sydney. It was one of those days where both airports were closed, Melbourne in Sydney and I just made it into Sydney. So that was good. And I did record my presentation and I was hoping to upload it as a podcast, but the quality of the sound was so bad. I'm having to do it again and I was really pumped that day and I will try to be just as excited today about it. It's a very interesting topic. One that I think is not entirely like unique, but it's a blended mix of things that I've read for different sectors, not related to career development. So today I will try to remember all the sort of references because these things sometimes go back years. But I promise I will make the effort to give you additional resources if you want to follow up and investigate where, you know, I came up with weird ideas if you think that they are weird or you're curious about them.
So this episode is going to be about building your own narrative in your ability to tell stories about yourself, which some people find it really awkward. I'm one of those and that's probably why I'm so drawn to this and why I've sort of developed some techniques that I want to share with you as well and you have this type of content is for you and you're currently in the market for a new job and you're sort of looking at developing opportunities for advancement of your career. If you want the tips to advance into a promotion, let's say, so that you don't have to move to a different employer as such. All those amalgamate in this kind of what I call the melting pot of career readiness. Just being ready for when you do need to get a new role or you want to get a new role and career readiness is really important to be built and developed over time and not when you need it.
Quite frankly, you have to spend some time getting good at this and building your own narrative because that's what some folks call personal brand and if you're rolling your eyes now just stick around and I promise it's not as annoying as it seems. It's actually an important, very important aspect and I will try to explain that in a way that is not of vomit inducing guys, so being gone. , you will need to check the notes because I will post, I'm not sure if the, our podcast episode notes can actually handle illustration, so I will make sure that there is a link to my website so that you can see the illustrations. I will try my best to describe them, but if you are really keen to develop your personal narrative, it might be worth just taking some time to look at the illustrations on my website.
Okay, so let's dive into it as they say. All right, I'm opening my illustration so I can actually know what I'm talking about and closing some of my earlier notes. Yes, guys, I am organized. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, especially when I'm uploading my podcasts to be honest. But I am and I have notes. So yep. Years of personal trial and error has led me to what I'm about to say. It's something, like I said, I've compiled things and it's not worthy of a book, but it's definitely enough to fill up in an episode of a podcast and I'm sharing it with you and it can be a little bit controversial at times. I like to challenge that as go and best practices and sort of look at something and say, are you sure? It seems like the emperor has no clothes, so can we just revaluate how we're doing this? And if you have that attitude and you kind of question things, Oh, please do. And just leave me comments and let's continue to talk about it in future episodes because there is no one way of doing things.
In fact, this is a really interesting outside chat here that I'm about to go into. I was following a thread on one of my private Facebook groups and somebody was looking for an executive coach and asked do you know anybody? And people would say things like, Oh, make sure that you get one that has been very, very successful. You know, as a CEO, don't just go about and get anyone. And that made me think of people that follow advice from winners of a lottery and asked them, you know, how you do it? And they would say, Oh, you know, this are the numbers that I've sort of played with over and over again until I won. And what you're doing when you're looking at winners is that you're not looking at losers. So ideally what you want to get as consultants or coaches or mentors or people that have a well-rounded experience, that they wear their failure badges just as proudly as their success badges. Right? You want people to let you now that things are not as easy as they seem. And if they had a very linear career, they may not be exactly the best coaches for you. And that's how I feel. I have had wonderful coaches, shout out to my coach if you're listening. Oh, she's not with me anymore, but I do miss her a lot and she's a good friend.
And you know, I think I learned a lot from things that she went through in her career and I wouldn't categorize them as success successes as such. I would categorize them as maturing as an executive and developing her skills to deal with very challenging situations, which she was then able to pass on to me. So, trial and error and success and comes with identifying what works for you. And in this case, developing a personal narrative is of course very personal, but it's something that I'm curious about because I have found that people hate talking about themselves even when they're are very good at talking about other stuff. Right? They may be very good talking about their own companies or products or family or projects, but when it comes to talking about themselves, which we covered in the first episodes of this podcast, when we were talking about interviews, it, it gets tricky.
And I developed this idea and I went all the way down to my early teens when I read a book that really touched me and really taught me a lot. And that book, I will put in the show notes. It's Roland Barthes’ A Lovers Discourse.
Okay. So, I went into a rabbit hole of trying to find my notes and had to pause and re-start. If there's a bit of a weird kind of sound there, it's because I had to cut the recording and I try not to do that because I want this to be really unstructured and casual. So, apologies for that.
But here we are again. I started my presentation last week talking about the fact that I felt awkward about talking about myself very early on. And I think that that's the case with many people. But I was very lucky that I found a tiny book by Roland Barthes named A Lover's Discourse. And it was about love and falling in love and falling out of love. And in a way it has to do with falling in love with anything, not just the person, but it could be a career, a job, and also a falling out of love and changing. And I very lucky that I had access to this text early on and I was obsessed with it. I read it over and over and over again. And I think it had a huge influence in my life and it allowed me the courage to pursue different career paths and have the ambition and the confidence to make different options job-wise for me personally and help other people achieve that too.
So in that text, there is a one paragraph where Roland Barthes writes about how hard it is to write about oneself and how unfashionable it is and it's dull and it's really boring and, and it really dilapidated the whole point of that you're trying to make because it's, you know, it's not fashionable as he sees it.
He uses the word outmoded and I really liked that and I think it's very telling and it speaks specially in this culture that I live in now, which is the Anglo Celtic Anglo-Saxon culture. There is more of a reluctance to speak about oneself and to be a tall poppy. Tall poppy is a term that we use a lot in Australia. We don’t really worry about those things so much in Latin America. I think that talking about oneself is an awkward thing to do. And ironically, it's what you have to do when you're applying for a job. So, you have to train yourself and find Nicks to avoid feeling awkward about it.
One thing that we have a lot of commonality everywhere is the lack of clarity that we give people about our careers. It's not every profession that has that situation. For example, if you're a paramedic or a nurse or a general practitioner or you know, a carpenter, those professions where you tell what you do and immediately people know, Oh, I really am so jealous of people that are in professionals like that, so if that is your case have empathy for some of your friends. In my case, I'm an executive coach. I am a business transformation consultant. I have a business where I help organizations deal with massive disruption. It's very hard to explain that to other people when I'm in a barbecue or a dinner party. We tend to be very vague about it and we tend to talk in jargon language about it too. And that excludes people. So, one more reason for us to talk about this topic, about developing a narrative and a story that engages the listener.
You really don't know where your next job is going to come from. This is not just applying for jobs that are available for you on a nice LinkedIn ad. This is about opportunities that can come your way in different ways and to be ready and able to explain to people what you do and what your skills on and how you use it is really important. Right? Secondly, when talking about us, I find that this is probably more acute with women, but I think men will also relate, let me know. But we have this tendency to want to do a very good job and to externalize to other people project the understanding of the job that we do onto other people. For example, we often hear that people will work really hard and expect to be promoted.
They will work long hours and expect to be perceived as a good colleague and team member. What we should be doing is actually taking ownership of our own narrative about what we do and feeling confident about talking about it without feeling like a prick or being a prick. You don't want to do that. So once again, I'm just kind of doing the introduction, the opening statements probably for longer than you need, but I really feel that it's important for us to go through this because I don't think we talk about this enough.
And then when you do have to do it and you're not prepared, let's say you go to a job interview or you're talking about a project that you're doing at work and you're asked to talk about it. We dig a hole for ourselves by maybe being having this kind of, but being perceived as being a pulse humble person. So when you attend to, we want to convey humility, but you shouldn't because you've been asked to, to deliver a speech on a project you've just led, delivered, done, but you kind of dig a hole for yourself as you're doing it and you kind of feel like you're going down that rabbit hole and do you don't know how to come out and you can be perceived as disingenuous.
So, what to do? Well, first of all, you, it's important to have this understanding that the way that you will tell your story and the people that you can access directly, you know that one degree of between you and, and, and people that you're talking to as opposed to two, three, six degrees of connection, that's a very small number and that's a very small group that you will be accessing directly.
I'll have to come up with an example. So it's easier and faster for all of us. Let's say you have finished a very important project that you were part of for your employer. And that story needs to be told, right? So, it needs to be celebrated. It's a milestone. It's saved the company money. It's implemented something that has been months or years in the works. And you can tell that story in a report. You can tell that story on LinkedIn to your boss at a conference. If you are invited to be a speaker and you're of course telling that story to your team all the time. And let's say if there was a client involved, you're telling that client as well. Now those first links then become like a spiderweb of storytelling and Chinese whispers. And these people will tell others and your boss will tell his boss or their head boss and your client will tell other teams within that organization and your team will go to the water cooler and talk to their colleagues.
And in fact, they might bump into your boss and tell a story. And you want those stories to be consistent. You want those stories to be as correlated as possible, right? And that that has everything to do with, you guessed it, your personal branding. What you are hoping to do is to identify what you want to be known for as a professional at that point in time, let's say from now until five years from now. This point in time. And you want to develop your experience, your leadership style, your professional development and your network to emphasize that strength that you want to build and be known for. That's a marketing, personal marketing strategy for you. So if you in project management and you want to be known for being an excellent project manager, manager who works in an agile factory fashion, you should be focusing all of those elements to add to that marketing strategy, that personal marketing strategy of yours so that when your personal public relations happens, it will be addressing what you want it to address.
And people at the water cooler will be saying, Peta was excellent at managing this project and she is the expert in agile in this company. That's public relations. And personal branding is when a new client comes to you and say, you've developed, delivered a great job for client X and I am now here asking you to deliver similar results for me. That's personal branding. It's when your message that you've wanted amplified comes back to you. And you don't want a message that comes back to bite you! That would be a mistake, right?
So guys, I guess that's where I'm going to leave you with. The presentation was much longer than this. I don't know how I managed to deliver it last week in 20 minutes, but I will have to cut this podcast short because I want to make sure I don't go on for too long. You have to be able to listen to it as you are commuting to work. That's my motto. I will do the second half of presentation I did some other time and I hope that you've enjoyed it.
So just summing it up, make sure that you understand that it's not only you that is delivering the message about you, that the personal branding and that is important is the one that starts from you as you develop your marketing, your personal marketing strategy. So as an example, if you want to be known as a project manager who is an expert in agile, then you will focus all your skills and professional development and network and job opportunities and, and project opportunities to emphasize and reinforce that to the point that that message gets amplified without you being the deliverer of that message.
And it will come back to you and allow you more work putties in the area that you have chosen to be good at. Okay. Everybody. Excellent work. I have mentioned a book, I will mention a book every week, and even though you may think not a career book, I do think it's worth reading. It's small and it might help specially people who are reassessing their careers and coming to terms with the idea of changing paths and going into a different direction and feeling possibly a bit guilty about it. Don't feel guilty with this tiny book by Roland Barthes. It's called a lover's discourse. And I will have a link to it in the episode notes. Alright.
Don't forget to subscribe and follow these podcasts and check my website and I hope to see you back here some other time. I won't actually “see” you, but I hope that you keep connected! Ciao for now.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
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