By Abbi Leverton
"Hi I’m Abbi, I work with RecWorks on the Aspiring Women Speakers group."
The role of self-promotion in speaking engagements is a subject that resonates with many of us in the Aspiring Women Speakers (AWS) community.
We understand the delicate balance between promoting our message and maintaining authenticity, credibility, and humility during our presentations.
Let's delve into the thoughts and strategies shared by our members on this important aspect of our speaking journeys.
Use a strong message to promote yourself
Angela Channer, Principal Software Craftsperson at Codurance, openly acknowledges her struggle with self-promotion and shares her approach to address this challenge: "Personally, I struggle with the self-promotion part. I will sometimes have a leading slide which doubles as a 'why I am talking about this subject' and one at the end with a link to LinkedIn and email. Other than that, I try to ensure my message gets through as that’s usually more impactful."
Angela's emphasis on prioritising the message over self-promotion highlights her commitment to delivering meaningful content to the audience.
Angela goes on to say that, although possibly an unpopular opinion, “if your message doesn’t come through strongly, maybe it didn’t sit with the audience, is there a need to be remembered? A strong subject well received will probably prompt someone to follow up with you”.
Jen Bower, Country Lead at Persistent Systems, sees self-promotion and the message as distinct elements and explains her perspective: "In my head, the two things are separate. I use enough about me to answer the question of why I’m there, like Angela says, but keep self-promotion to LinkedIn before/after sessions."
Jen's approach demonstrates her dedication to providing relevant personal information while ensuring that her presentations are centered around delivering value to the audience.
Showcase expertise without bragging
Carly Richmond, Developer Advocate at Elastic, also shares her personal struggles with self-promotion and unveils her strategy of showcasing expertise while maintaining humility.
Speaking generally she says: "I still find self-promotion very uncomfortable. Pre and post-events I use posts on places like LinkedIn to focus on the topic I'll be talking about, or share the slides and code afterwards to make it more about sharing knowledge. In my head, I feel that if I'm showcasing the takeaways for others it feels less like self-promotion. And in reality, I think others see it as sharing interesting knowledge that they can learn from, or that they are going to an event to learn."
Mentioning the talk itself, Carly comments, “I keep my personal introduction short, focusing just on my title. I also mention it at the start alongside the title slide rather than having a personal picture slide, which makes me less braggy. I also show my Twitter handle at the end, making it clear people can ask questions afterwards by connecting if they are not comfortable asking out loud during Q&A. I try to weave my experience, successes and failures, and lessons I've learned into the talk story to show people practical learnings that they can take away. In a way that shows off what I've achieved, but I've flipped it to be helping them learn from my experience and how this tech solves a particular problem they may have, rather than shouting "Look at me! Look at me!".
Carly's intention to share knowledge rather than boast about her achievements demonstrates her commitment to fostering a meaningful and valuable experience for her audience.
Similarly, Sarah Gruneisen, Director of Engineering at Novoda, adopts a subtle approach to self-promotion, focusing on audience-centric content: "I start a presentation with a small ‘this is about me’ (holistically, mentioning where I work can be a part of that). I may have a call to action on the last slide, like going to my LinkedIn or these services, but I do not say anything explicitly about it. It’s more like a background slide while answering questions. I do nothing else to promote, as organically, this comes up in those post-talk chats when people are curious about you and where you work or what you are doing”.
Sarah expands her method further by reiterating that “the talk is about giving the right value to your audience and making them the hero of the story."
Sarah's emphasis on prioritising the audience's needs and aspirations underscores her unwavering dedication to delivering genuine value and allowing the audience to take center stage in the narrative.
Angela Channer, Jen Bower, Sarah Gruneisen, and Carly Richmond all agree that it is important to focus on the message and to avoid self-promotion that is too overt. They also agree that it is important to be authentic and to share your knowledge and expertise in a way that is helpful and informative to the audience.
The speakers also have different approaches to self-promotion. Angela and Jen focus on providing relevant personal information in the beginning and end of their talks, while Sarah and Carly focus on weaving their experience, successes, and failures into their talks in a way that helps the audience learn from their experience.
Ultimately, there is no one right way to strike the right balance between promoting your message and avoiding self-promotion. The best approach will vary depending on your personality, the topic of your talk, and the audience you are speaking to.