Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

How to Promote Yourself Without Using “I”

When we moved to Los Angeles in 1991, I was in unknown territory. Although I had been producing and directing for years in the Midwest, including shooting projects in about 30 countries, I still felt the overwhelming need to sell myself and my ideas. As a result, every conversation was about ME. I pitched myself, pitched my projects, and used the “I” word a lot. I did this, I did that, I’m responsible for this project, I shot that, I won this award. Before long I wasn’t connecting with anyone because the truth is, nobody wants to hear you talk about yourself all the time.

Fortunately, an honest friend pulled me aside and gave me the “I” lecture. We should be incredibly grateful for friends who keep us inside the boundaries, and since then things have dramatically changed. Obviously you can’t cut “I” out completely, but since using it less and less in my conversations, here’s a few things “I” learned in the process:

1. As Dale Carnegie once said, “The most beautiful sound to anyone’s ears is their own name.”   That’s why we should focus on others instead of us. Stop promoting yourself, and ask people about them. You’ll discover they’ll suddenly be far more interested in spending time with you and hearing your ideas.

2. This is a self-promotional culture, and people are simply tired of all the self hype.   This generation is the most marketed, branded, and hyped in history. They can smell a con a mile away. Focus on bring real – flaws and all.

3. Humility gets noticed.   There’s plenty of ego-maniacs out there, and that’s why I’ve discovered the higher you climb in the professional food chain, the more the humble leaders stand out.

4. The impact is far greater when people discover your accomplishments by surprise.   Days or weeks after meetings, I’ve had numerous people call and say, “I had no idea you’d written that book (or produced that project). That’s amazing! I’d love to talk to you more about that!” Had I been promoting myself in the initial conversation, they would have yawned and walked away.

5. When the name of a celebrity or someone important comes up that you know, stop blurting out, “Oh yea, he’s a close personal friend.”   I have a buddy who uses that phrase 5 or 6 times in every conversation and it just gets tiring. That’s one of the most worn out phrases in Hollywood, and whether it happens to be true or not, immediately makes you suspect.

So how do we do it? We still need to get our ideas noticed if we’re going to win over investors, studios, publishers, and others. Here’s some suggestions:

1. Stop pushing yourself and focus on the other person.   I once successfully pitched a documentary to a producer without saying a single word. He’d had a bad day with another project, and I just let him vent. After about 20 minutes he was so grateful he actually said, “I don’t know what you’re pitching, but let’s do it.”

2. Talk about your work without talking about you.   Of course you shot that video, or produced that film, or wrote that book. That’s all the mention you need to make. Then talk about the project instead of you. It will make a much better impression.

3. Let the work speak for you.   Are you writing the kind of blog posts, producing the kind of videos, or acting parts in a way that gets people talking? The work is a far better promotion than bragging on how you made it happen.  Instead of pitching ourselves so much, maybe we need to be advancing our skills.

4. Stop yammering on about how hard you work.   Stop saying you’re so busy, or how difficult your current project is. Everybody’s busy. Everybody works hard. Nobody cares that you pulled an all-nighter, all they care about is the success of the project.

5. Finally, we often forget about the favor and power of God to promote us.   Ultimately, we trust in Him, not our own PR skills. Yes – we should do everything we can to get on the radar so that our work and message makes an impact. But at the same time, know there’s something much greater than us at work.

Have you struggled with balancing self-promotion?

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19 Comments

  1. Great article! Thank you for including #5 on To Do’s but I’d make it #1. When you start with that presumption, then all the rest will fall in line. We put our best foot forward, but He opens the doors.

  2. Thanks for sharing Phil! Very timely as I just moved to a new market and feel the need to fast track my name. Everything is a slow building process as always.

  3. Great post! I’m a part of a prominent church that has a lot of people who could be considered to be Christian celebrities. They certainly are famous to the people who come here from all over the world, anyway. So not LA by any margin, but crazy how many similar cultural dynamics there are. (which we did NOT expect upon arrival)

    My wife and I had to learn some of these lessons quickly as well. We learned not talk much about who we knew or what we did to new people we’d meet. We’d either get an instant turn-off, or, even worse, newcomers would lump us into that inner-circle celebrity group and start treating us weird.

    Letting people see we were just there to serve and not to get noticed was what broke down all of the walls.

  4. It seems these points and temptations resurface with each new “level” or life stage– perhaps by divine design. Nothing keeps us humble & grounded as well as “starting over” with people nor situations that tempt us to impress due to insecurity. Been there. Sadly, still doing that.

  5. Phil… “I” learned something today from you and it wasn’t simply about how to avoid the use of “I”. You seem genuine and likable. That impression was generated in just the few minutes it took to read this piece on your site. Even your photo seems down-to-earth and real! Looks like maybe I need to work on myself more than my writing. Thanks.

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