Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It

by Peggy Klaus

Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It

I’m going to be totally honest with you guys: Anyone who follows the Edward Tufte school of thought that PowerPoint is dumbing us down is immediately in my good book. Peggy Klaus didn’t reveal her allegiances until the next to last chapter, but I’ll forgive her, since I enjoyed the rest of her book so much.

Peggy’s book, Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, should be required reading for designers, even though it’s not specifically targeted at us. Designers are notorious for despising self-promotion – I can list on one hand the designers I know who actually enjoy it. But here’s the thing: If we don’t promote ourselves, who’s going to do it? Peggy points out the obvious but increasingly important point that the workplace is no longer “safe.” Loyalty to a company in exchange for job security is going the way of the dinosaur. (Some would argue that it already has gone.) So we can’t just assume that the work we do is going to be enough to keep us employed or help us find our next job (or client).

The book is divided into sections: bragging myths; the “Take 12” self-evaluation; business bragging (including the infamous elevator speech and handling performance reviews); “techno-bragging”; converting job interviews into job offers; leveraging networking when you don’t have a “real” job; using your personal history to give yourself and your company credibility; “brag nags” (key communication techniques); and “12 Tooting Tips”.

One of the first things Peggy teaches her readers to do is to create “brag bites.” These are little snippets about you that stick – they are “authentic, compelling, and delivered in a conversational way.” For example, one of mine might be a favorite story that my mother likes to tell.

One Saturday morning when I was about 10, I took a card table, a piece of posterboard, and my little brother out to the front of our house, and sat down on our front steps. We were out there for a few hours, so finally, my mom came out to find out what we were doing (and why my brother was running after the occasional car that came down our street). She thought we were selling lemonade, but discovered that I was actually selling my handmade jewelry.

This little story is memorable, short, and shows off some great personality traits (creativity, determination, and enterprising spirit). But if I were to tell you that story in the context of conversation, say, over dinner, it’s unlikely you’d sit there and think, “Wow, this Erin chick is really full of herself!” And therein lies the secret. It’s all about presenting yourself in a way that lets people draw those great conclusions about you on their own, rather than you having to shout it from the rooftops yourself. (Because, really, that’s just annoying for everyone.)

Some of the most useful chapters in the book cover what Peggy calls “techno-bragging” and the workplace. With more and more people working off-site, or simply dealing with the deluge of emails and voicemails they get buried under every day, it can be hard to stay on your boss’s radar. Just “making the numbers” isn’t good enough. I found this one particularly relevant as a designer, because I think we often believe that the quality of our work shows off exactly how awesome we are. But the truth is, it doesn’t. We’re not always in jobs (or working with clients) where we get to do our most creative work. And even when we are, it is still sometimes a struggle to explain how our excellent design work brings value to our company (or client). So we have to make sure people know who we are, what we’re doing, and why it’s important to them. There are some great examples of how people have used technology to their advantage, keeping them on the radar of bosses and higher-ups (including one story about a guy who needed to not only make himself visible, but had to figure out how to deal with an attention-hogging coworker), as well as how to ace a performance review.

By far, my favorite thing comes at the very end of the book. Peggy tells the story of going to a conference she was invited to speak at, and receiving a nametag that listed her as “Peggy Klaus, Communications Expert.” She panicked at the sight of “expert” attached to her name, saying she felt like she couldn’t possibly be an expert, despite the fact that she was invited to speak at this conference! (She actually tried to scrape the word “expert” off her nametag with a butter knife. She only got as far as the T.) On some level, we all suffer from the Imposter Complex, regardless of how much we actually do know and have accomplished.

So go forth, readers, and find a copy of this book.

This review was originally written for BoDo: Business of Design Online.
Reprinting allowed with permission of author.