How To Stand Out When You Aren’t On Stage

by Oct 3, 2019Leadership

It is common and even popular to be cynical about business and what it takes to progress in one’s career.

Far from what is depicted in Dilbert cartoons, I have the privilege of working with leaders and talented people who are driven by a desire for achievement. Of course, they want to be recognized and rewarded. Many don’t know what they can do to garner attention for their contributions, fearing that they’ll appear self-aggrandizing. That fear can leave people stuck, working the shadows and losing motivation but it needn’t be that way. There is nothing dishonest about learning how to bring your ideas forward in a way that adds value and builds your reputation. In fact, how can others benefit from what you have to offer if they don’t know what you are great at?

If you want more recognition but aren’t willing to elbow others out of the way to get it, good for you. Here are four critical decisions that will help you transform.  

First, banish the idea that self-promotion is slimy. Self-promotion, without contribution, is obviously not to be admired and nothing to try to be good at. Decide to share knowledge, ideas, insights, with the goal of making a notable contribution and take credit for it.  

Second, decide with whom you want to have relationships. Look for people who are doing interesting things, who are generous and enthusiastic. Then, ask yourself what you have to offer them. It may not be more than a kind comment or a question that allows them to shine. It might be more. For example, you can ask to interview those you admire for a blog post, podcast, article, or newsletter. Warning: asking people to do things for free in exchange for “exposure” is only fair if you are putting them in front of a room full of people who may hire them. Exaggerating about who will be in the room will get you moved to their “do not respond to” list.

Third, seek reciprocity, a powerful and very natural human drive. Unfortunately, not everyone has a well-functioning reciprocity chip, so you’ll need to take care that you don’t invest in relationships with those who are merely using you. However, most people have many, many opportunities to reciprocate but are stuck on the idea of what it should be. It needn’t be a grand gesture or even that similar to what you receive. It could be a note of thanks, an offer to introduce someone they might enjoy or benefit from knowing.

If you want more recognition but aren’t willing to elbow others out of the way to get it, good for you. Click To Tweet

Fourth, prepare. In every city and community, there are opportunities to attend events with speakers. Decide which events are most important for you, then look up the speakers. Find out something about them before going to the event. Then go and listen to the speaker! Most event audiences have some people who are ignoring the speaker in one way or another; don’t be one of them. Instead, do this:

  1. Listen, listen, listen so that your question will be highly relevant
  2. Ask the speaker to expound on something they may have spoken about only briefly
  3. Ask the speaker to expound on an interesting contrast

After hearing Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising Sales and Client Partnerships, NBCUniversal, speak, I was very curious to know how she evaluated risk. She described herself as a risk-taker, which was a very credible assertion. Yet she also has a very admirable career trajectory, seemingly without any major mistakes. I was curious how she navigated so well, so I asked. She answered with enthusiasm, delighting the audience. The moment was memorable because she was sincere but also because the question created an opportunity. People in the audience thanked me for the question as did Linda. I didn’t need to be on the stage to be noticed for a positive contribution.

Anyone reading this can stand out and build a positive reputation. It isn’t done by grandstanding, but neither is it done by standing in the shadows or resenting people who are better known. It takes making different decisions. The first is the decision to make contributions in a way that is memorable. 

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