How to Be a Self-Deprecating Horn-Tooter

shucks meowcheese.comI recently ran for a seat on the condo board of the brand new community I live in. I lost. In front of about 60 people.

My reaction was a mixture of gratitude (“I think I just got spared a LOT of work”), huffiness (“How could they pass ME over?”), and a dash of embarrassment (“Oh no, I think I just looked like an IDIOT in front of a large group of people”).

In reflecting on what worked and didn’t about my little platform speech (I had three minutes to pitch myself to the group), I realized there are some important lessons about trust-based selling to tease out of my defeat.

What Worked

My dominant strategy was to lead with high Intimacy and low Self-Orientation, and to differentiate myself a bit. How? By telling them first why they might NOT want to elect me. I shared openly that I’m a first-time home buyer and had never before been on a condo board – in fact, I had just made my first condo payment ever. My self-deprecation was effective, I think, in that it got a good laugh and set their expectations about what they could and couldn’t count on me for (couldn’t: Board/home ownership expertise; could: honesty and lightheartedness).

What Didn’t Work

There was one thing I didn’t do that left my constituents understandably less than confident in my abilities. I was too humble. I fell into the trap that (sweeping generalization coming) many women do of being tentative about tooting my own horn.

Sure, I told them a little bit about my professional background (close to 20 years in consulting, the latter half with an emphasis on teaming and relationship skills, which lends itself well to community-building endeavors). But I didn’t let them know that when it comes to starting something up (new community, new board), I’m your woman.

I didn’t tell them that eight years ago I launched a business that now boasts a client roster of global companies that generate millions and billions in revenue each year. I didn’t tell them about the community service program I created that, within six months of its inception, was given a prominent mention in SELF magazine and then acquired by a national non-profit.

(Even as I write this, my brain is screaming: Enough with the tooting horns already!)

Bottom line: I didn’t think about what would be of value to them, link that to what I brought to the table, and say it out loud.

What I’d Do Next Time

Of course, this is all speculation; I might have lost because they didn’t like what I was wearing – who knows. I think it’s safe to say, though, that next time I’d be more effective (and certainly less huffy and embarrassed) by doing the following:

– Take five minutes to prepare. Think about what my fellow condo association members might really want in their first set of officers, and know what the link is to my experience and skills.

– Lead with the same opening – why you don’t want to elect me. It’s honest. Plus it’s a little contrarian, and I like that.

– Toot toot toot away. Confidently, succinctly, matter-of-factly, with an emphasis on the aspects of me that directly address their interests and concerns.

I’d leave them with a more complete picture of me–not one that’s either over- or underexposed.

Seems to me these guidelines apply no matter who we are, what we’re selling, and to whom we’re pitching the sale: prepare and be honest about both your strengths and your weaknesses.

That and choose your clothes carefully.

5 replies
  1. R Everett
    R Everett says:

    Aresource I’d like to recommend to support your assertion:

    The Marketing Me Book by DJ Wolf ( and available at amazion.

    It’s a step by step plan to  incorporate self-promotion and the reasons why it’s so important to do it consistently and well.

  2. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Great post, Andrea.  And my heart goes out to you: I have suffered the discomfort of in-person, public defeats, too.  Quite the awkward feeling.  But may I add, GOOD for you for running in the first place.  And great job of pulling out some excellent lessons to share with all of us.

    I have two more tools to give you for the next time you run–as I assume you’ll be running again next year, and I’m positive you have all kinds of elected positions in your future.

    Have you ever heard of the Japanese concept of nemawashi? It was originally an agricultural term that meant to "dig around the roots" of a rice plant, to get it ready to transplant from one field to another.  In contemporary Japanese business culture, nemawashi refers to getting ready to transplant an idea into a new context.  When you practice nemawashi, you talk to the members of a group privately and individually, before a big group meeting.  To go back to agricultural metaphors, you "soften the ground" before you show up for the vote.  The dynamics of one-on-one interactions and relationships and communication are very different than addressing a group. 

    In Japan, nemawashi is used to build consensus from outside the group, to prevent conflict from happening inside the group.  I don’t know if nemawashi would have swung the election for you or not, but I suspect that it would have increased your odds by: A) letting you pilot your communication strategy on a small scale, giving the opportunity to refine and adjust as you talked to more people; and B) speaking one-on-one with people would have increased the impact and effectiveness of your message.

    Or, to put it in more familiar terms…you probably would have had more success building trust inside personal relationships.

    . . .

    Second, I’d like to raise the question of just what you were promoting. 

    A few years ago, David Maister had an interesting discussion on his blog about how awkward and painful most of us find self-promotion.  My point at the time (which you can read in full in the discussion at the link) is that most of us go wrong by framing the task as promoting our selves, which feels high self-orientation and wrong, when we usually could be promoting something much more altruistic and low self-0rientation.

    In your case, I am confident that you weren’t standing in front of a group of 60 near-strangers to say "vote for me" because you wanted their attention.  You were there because you know you have the expertise and drive to serve them, to take care of them, and do a good job for them.  Can you feel the difference?  It’s the difference between "I can do all of these things" vs "I can do all of these things for you."

    If you make your pitch client-centric next time, I am confident you’ll be elected in a landslide. 

    And you have a whole year or more (whatever the duration of your condo board elections might be) to get to work on your nemawashi, too.

    Hey, "new condo fees" sounds like you must have purchased a new home.  Congratulations! I hope you are very happy in it.





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