You Gotta Have Faith: Taming Your Inner Critic

grumpy_smallI came across Tara’s post here about taming her inner critic, where she questions her abilities at live interviews and doubts her own writing skills. I believe we all have moments like this. But some are worse than others…

[I’m about to make a bold generalisation and some will have want my head off for making such a statement, but bear with me.]

Since I moved from Canada, I have seen too many Brits or Europeans be very sheepish about self-promotion. American sales people are reputed to be bubbly, brash and bigger than life, speaking louder than anyone else in the room and gesticulating endlessly to illustrate what they’re saying. Quite at the other extreme, British marketing folks are often seen to be more reserved and self-deprecating.

I think there are two aspects to this cultural difference;

A lack of faith for the team or product

In the US, in particular in buzzing centres like Silicon Valley and New York, the belief that a small nobody can become the Next Big Thing is encouraged and nurtured.

In Europe and in the UK, too many people let themselves believe that they’re necessarily second fiddles in the game. This unfortunate attitude is perpetuated by sheltered Americans like Mike Arrington of TechCrunch fame, who base their views of an entire culture on a single event. I strongly believe that this perception is wrong, it isn’t about geographic location (mostly) but about what you do with your resources. Are you out there talking to prospects (in person and virtually) or somewhere in the deepest, darkest Midlands developing in your small office, assuming that because you put your app on the iTunes Store, it’ll market itself?

As a promoter for your business, you aren’t Hugh Grant, and self-deprecating sweetness won’t get you there on its own. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody will do it for you.

An assumption that the product speaks for itself

Yes, a great product is 90% of the marketing effort. But unless people can find out about your product and feel their questions will be heard, you’re missing the first link of the chain, that first 10% of the effort that leads to the viral spread Holy Grail.

So dust off your pencil and paper, write that press release about the latest features or the new team members and send it far and wide (but do it gracefully, of course!) Step outside of your comfort zone a little and be bold about what you do and love.

That’s why folks like Whatleydude, Andrew J. Scott and many more* stand out from the crowd and sometimes can rub folks the wrong way by being more open and self-promoting than your average community or marketing person in the UK.

So where is the widespread shrinking violet attitude coming from? Isn’t this the country that once reigned on history’s largest empire?

I’m no historian or psychoanalyst so I’ll spare you the attempt at explaining it – Let’s leave it as a rhetorical question, shall we? When I’ve challenged the Brits around me about their unwillingness to stand up and be vocally proud of what they’ve created or their talent, I’ve received a range of answers;

  • Not self-promoting is a sign of humility
  • Casual is cooler, you have to look like you’re not trying too hard or you’ll be seen as a sell-out
  • We don’t like to shove our product in the users’ faces, if they want it, they’ll come to us
  • We don’t do press releases, it’s not in our ethos

But that’s not how it works anymore, sorry to break it to you! There are too many products, too many services and too much noise in our lives. If you don’t promote what you love, people won’t magically discover it. The community manager, the marketing team, the PR folks, you’re all that first 10% of the chain. It’s your job to let people see that you’re passionate about what you’ve created. (And if you’re not, time to go jobhunt, innit?)

Breaking the habit

So here are my three top tips for those who want to come out of the proverbial shell and learn to feel good about their business:

  • Go sing karaoke, both in front of friends and strangers: Putting yourself on stage forces you out of your comfort zone and requires you to take on a braver personality. It’s like a fun and more social version of Toastmasters’ public speaking organisation. Alternatives involve joining an improv league, speaking at a BarCamp, working as a tour guide, etc…
  • Get a grip: Write down what makes you, your product or your company great and ask your customers to do the same. You’ll probably be surprised by the number of positives that crop up!
  • It’s a fine balance between self-assurance and arrogance: Ask your bluntest friends and colleagues to evaluate your performance after a presentation or when you finish writing a piece about the company. Take in all their feedback and listen patiently (but don’t take it personally). Build on that in the same way as a ballet dancer analyses her movements in the dance room mirror to perfect her step next time.

[* These two were not singled out due to any negative press even though I’ve talked about rubbing people the wrong way. They’re examples of folks who are more pro-active than your average community manager!]
[Image: Grrrrrr… by Peter Williamson on Flickr, Creative Commons]

4 thoughts on “You Gotta Have Faith: Taming Your Inner Critic

  1. Pingback: Ben Werdmuller » Self-promotion is not a dirty word

  2. Matthew Pennell

    You’re right that the British are much more reserved and less willing to self-promote. It’s a problem I’ve had with Refresh Cambridge – while US Refresh groups have dozens of people willing to get up and give a talk to show off their knowledge, experience and products, in the UK members seem much more reticent to talk in front of each other.

  3. Vero

    Matt: Yep, it’s that one layer thicker to break the ice. It isn’t a lack of knowledge, simply a culture of slight reserve.

    In response to Tara’s comment on her own blog, “I thought your insights into why
    people do not self-promote was very accurate. But far less intentional
    than you suggest.”

    I didn’t intend to make it sound like Brits choose to be reserved, but rather that it’s an ingrained trait, which can easily be overcome, yet of which most people aren’t conscious.

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