“Brag Better”

“Brag Better”

Photo credit: Courtesy of the author

Have you ever wanted to brag about yourself and your accomplishments but were afraid to do so? Join the crowd. If you have no problems with bragging, then congratulations – you are getting closer to your goals. According to Meredith Fineman, author of Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion, if you are willing to take the leap from thinking bragging is vulgar to embracing it, your life is headed in the right direction.

Meredith Fineman

The general overall definition of brag shows up in most dictionaries as ‘pompous, boastful, arrogant talk or manner and a braggart.’  Having said that, we asked the author to define bragging as she sees it and why she chose bragging over an alternative option.  “So I’ve been working with the word brag for about seven years  Many people have tried to dissuade me from using it.  I mean, my work is centered around helping my audience which is the qualified quiet.  It talks about people that have done the work but who don’t know how to tout it, talk about it, showcase and brag about their work. So as a writer for a very long time and someone who’s really interested in language, the problem is that we don’t really have any other words to talk positively about professional accomplishment, like singular words. You have some colloquialisms like hyping yourself, but that’s not really sufficient. So I chose to use the word brag and define it as true statements about your work that you are using consistently, loudly, proudly, and strategically to advance your career. That’s how I would define it,” Fineman told Hollywood on the Potomac

“One thing that interests me a lot about the definition is that yes there are obvious negative connotations with this word, but we suffer from a lack of other ones,” she added. “I thought about that and I decided that instead of inventing a new word – while I think a new word should be invented – that until we’re there linguistically we have to work with what we’ve got. And so a lot of the definitions of brag, whether it’s to talk about oneself boastfully or talk about oneself with excessive pride which are pretty subjective, make bragging so difficult. However, one person’s bragging is just another person sharing. Bragging specifically for me and for my work for purposes of this book, is really strategic messaging around the work you’ve done around your accomplishments, around the things in your career that you’re proud of. It’s just whatever you’re most passionate about. I think that is how I would differentiate it from self confidence. I think it’s a skillset that I have trained people on and developed that is also rooted in public relations activities and this idea of packaging and pitching and telling a solid story. But more than anything, brags are strategically loud about what they’ve done. [It’s] a professional goal.”

Since so many of our attitudes can be attributed to our childhood environment, we asked Meredith how that many have influenced her.

Q: “Did your parents brag about you and if so, directly or to friends?”

A:  “I think my work stems from an interesting combination where I have a very vocal mother who had particularly women around bragging and talking about their work. So I was lucky that I never had a mother who demonstrated that silence was effective. Then you couple that with growing up in the media and the political bubble of Washington having a dad who is a writer and on television, I think those two things combined make me feel lucky, like I’d never felt like as a woman I was supposed to be quiet. That was reinforced to me in other ways,  not just through my parents. Having a dad who effectively performed on TV, those things together taught me a lot about how to frame yourself and your work and be unafraid to do so.”

Q:  The second part of that question: “Did they ever suggest to you that you brag about yourself?” 

A:  “I don’t think it needed to be said, they did in their actions. I think it was never explicitly, but I think they did, like when we would meet people they would certainly be encouraging of me to share things in general. And they always bragged on my behalf. A huge part of bragging better is doing so for others then asking others to do so for you, not just for your own purposes, but for their work too so you can help other people. I think it was just sort of almost understood. I call it the five minute family media circus.” 

“Meredith Fineman is an entrepreneur, writer, podcast host, and media expert. She is the founder of FinePoint, a leadership and professional development company that elevates individuals — particularly CEOS, founders, and women in positions of power — around the themes of visibility and voice. She is the author of Brag Better, out 5/19/20 from Penguin Random House. Fineman is a freelance writer of 15 years and a book collaborator. She speaks and trains on positive self-promotion to companies, brands, universities and groups. She is the host of the podcast It Never Gets Old, a podcast on her knowledge of second-hand and sustainable fashion.” Biography

Q: “Give me an example of how you would brag with me over dinner. How will that conversation go?”

A:  “Well, it depends. I mean, you’re my friend. But let’s use this as a scenario: We’re friends, but you’re also a writer. You also have influence, you also have a platform. I have a book coming out on Tuesday and I want to get  as much coverage as possible, but I also know that you care about covering interesting stories, covering things from a Washington angle, like I’m aware of your work and have researched it. So I think that some of bragging and some of using PR tactics and practices is just being unafraid to ask for things, but specifically asking for recognition. So in our case, I would say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m not sure what you’re writing about right now. but you know, if you were open to it, I would love to do an interview or a piece for your site or whoever you’re writing for right now around my new book, which is out on June 16th, I’m really excited about it. I would love to get you a copy of it.'”  “I don’t consider that bragging,” I responded.  “Well, but it is. So it’s not always as overt as like, ‘Hey, look at this cool thing I did, but I hit a couple of brags in there.’ I wrote a book and it’s coming out on this date. I want coverage for it.”

Q:  “So let’s say you were in a big party or an interview, give me examples of that.”

A:  “So let’s talk about an interview. So I’m in a job interview setting. There are places that are like ultimate [graduating] spots like your bio, your resume, a job interview. What do I mean by that? I mean that those are places people expect you to brag. Those are already sanctioned, bragging spots. I know you should not hold back in an interview. So let’s say I’m applying for a job. I have a very strong resume and the strong personal website, which I really advocate as a strong bio.  I would say here’s why I think I’m the best candidate for this job. I have skills that yes compliment this and or what you’re looking for. I have the background you’re looking for, but what I bring to the table is different because of X and Y and Z. I think that it’s talking about highly specific things you’ve done that will help accompany and show your value, but also the value that you can bring to them; and frankly, the money you can make them, ’cause that’s what this is at the end of the day is – it’s a business decision. I think a lot of people get really caught up with the emotions of it, which is only natural, but they’re (the employer) looking to invest – in this case a person’s talent – to get a return on investment in their company.”

Q:  “You ask three questions in your book to see where you stand on bragging, so I’m going to ask you to analyze my Brag Better abilities.” Here they are:

Does talking about your accomplishments feel scary or icky because you’re worried people will think you’re “obnoxious”?

Does it feel more natural to “put your head down and do the work”?

Are you tired of watching the loudest people in your industry get disproportionate praise and rewards?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you might be self-sabotaging. You need to learn to Brag Better.

I answered yes to one, the last one to be exact, so I guess I need to Brag Better.

The Fineman solution: “I would ask you to name names in confidence. I would also ask you where are those people getting recognition? Where do you want to get recognition? And how do you want to get recognition? Is it that  you want to be doing more press yourself? Is it you want to get bigger? Is it that you want to be paid more money? All of those things, I would break them down with you and then we would figure it out. You have a really interesting story and life. I would talk to you about maybe starting to share some of that as well.”

A:  “One of the reasons why I wrote this book is that I got really sick of everyone that came to me who really qualified as part of the qualified quiet – to some degree we all are. It annoyed me that we had this really intense, [inverse] relationship between volume and merit in industries. People are getting disproportionate praise and rewards for being the loudest. I still get scared talking about myself. Like I get nervous. Like listen, it’s a really intense time right now. There’s a lot going on. I wrote a book literally about bragging, so I have no choice but to walk the walk. Sometimes you have to push these principles, but also have trouble with them. I think that I was shyer when I was younger, not super shy, but I’m certainly more confident now, but that takes a lot of time and practice.” 

Q:  “Why do the loudest get the most attention?”

A:  “Because that’s what we listen to. Our attention spans are short. For example, we’re currently in an emergency situation, an unprecedented emergency situation. And you know, Americans in particular are not that good at listening. So that’s what’s going to get your attention. You look at like the rise of more and more outrageous politicians, more and more outrageous reality show participants. Sometimes those are the same thing.”

“I think that I’m comfortable sharing my accomplishments because I’ve chosen to be a more public facing person for a long time, but it’s still a scary thing to do,” Fineman added.  “I mean I’m freaked, I’m scared for my book to come out on Tuesday. I’m also excited. I mean, it’s a tremendous act of vulnerability. Sometimes we forget it when we’re always writing things and you have no trouble speaking out since you’ve been doing this for a really long time. And so you have the wisdom and experience to know you can give a s**t what other people think. And you’re not afraid to say things and write things and do things, but many, many people don’t have that. It’s not just like a product at age, I think that you just also are braver.” 

Q:  “Give me an example how bragging better has helped you.”

A:  “I think that part of bragging better is doing so for other people and understanding that it’s not a zero sum game. It’s not like me or you get the spotlight. There’s enough room on the stage for everyone, even though it can feel like, particularly for women, that we are all in competition. So I’ll give you a prime example. Maybe a decade ago at this point, or almost a decade ago, The Hill  published an article on the most interesting publicists in Washington. I had been a publicist for about 10 minutes. I looked at the list and I got really jealous and I was like,   I’ve been a publicist for 10 minutes, why wasn’t I on this list, which I shouldn’t have been. I wanted to be in that space. And I sat on it and it was like, you know what, I’m just going to reach out to the writer. And so I did, I sent her a Facebook message and I said something like, ‘ I saw The Hill article. I think your  work’s really cool. Are you open to the meeting for a coffee? Jess (the writer) and I got together, and from that moment we started cooking up things to do together. She is one of my best friends. She’s the best publicist in the game. She’s helping me with some book stuff.  She’s an incredible confidant. So I will say being unafraid to ask for things and put yourself out there for someone else, someone you might be a little jealous of or someone who you might have varying feelings towards and seeing where that goes. Jess, and I have done things together. They’ve gotten us both publicity and I’ve gotten our clients publicity. We’ve gotten our businesses publicity and had I chosen to just, you know, stew over it and try to compete, we would have lost out on many things.”

Photos of those in the book.

Meredith Fineman has built a career working with “The Qualified Quiet”: smart people who struggle to talk about themselves and thus go underestimated or unrecognized. Now, she shares the surefire and anxiety-proof strategies that have helped her clients effectively communicate their achievements and skillsets to others.

Bragging Better doesn’t require false bravado, talking over people, or pretending to be more qualified than you are. Instead, Fineman advocates finding quiet confidence in your opinions, abilities, and background, and then turning up the volume. In this book, you will learn the career-changing tools she’s developed over the past decade that make bragging feel easy, including:

     Get remembered by focusing your personal brand and voice on key adjectives (like “effective, subtle, and edgy”)
     Practice explaining what you do in simple, sticky terms to earn respect and recognition from the public and people at work.
     Eliminate words that undermine your work and find better ones–like your bio saying you’re “trying” or “attempting” to do something instead that you ARE doing it.

If you’re ready to begin Bragging Better–to telling the truth about your accomplishments with grace and confidence–this book is for you. Even when times are tough and uncertain, your accomplishments are real, valid, and worthy of celebration. Fineman’s approach to self-promotion will manage your anxiety and empower you to champion yourself, unlocking career opportunities and inner confidence. 

Fineman will be joined in conversation by Sarah Hurwitz, a former White House speechwriter and author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).” Random House

The book is out on Tuesday, June 16th. Meredith with be signing some stacks at Politics and Prose – a lunch conversation with Sarah Hurwitz. Join her for a discussion of Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion.