The Art of Self-Promotion: How to make it all about them when it’s all about you

By: Bart Egnal

As a parent, I often advise my three children not to brag to their friends and relatives. I encourage them to approach their relationships with humility and care, focusing on others and always considering the feelings of others. 

As a leadership communications coach, I often give my clients seemingly-different advice: I encourage them to do some intentional self-promotion. Coaching sessions can include “brag practice” where I ask reluctant clients to yammer on about the many things they’ve achieved, “pitch practice” where they tout their credentials for a job, or elevator conversations where we work on focused messages they want to deliver about an idea they have. 

This contrasting advice may seem counterintuitive. Why would I encourage my children to avoid self-promotion yet work with my clients to increase their capacity to do the same? 

Many of my clients feel this inherent tension; they conclude that because they avoid self-promotion in their personal life and in many of their professional relationships, any sort of bragging would be at best inauthentic, and at worst, off-putting. 

Yet the key to remember is this: the ability to speak to your strengths (and those of your team, product or company) is critical to not only your own success but to bringing value to others. In short, self-promotion is just another leadership skill. 

Here’s how leaders should think about touting their achievements.

Get over yourself – focus on your audience. 

Annoying self-promoters begin with themselves. They think about all the amazing successes they want to expound on, the things they’ve won, and the items they own. They rarely stop to consider whether their audiences even care to listen. Their goal is often self-aggrandizement.

Leaders, on the other hand, begin with their audience. They consider how they would like to influence or inspire their audience and then what kind of credentialing or promotion will allow them to earn the right to be heard. This allows them to be hyper-focused in what they share and ensure it is relevant for the audience.

I was working with a humble and hard-working Executive Vice President of Finance, who was highly respected by those who had worked with her for years. Yet her focus on “letting the work speak for itself” was holding her back when the CEO selected leaders to champion initiatives she would be better suited to head up. It came to a head when she told me an executive who was selected had said to her, “Rachel, this should be YOUR project – the CEO just doesn’t know how good you’d be.” 

We worked on a new mindset: that to serve her CEO and the organization best, she needed them to understand that she could deliver excellence. This put her in the mindset where self-promotion wasn’t about her – it was about the audience.

Be Focused 

You have many achievements. For those worried about self-promotion, I have good news: the world doesn’t need to know all of them. 

Instead, you should carefully consider which achievements and strengths you want to share with your audience to build the understanding and credibility that will lead to action. 

Take Mike, a startup CEO whom I worked with who was trying to raise money for his new venture. Mike was a seasoned engineer with a long history of helping industrial companies increase their energy efficiency. His consulting firm was trusted and well respected, but he was entering into a new space where he had built software to help them manage their Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts and report on progress. Yet his pitch was not resonating with VCs, and he’d received feedback that he was seen as a service leader but not as a software service engineer.

To delve into why, I had him roleplay his fundraising conversations. He started explaining that “I’ve got a long track record that got me to this point” and then spent 10 minutes taking me through his backstory as an engineer, how he started his firm, and the big clients he’d won. Only after about 10 minutes did he mention the word “software” or talk about his new offering. 

The problem was clear: he was unfocused and was not promoting what really mattered: his software as service expertise and credentials. We revamped his opening promotion to focus almost exclusively on the SAS product he’d created, the big clients he’d already won, and the growth in annual recurring revenue he’d already generated. The shift was on the story and metrics that were relevant to VCs, not on his (successful) life story before the new venture. 

Get authentically comfortable

Finally, you need to practice self-promotion so it comes across as comfortable and authentic. 

Leaders who practice humility and shy away from bragging can often unintentionally undermine themselves when it is time to tout achievements. This can manifest with “mincing modifiers” like, “I don’t want to brag” or by sharing credit when the achievement was theirs or their teams’, “our sales team has delivered every quarter but really it wasn’t just us, lots of people too helped and…” 

It’s important to get comfortable with taking (earned) credit because doing so will better allow your audience to assess your team’s performance and make decisions with that assessment. 

The best way to build this comfort level is through practice.  Do a 90-second promotion and record it on your phone. Take note of mincing modifiers, deflections, and any vocal minimizations. Then try again. When you’re ready, roleplay it with a colleague, friend or family member to get their feedback (and support!). Eventually, you will build the confidence to talk about the successes while owning them vocally and physically. 

Remember: bragging is a mini-performance, and all performances demand practice to build comfort.


As you build your leadership communication skills, remember that the ability to self-promote is just one more capability you’ll need. By working on an audience-centric, focused and authentic approach, you’ll strengthen your ability to tell others what they need to know so you and your organization can inspire their support.