One of the biggest challenges I have as an advisor to tech entrepreneurs is to convince you that marketing is required for your product, no matter how great it is, just to get it found with today’s information overload. A comparable problem is to get entrepreneurs to market themselves, for the same reason. Your abilities will be lost in the crowd because competence doesn’t speak for itself.
We have all heard the saying that first impressions count big, but in fact, you judge other people continually by your impressions of their competence, unless and until they provide you credible evidence of something better – through smart impression management or marketing of their experience, skills, and results. It is this perceived competence that gives you a competitive edge.
The challenge is to communicate competence without appearing to be self-centered or bragging. In the new book, “Convinced!: How to Prove Your Competence & Win People Over,” by Jack Nasher, a Stanford professor and negotiation expert, I finally found some guidance on specific approaches, with some pragmatic recommendations to make them work.
- Raise people’s expectations of what you bring to the table. I can tell you from my experience as an investor, after hearing hundreds of pitches, that my expectations start very low. It’s up to you to inspire me (and you) that you can do what you say is possible. In any business role, your manager only sees a fraction of what you know and do.
In fact, you can raise a low bar of expectations of results by demonstrating confidence regarding your abilities and the task at hand. You need to reduce anxiety by eliminating anything that speaks against you and highlighting past successes and experience.
- Highlight all good news around you, and reframe bad news. Associating with good news, even if not yours, strengthens your competence. Without excuses, position any bad news in a positive light, and focus on what you learned. Always start with the good news, then the bad news, and conclude with the second-best news to end on a high.
- Frame your competence perception to reduce qualms. First of all, emphasize up front any unfavorable circumstances that will make your job more difficult. Then highlight the role that your competence plays by pointing out how earlier successes, training, and education show you were born for this job, having survived from bigger challenges.
For example, the legendary Steve Jobs and other captains of industry were quick to talk about their tough beginnings, overcoming great obstacles, and highlighting successes, to raise and reconfirm their perception of competence in the eye of peers and executives.
- Learn to get heard as an expert through power talking. Steve Jobs also practiced incessantly to become a masterful speaker, by speaking with confidence, pairing the right, impactful words with strategic use of vocal range, emphasis, and pauses. In all cases, avoid speaking too softly, often repeating points, or cutting others off.
- Communicate your competence through body language. Positive body language, including eye contact, smiling, location while standing, and posture while sitting, all strengthen the perception of your competence. Show enthusiasm during presentations by moving around and using large gestures. Position yourself near the front in meetings.
- Boost competency perception by increasing likeability. Creating an overall positive impression is of decisive importance, starting with always being friendly, polite, attentive, and educated. The evidence still shows that this extends to attractiveness and popularity as well. It always pays to look your best, and build relationships with key people.
According to the latest data, attractiveness in men is more about their faces and clothes than body figures, while with women figures are more important than their faces. Popularity builds with respect and interest in others, as well as goodwill building.
While some of these techniques take practice to master, none require sacrificing your values or faking skills you don’t have. The goal is to display and market your full expertise and competence, with authenticity and confidence, without waiting for someone to figure it out. The business world is moving faster and faster these days, so don’t fall behind by simply waiting to be found.