BOOK REVIEW: Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It By Peggy Klaus

Networking, schmoozing, self promotion, job interviews, appraisals… words that strike dread into many hearts, mine included: suddenly cleaning grout off bathroom tiles with a tiny toothbrush looks like a solid way to spend time. But, it’s gotta be done if we want to get on in our careers. The problem is, the author of this book on artful bragging notes, promoting ourselves is not something we’re taught to do. How do we fix that? Peggy Klaus, "bragologist", has the answer.

BOOK REVIEW: Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It By Peggy Klaus

Let me tell you how I ended up with a copy of this book: my lovely colleagues at my last job gave it to me when I left, knowing that as I was going to go freelance, some subtle horn tooting /self promotion/ marketing was going to have to be in my very near future. No-one said anything but you don’t normally give people help-books on things they’re really good at, like, no-one would give Mary Berry a book on how to be a great cook or Chris Hoy one on how to be a cyclist. I thought maybe there’s a message here, somewhere. So being the good student I am, I read it. It’s geared towards an American audience and a bit cheesy in parts but get past that and it’s got some good advice for those wanting a steer on how to better promote themselves – whether you’re working in a corporation, running your own business, in-between jobs, dreading an up-coming appraisal, or a parent looking to go back to work.

Klaus, a “bragologist’, wrote this book back in 2004 to teach us ‘how to brag and get away with it’. The author started out in Hollywood and when friends on Wall Street asked for tips on how to give a presentation, she realised there are stacks of people out there who need help and set up a communication consultancy.

The truth is, nothing in this book is rocket science but that doesn’t mean most of us are doing it: it’s just too… cringe-clenching. The problem is “We think it’s necessary to choose between remaining obscure or sounding obnoxious, like ‘one of them’” because horn-tooting goes against the tenets of our up-bringing, religion and Jane Austen novels. To shake this out of us, Klaus highlights a few myths such as “A job well done speaks for itself” and “humility gets you noticed”. They rarely do: more likely, she reasons, your accomplishments will go unnoticed, or worse, someone will take the credit. But equally, getting the recognition you want takes work: you can’t just hope someone realises you’ve done a great job and gives you a big fat pat on the back. You need to find a way to show what you’re doing and take credit with grace.

As the title of the book says, horn tooting is an art: you have to know when and how to do it, get the timing right, the delivery right, and think of your audience – why would they be interested in knowing this, what’s in it for them? But if there is one overriding message in this book it’s this: preparing how you present yourself is crucial, don’t leave it to chance. There are twelve self-evaluation questions to answer near the start (what are ten interesting things about you? what obstacles have you overcome and what did you learn from them? etc.), those hard but common HR-y /interview type questions which most of hate answering and often ramble off into the hills as we try to avoid saying anything we think is going to be detrimental to our cause or too personal. But these questions keep cropping up in one guise or another so prepare some good responses, is Klaus’s advice, along with a few stats and anecdotes (“brag bites”) to have ready up your sleeve.

There’s also a chapter on job interviews and another on performance reviews which, as Klaus observes, “Are right up there next to job interviews as the least favourite pastime for professionals.” Tips include writing down five things that make you the perfect candidate before an interview, prepping for the dreaded question “tell me about your weak points” and how to address trickier scenarios where, for example, you are coming fresh to the job market from college without a job track record, or you didn’t get on with your last boss and they want a reference.There are plenty of example-responses from the clients Klaus has worked with which are great starters to help get the juices flowing when you think about what you might include in your own response. However, a couple of these did grate on me.

An early example of how someone should have ‘owned’ their $10million dollar sale achievement ends with “I am so psyched! I nursed this baby from beginning to end.” Frankly, I’d love to see someone say this in a team meeting, the more staid the person the better, but not for the right reasons. More for the eye-watering ‘The Office’ type moment it would create. Outside the US, I don’t see this high-octane fist-pumping style translating well. Equally her early examples of interesting facts she pulls out of her clients for their “brag bag” (technical prodigy setting up satellite tracking systems to help protect the Amazon in his spare time, “Top Gun” Navy fighter who’s then told to say “I know what trust and responsibility are all about. As a former Navy pilot, I was entrusted every day with a $25million aircraft, carrying out missions to protect the country’s interests”) seem a little beyond what most of us will be able to muster up but as the book continues either the examples calm down or I got used to the style because the grating lessened considerably.

Contrary to the modern mantras of you-are-good-enough-as-you-are and spill-it-all-out, this book takes a more old-school approach. “You always need to prove yourself” is one piece of advice and another is that you need an upbeat story regardless of whether you know what you’ll do next: save the self doubt for best friends and the therapist, Klaus counsels. Overall, I’d recommend this book if you think you need to polish up your horn-tootin’ skills or are feeling overlooked. It makes some very sensible points about how we present ourselves to the world and what that conveys about us. We may know it already but in the day-to-day rush of life we’re often on autopilot to get things done and this book reminds us that if we’re not prepared to present our best self, we may be doing ourselves a disservice.

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