Picture this: You meet someone new. “What do you do?” he asks.
“I’m an architect,” you say.
“Oh, really?” he answers. “Have you designed any buildings I’ve seen?”
“Maybe,” you reply. “We did the new library at the university…”
“Oh wow,” he says. “I’ve seen it. That’s a beautiful building…”
And you’re off. Maybe he’s a potential client, maybe not… but either way you’ve made a great impression.
You sound awesome.
Now picture this: You meet someone new. “What do you do?” he asks.
“I’m a passionate, innovative, dynamic provider of architectural services who uses a collaborative approach to create and deliver outstanding customer experiences.”
And he’s off, never to be seen again… because you sound like a pompous ass.
Do you–whether on your website, or more likely on social media accounts–describe yourself differently than you do in person?
Do you use hacky clichés and overblown superlatives and breathless adjectives?
Do you write things about yourself you would never have the nerve to actually say?
If so, it’s time for a change.
Here are some words that are great when used by other people to describe you, but you should never use to describe yourself:
Check out Chris Rock’s response (not safe for work or the politically correct) to people who say they take care of their kids. Then substitute the word “motivated.” Never take credit for things you are supposed to do–or be.
If you have to say you’re an authority, you aren’t. Show your expertise instead. “Presenter at SXSW” or “Delivered TED Talk at Long Beach 2010” indicates a level of authority. Unless you can prove it, “social media marketing authority” just means you spend a ton of time on Twitter.
The vast majority of businesses can sell goods or services worldwide; the ones that can’t–like restaurants–are obvious. (See?) Only use “global provider” if that capability is not assumed or obvious; otherwise you just sound like a really small company trying to appear really big.
Most companies claim to be innovative. Most people claim to be innovative. Most are not. (I’m not.) That’s okay, because innovation isn’t a requirement for success.
If you are innovative, don’t say it. Prove it. Describe the products you’ve developed. Describe the processes you’ve modified. Give us something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident… which is always the best kind of evident to be.
See particular words often enough and they no longer make an impact. “Creative” is one of them. (Go to LinkedIn and check out some profiles; “creative” will appear in the majority.)
“Creative” is just one example. Others include extensive, effective, proven, dynamic, influential, team player, collaborative… some of those terms truly may describe you, but since they’re also being used to describe everyone else they’ve lost their impact.
Museums have curators. Libraries have curators. Tweeting links to stuff you find interesting doesn’t make you a curator… or an authority or a guru.
Say you’re incredibly passionate about incorporating an elegant design aesthetic in everyday objects and–to me at least–you sound a little scary. Same if you’re passionate about developing long-term customer solutions. Try focus, concentration, or specialization instead. Save the passion for your loved one.
Fingerprints are unique. Snowflakes are unique. You are unique–but your business probably isn’t. Don’t pretend to be, because customers don’t care about unique; they care about “better.” Show how you’re better than the competition and in the minds of customers you will be unique.
People who try to be clever for the sake of being clever are anything but. Don’t be a self-proclaimed ninja, sage, connoisseur, guerilla, wonk, egghead… it’s awesome when your customers affectionately describe you in that way, but when you do it it’s apparent you’re trying way too hard.
Check out some random bios and you’ll find plenty of further-modified descriptors: “Incredibly passionate,” “profoundly insightful,” “extremely captivating…” isn’t it enough to be insightful or captivating? Do you have to be incredibly passionate?
If you must use over-the-top adjectives to describe yourself, at least spare us the further modification. Trust us; we already get it.
Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden
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