Next Level Personal Branding Principles

The other day, my son was doing his reading homework and he came across the word "pontificate." My reaction was wow, sort of a big word for a kid his age! My wife is a trained educator so I've learned from her to let our son attempt to figure things out himself instead of just giving him the answer.  

We ask him what he thinks "pontificate" means. He's not having any luck so I try to give him a funny clue. I said it's something Daddy does a lot. "Lays about?" Ouch! Stake through the heart. My wife is doing her best not to laugh too hard.

Then he says, totally seriously, "oh, not answer?" I see tears in my wife's eyes. The dam has broke and I am officially the butt of the joke. 

Hmm, looks like I have to work on my personal branding at home. Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to give a presentation on personal branding to about 100 KPMG colleagues. Now it looks like I will get the chance to practice what I preach. 

But first, let's explore together the 3 Key Principles that will turbo-charge our personal branding efforts. 


1. Perception is the copilot to reality.

Repeat it with me. "Perception is the copilot to reality."

But what does that mean, Joe?

Allow me to explain. My eyes were first opened to personal branding at a KPMG Network of Women event with a guest speaker, Carla Harris. She is a Managing Director and Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley. In 2013, she was appointed by the President to chair the National Women’s Business Council.

She told us about a moment earlier in her career when she was passed over for a promotion. Luckily, she found someone who confided in her the real reason. "You're smart, you work hard, but you're not tough enough for this business."

This was when she realized she was not bringing her true self to work, which was TOUGH. So for the next 90 days, she decided to walk tough, talk tough, eat tough! She asked for and aced the toughest assignments. And what do you think happened next time she was up for promotion?

You see, it doesn't matter who you are inside if that is not shown to and perceived by others. Those qualities might as well be invisible because to others, it is what they perceive that matters. And there's real power in being able to bring most of your authentic self to work.

So remember, "Perception is the copilot to reality."

2. Be distinct or be extinct.


Everyone knows the science question, "If a TREE falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?"

I'm here to ask, "If an employee does great work and nobody knows who they are, do they get any recognition or get promoted?"

If you want more people to remember you, it helps to make yourself more memorable!

How do I do that, you might ask?

I'm going to answer your question with a another question. I know, annoying lawyer trick.

Question: Why do people ask for a bag with handles?

Answer: It makes the bag easier to carry.

In the same way, when you give people a distinct handle to remember you by (a style, a passion, a favorite catchphrase), it makes it easier for people to remember you. And if they remember who you are, then they can remember the value you provide.

3. Your brand is in the room when you are not.


What room are you talking about?

Everyone knows you carry your brand around with you...but consider this...

  • It also arrives before you in every room you enter.
  • It is left behind when you leave.
  • Most importantly, it is in the room where important decisions are being made that will affect your career! Just to be clear, you won't be in the room.

Let's repeat what we've learned, from the top!
1. Perception is the copilot to reality.
2. Be distinct or be extinct.
3. Your brand is in the room when you are not.

Finally a few concrete steps you can take TODAY to improve your personal branding.


1. Pick one adjective you want people to describe you as when you are not in the room. Train yourself to embody, inside and out, that adjective for 30 days. Your actions will guide their perceptions.

2. Pick one way to make yourself more uniquely memorable. It could be an article of clothing (pin or hat), a phrase (indubitably), a color (man in black) or even a hairstyle (shaved head).

3. Get feedback. Find out, from people you trust, how you are perceived. Please remain seated when you receive the feedback. 

On my household personal brand, looks like it's time to put down my phone, pick up my tools, and do a little rebranding! Thanks for the honest feedback, kiddo!  

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.   

Don't Miss Another Opportunity

Have you ever been right next to someone you wanted to meet and froze? Or by the time you figured out what to say the moment, and your chance slipped through your fingers like a rogue ice cube? Have you ever had someone ask you about yourself and in your shock or excitement, a barely comprehensible avalanche of words tumbled out of your mouth?

All of the above has happened to me at some point. If you are anything like me, a few things occurred afterwards. First, I beat myself up. Second, the "perfect" thing to say came to mind...alas...way too late. And finally, I promised myself I wouldn't let this happen again.

An elevator speech is a tried and true solution to communicate about yourself in a brief amount of time. For instance, about the amount of time you have together with someone on the elevator. Essentially, it's like a "commercial" about you. The idea is you have this in your back pocket so you can call on it at a moment's notice.

Here are a few EZPZ tips on creating your own elevator speech, as well as how to keep the conversation going if the opportunity arises.

1. Prepare a one sentence introduction of you as a solution.

In the context of explaining the value you provide, your title or position is actually not that helpful. In fact, sometimes I intentionally don't mention I'm a lawyer to avoid all the lame lawyer jokes. Instead, think of a way to explain how your actions benefit those you serve.

Let's try an example. You are an accountant and process tax returns for individuals and you have a chance encounter with the CFO who asks you, "what do you do?"

Fail:  I'm an accountant and I help prepare individual tax returns.

Pass: I take the dread out of April 15.

So now that the elevator speech is out of the way, if your partner seems engaged and open to hearing more...

2. Tell a signature story with an interesting narrative

We all have at least one. It's a story that makes other people laugh or pleasantly surprises them. Maybe a bit edgy, but never controversial. Or for a more organic approach, it's something interesting that happened to you or which you observed recently. 

Now if, and only if, it seems you are moving into a full blown conversation, time to stop talking about yourself and learn more about the other person so...

3. Ask an open-ended question about the listener.

All open-ended questions are not created equal. I find that "how" and "why" questions create more opportunity for conversation to flow than "who, what, when, or where." That's because even though they are all open-ended questions, "who, what, when, and where" still lend themselves to one-word answers whereas "how and why" typically result in a more detailed response. For example...

You: So where did you work before you came here?

CFO: Becton Dickinson.


You: Why did you decide to join our company?

CFO: I used to work with your CEO at Becton Dickinson. In fact, he recruited me straight out of college and...

So before your next chance encounter, come up with your elevator speech and don't miss another EZPZ opportunity to connect with someone. Good luck!

Next post Saturday, 6:30 a.m.