Asserting Our Bragging Rights

CEO of FinePoint on reclaiming the word “brag,” her new book on self-promotion and how to be seen and heard in quarantine

| 14 Jun 2020 | 07:10

There is an art to bragging and Meredith Fineman has made a career out of it. The 33-year-old educates others on how to brag effectively, which she defines as speaking honestly, proudly and loudly about one’s accomplishments.

A native of Washington, D.C., Fineman founded the professional development company FinePoint, training hundreds of individuals to embrace their unique voice and elevate their personal brand. Her resume also includes penning articles and serving as a panelist on the subject at countless companies, colleges and events.

Her new book, “Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion,” out on June 16th, instructs readers on everything brag related such as building a concise resume, posting a proper headshot and tailoring the perfect bio. Other chapters include the fear-inducing topics of how to tactfully handle salary negotiations and master public speaking.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic transformed how we do our jobs, Fineman saw the need to add a timely chapter on how to brag better online and from home. Since we can no longer rely on shaking hands and in-person meetings, she advises on how to present one’s self virtually and find a way to speak effectively in Zoom meetings, conference calls and emails.

How did you decide on the word “brag” as your central focus? You said people tried to dissuade you from using it.

I use “brag” because I’m in the business of getting attention. And it’s a little bit about reclaiming the term, because bragging is just stating true facts about your work to advance your career. It’s strategically, concisely, thoughtfully stating true facts about the work you’ve done to the correct parties in order to get what you want ... As a writer, there is not a vocabulary to talk about professional accomplishment. And the problem is, there actually isn’t any other word than “brag.” I worked on this for seven-and-a-half years. The definition of “brag” is “to talk about one’s self boastfully,” which doesn’t give you anything. And then “boastful” means “to talk about yourself with excessive pride.” And there are some more colloquialisms like “hyping yourself,” or “talking yourself up,” but there was not one word. And I think that that is somewhat emblematic of this issue, that there isn’t one that isn’t imbued with anxiety or judgment or criticism. And I didn’t want to create a new one.

You trademarked the term “Qualified Quiet.” Define it for us.

That is a term that I came up with. It’s almost as good as “Brag Better,” and I wanted it to be in the subtitle of the book, but we were worried it would confuse people. Though I don’t really think it would, because people are smarter than we give them credit for. The Qualified Quiet are people who have done the work, but don’t know how to showcase it, and they’re not going to brag about it. And that is irrespective of gender and level of seniority. That, to some degree, is all of us. It’s the opposite of the Lackluster Loud, those who haven’t done the work. It’s much harder to spend the time and know your stuff than it is to figure out how to brag about it.

What can you tell us about your clients and why they come to you?

Many of my clients are very high up and extremely successful. None of them really come to me for ego. They either want to hone their pitch, whether they want recognition for fundraising or in the press or on television or for a speaking career. They are part of the Qualified Quiet, and they all say to me they’d rather put their heads down than talk about it. And talking about your work is work and it’s important work. Completely irrespective of the level of seniority, I’ve heard the same issues and fears around bragging about yourself.

What has been a memorable moment from one of your speaking events?

I was speaking on a big personal branding panel and this Latinx woman got up and asked how she can avoid being stereotyped. It ties into current events, for sure. I promoted the panel and was speaking on it, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that all of the panelists and the moderator were white. People were giving her varying tactics and I said to her, in front of a group of 2,000 people, “Listen, I can give you platitudes and tell you varying strategies, but I just want to say that I do not understand the difficulties you go through as a woman of color. And I have the privilege to not have to deal with that and I’m sorry.” And that goes along with a core tenet of “Brag Better, which is doing so for others and amplifying the voices of Black women and women of color. That’s made me think a lot about my weaknesses in my work. I have a lot of perspectives, but those are perspectives I don’t have and that’s why it was important for me to include a lot of diverse voices in all the interviews.

Another point you make is that we are in charge of how people see us. Now we that can’t meet in person, what should one’s online persona look like?

This is just a wild time and business has sort of changed forever. Right now, I wouldn’t worry too much about breaking through. I think it’s a really good time to take stock of what’s already out there. Are you aware of how you’re presenting yourself on your social media? Maybe you should get a new headshot, a social distance headshot. Or maybe you can spend time on a personal website.

Since business meetings are now video chats, what is your advice for being heard on this platform?

I think asking your colleagues to help amplify you and going into it with a strategy around that. I think this is all too new, but what I will say is it’s an issue. Because people who dominate in meetings are going to dominate in Zoom calls. If there is someone who gets a lot of airtime, asking that person to help you talk too and toss it to you.