Peggy Klaus flits around the crowded room of 40 women like a fairy. She wields a silver-plated backscratcher and strokes the unsuspecting — on a wrist, a neck — cooing, “Doesn’t that feel good?”
This is how Peggy warms up the party to get everyone to start bragging. My friend Liz is horrified. Liz can’t believe I dragged her to a party where everyone is supposed to brag. She can’t believe the chief bragger is also a scratcher.
Peggy is a communications coach who is going to teach this group how to talk about career achievements in a way that captivates other people. One of Peggy’s favorite phrases is, “Brag is not a four-letter word.” Another favorite phrase is “Buy my book,” which she is hawking at brag parties all over the country. Brag! is a good book, which is why I wanted to see her in action.
According to Peggy, hard work and humility might be rewarded in heaven, but not in the work place. Promotions come to those who tout their own achievements. In order to get noticed in this world, you need a spunky four or five sentence answer to the question: What do you do? In fact, you need to be selling yourself at all times, because if you don’t then no one is.
Peggy drops her scratcher by her side and approaches Liz, who has been hovering in a corner ever since I broke the final piece of news to her: That there will be role playing.
Peggy asks Liz the question that reveals all to a brag coach: “What do you do?”
Liz looks down and says, “I’m a psychologist.” That’s it. No sales job. No passion. Barely a full sentence. I cringe.
Peggy says, “You will hate tonight’s party, but you will learn a lot.” Then she gathers everyone into a room and starts her coaching.
Peggy coaches men and women, but tonight’s party is women only. Peggy tells us that women are not as good as men when it comes to selling themselves. For one thing, men job-hop more than women, (hard to take a day off for a sick kid if it’s your third month on the job). So men interview frequently and get practice talking about their greatness, while women are better at talking about their kids and pets and other objects of nurture.
Peggy says the most successful components of a brag are excitement and a good story. If you have those, everyone will want to listen to you.
She says that most fears of bragging stem from parenting factors. She confesses that her father told her, “Don’t toot your own horn. If you do a good job people will notice you.”
So Klaus didn’t vote for herself for class president. (Don’t worry, she won anyway.) This monologue opens floodgates: Liz’s parents were handicapped so she never wanted anyone to notice her.
Another woman says her Mexican immigrant family told her to blend in. Someone says, “I’m from Canada, and for us it’s not a parenting issue, it’s a national issue.” Then Klaus says, “What about Catholics, do I have any Catholics in the room?” Hands shoot in the air. Everyone wants to talk about how Catholic school squelches the instinct to speak up about one’s achievements.
According to Peggy, good communication is much more than just good jokes or good body language.
This is good news for Liz, who is definitely not funny and has the body language of someone who is going to vomit. Liz did not realize she would have to be excited.
Peggy has everyone find a partner who we don’t know. We have 30 seconds to tell each other about ourselves. Then Peggy announces that we did a bad job.
“There is no excitement in the room,” she says. “If you are not excited about what you’re saying then no one else will be either.”
She teaches us how to be excited about the hors d’oeuvres we just ate (and believe me, they were not exciting.) Then she pairs us up again to talk about ourselves and she reminds us that if we can be excited about pigs in a blanket then we can be excited about our careers.
Once we get our excitement level up, she tells us that a successful bragger tells a story. When you want to impress someone, a story is more memorable than a list of achievements. When you want to establish a connection with someone, a story provides social glue.
We each work on the 30-second story of our career, and then we tell it to a new partner, with our new, excited voices. After an hour of Peggy’s coaching, everyone realizes that a good bragger is actually a pleasure to listen to.
Even Liz has made improvement: She has glimmers of excitement when she talks about her career, and she has a much more interesting answer to the question, “What do you do?”
But the art of bragging is not easy, and old habits die hard. I tell Liz I am going to write about her brag because it’s so impressive and she says, “Oh god. Don’t write about my career. I don’t want anyone to know.”