YES...You Too Can Go to Yale, Stanford, and Harvard (but you better be careful)

As a professional speaker and author, I enjoy reading the biographies of other speakers, authors, and business leaders. I often find the stories of those with whom I share the stage fascinating, inspiring, and sometimes truly unbelievable.

This morning I saw an ad for a professional speaker who will be giving an open-to-the-public presentation. This speaker is pretty well-known so I won't provide any identifying details. In his bio, it says things like: "Participated in charity events with (insert famous name here), presented at (insert famous location here), shared the stage with (insert your favorite athlete, politician, movie star, or rock star here) etc., etc."

There is no way of knowing if any of it is true, and to what degree, but it certainly looks impressive.

On my social networks, I post pictures of my friends and business colleagues, and some of them are famous. My biography, however, isn't filled with the names of all the people I've worked with over the years. Although the list is pretty cool, I just don't feel comfortable leveraging others to promote myself. Saying that, the speaker referenced above does very well financially so I thought I would change my biography to look more like his…

Sam spent time at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford and has been featured in places as varied as the Great Wall of China to the White House. From Bill Clinton to Elton John, Sam has shared the room, stage and exchanged ideas with Nobel Prize winners, Presidents, rock stars, world-class athletes, #1-ranked authors, and some of the world's greatest thought leaders.

Oh…by the way, here is the proof of my blow-hard statements:

  • Technically, I spent time at Harvard. While visiting a client, I bought two shirts at the school gift shop.

  • Technically, I spent time at Yale. While driving to a presentation in New Haven, I stopped and enjoyed a latte at a local coffee house.

  • Technically, I spent time at Stanford. While in Palo Alto, I took a jog around the campus.

  • When I visited the Great Wall, I had a picture taken of me where I was the featured person.

  • When I took the White House tour, I had a picture taken of me where I was the featured person.

  • When I was in Las Vegas, I once walked on the stage where Elton John performed.

  • I've delivered the afternoon keynote on the same platform where Bill Clinton, George Bush, Nobel Prize winners, Bobby Knight, Mike Ditka, Bon Jovi, and other very famous people had earlier given the morning keynote. So technically, we not only shared the stage, they also all opened for me!

  • Every year I attend the National Speakers Association convention and hang out with #1 ranked authors and world thought leaders. Some of them have even asked me for my ideas and advice, sometimes related to a deeply personal issue. For example, at last year's convention, Steve Forbes asked me if I knew how to find the bathroom.

The good news is the Internet has made it easy to craft and manage a personal brand. If you want to show up high in search engine results when someone looks for you online, then a professional biography posted on LinkedIn, AboutMe, Zoom and other sites is fast becoming a requirement for today's business executive.

The bad news is the Internet has made it easy to craft and manage a personal brand. Too many people take liberty with the truth. Too many ride the reputations of others to enhance their own stature. Too many think that personal branding is synonymous with "look at me, me, me."

Most prospects, clients, and even potential employees won't bother to check the facts to see if what you say on your website biography and social media accounts is accurate or an exaggeration. However, all it takes is one person willing to do some simple news searching and your story could easily be dispelled, and your reputation potentially permanently damaged.

Certainly, you should be proud of who you are and share your accomplishments – that is the essence of a biography. Yet, at the same time, a good dose of humble pie is refreshing in a world of oftentimes narcissistic online behavior. Stay true to yourself and what you've accomplished.

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