How to Self-Promote When You're Shy

How to Self-Promote When You're Shy

Shyness is a tricky thing. It’s something we all experience at some point, but for many, shyness can be a huge barrier to success at work and in business, especially when it comes to self-promotion.

The big question we so often get is, ‘how do I overcome shyness when promoting myself or my brand?’. Having helped thousands of women gain the confidence to fully own their brands and enhance their careers, we’ve found a few simple ways to help you peer through the cloak of shyness and find your professional voice as you navigate your career.

In this article, we take a look at shyness, how it induces the fear of self-promotion, and most importantly, how to break that cycle. Now, in order to navigate shyness, we must first understand what it is.

What is shyness?

According to the American Psychological Association, shynss is "the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during interpersonal interactions or social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people." This is usually triggered by fear, which can come from different things such as life experiences or perceptions.

For some people, shyness may even come from a physical sensitivity to environments and a heightened sense of awareness of what other people are thinking or feeling. As a result, highly sensitive people are often more prone to be fearful in certain situations and therefore tend to act shyer.

People often confuse shyness with introversion, so it’s important to clarify that while shyness and introversion correlate,  they are not the same. Shyness is a fear-induced response to social situations that may cause discomfort, whereas introversion is a personality trait characterized by being energized through solitude, versus being with other people.

Introverts prefer to regenerate their energy by themselves, which contrasts with extroverts who prefer to do so in the company of others. Irrespective of your personality type, both introverts and extroverts are in fact can experience shyness. This takes us then to the underlying factor of fear.

How Do Your Overcome the Fear of Being Seen?

Let me start by affirming that fear is a natural part of the human experience; it is not something to be loathed nor to be ashamed of. In fact, fear is a good thing—it helps us identify danger, take calculated risks, and is essential to our survival.

Like any other emotion, however, our fears must be measured and intentionally managed if we are to break through the limitations that they create. What this means, therefore, is that when you are afraid, you sometimes have to test those fears.

You have to put yourself out there to see if what you're afraid of is really something to be fearful of. Many women are afraid that they will lose out, be laughed at, or be rejected. Some of that might be well-founded, but sometimes it's in our minds.

When you are thinking about promoting yourself in whatever context that is, let's say it's a networking situation, or it's in a team situation when you want to get credit for a great idea or for work that you've done, you have to look at what could happen and what is the source of your fear. Is it reasonable to be afraid of what you're fearing at the time? What is the risk-to-reward ratio of you facing that fear vs. succumbing to it? Is the thing that I want and need to do or accomplish, more important than my fear?

In the book, Instant Influence,Yale Psychologist, Michael V. Pantalon urges his readers to imagine that they have already done the thing they’ve been wanting to do (in your case, self-promoting), and think about how it makes them feel, knowing they took action.

A lot of our fears around self-promotion stem from a fear of failure or rejection by others, but each time we let our fears hinder us, we inadvertently become the ones to reject and fail ourselves. So then, the answer to this issue rests in adjusting your mindset not only around fear but also around self-promotion.


For many, we think something is wrong with promoting ourselves, and the reality is that in the business world, it's an essential activity, and it's a skill that makes a difference. One of the most important things to understand is the landscape of your business environment. What is the reality and what will self-promotion do for you in your career or your business? How are other people moving forward in their careers that are around you, that are your role models, or even your peers?

This is not a suggestion that you have to do exactly what other people are doing, because there are lots of different ways to promote what you offer, whether it's through telling your story on social media, building out a personal brand, or mustering the courage to speak up for what you want during a meeting.

Whatever method you feel works for you best, it is necessary to understand and always keep in mind exactly why self-promotion matters and what that means for you personally. Even when considering other business or career-related questions, self-promotion remains a necessary part of the mix for you and every woman like yourself, whether you are an employee working in an organization, or an entrepreneur looking to scale your business.

Once you accept that, then self-promotion becomes a part of what you do on a daily basis as you build your career. It helps to shift your mindset from “something that I don't want to do” to “something that I absolutely should be doing” and at that point, the question becomes, how do you do it?

Practical ways to self-promote

When you're speaking to other people, it's very effective to think about what they need. So if you're speaking with somebody, start from there and talk about how you can help them; how it is that what you do supports what they need. Starting from the perspective that what you're offering is valuable, is very helpful in finding the words to promote in a way that doesn't feel very sleazy or uncomfortable for you.

If you're shy, you're probably not a person who's going to put your hand up and say, "Look at me, look at me, look at me," but you can come from another angle. You can come from an angle of helping; you can come from an angle of passion. Therefore, instead of saying, "Oh, I'm just so great," what you can say is, "I'm passionate about…," and whatever it is. Example: "I'm passionate about numbers," or "I'm passionate about managing projects effectively."

Leading with passion is a more subtle form of self-promotion because the person listening to you will pick up on your passion, the presence of which indicates that you are putting your time and effort into getting better at doing whatever it is that you do.

So then, you may use the approach of

  • adding value,

  • demonstrating your passion, and then there is

  • the big leap into just proclaiming that you're good at something.

Try that once or twice. Just say, "I'm a really great project manager”, or “I’m a fantastic salesperson!". Say it out loud to yourself a few times, because you have to believe it to say it to anyone else. When you eventually say it to someone else, and you're coming from a genuine place of wanting to share your gifts with the world, it doesn't feel as bad.

Shyness is common and something we all can relate to at some point. When we talk about shyness, self-promotion will almost certainly come up for many people, especially if you're in business for yourself or if you're building a career. When that happens and the fear of self-promotion kicks in, just remember: you must start with understanding where that fear is coming from, what is the fear that's causing you to demonstrate shyness, and then test that fear.

Think about it, analyze it, and put yourself in the world to start actually doing the things you're afraid of because that's how you build confidence. The second thing is understanding where self-promotion fits into the mix for you and when you see how important it is, then it will move from something you're avoiding to something you're planning to do in a way that's comfortable enough for you.

Finally, when you are promoting yourself, let it come from a place that feels genuine for you—a place that feels well-intended. So, talk about helping other people; talk about your passions, and when you're ready, just own your story and speak power to how good you are at what you do.


Having trouble asking for what you want? Check out The Negotiation Thought Guide, an on demand workshop design for sensitive people who want to speak up more, advocate for themselves, and leverage who they are to become better negotiators.