“I don’t like to toot my own horn”

“I don’t like to toot my own horn.”

I cannot tell you how many of my clients have said those exact words to me. As a human, I find them incredibly refreshing; as a speechwriter, incredibly annoying.

Telling a salient story about your own experiences isn’t about tooting your own horn. It’s about letting the audience see you as a human being. It’s about letting them see how you navigated some challenges, and, by extension, how they might navigate similar ones.

Personal anecdotes form the backbone of every excellent speech. They give people permission to identify with you, the speaker. And once they do that, they’re much more likely to take in your real message—whether it’s about agriculture, zoology, or anything in between.

Tooting one’s own horn is, in short, a public service. If it’s done with humility and grace

Toot, toot, tootsie

And then there are the other times.

I am currently listening to the audiobook of a best-selling new memoir. The writer has lived an extraordinary life, so there’s more than enough exciting material here. The problem is, there’s also plenty of ordinary material. Enough that the published tome runs to more than 900 pages and the audiobook to 48 hours.

And today, more than three-quarters of the way through the audio, I heard the author say, with all sincerity: “I don’t mean to toot my own horn.”

Excuse me?

I have spent the equivalent of three full days listening to you discuss every facet of your life and accomplishments. Mentioning collaborators, to be sure, but also discussing how you managed to improve their work. How your ideas shaped the sets, the scripts, the costumes, even sometimes the publicity. More horns get tooted in the 36 hours I’ve spent listening to this book than you’ll hear in Manhattan on a gridlock alert day.

What’s your message?

How do you know whether your personal stories have tipped over into narcissism?

Rely on your speechwriter—we know where the line is and we have your best interest at heart.

Ask someone you trust—try out the material before you take the microphone. Be specific about what feedback you want: Does this make sense? Do I sound like a narcissist? What message do you take away from this?

If you don’t have a speechwriter, at least consider engaging an editor. A professional wordsmith will understand the way a great personal story, told well, can make your message memorable.

  • authenticity
  • editing
  • perspective