Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners: Four Essentials to Building Your Personal Brand

Last night I attended my first Bay Area Girl Geeks Dinner. Coming from the organizing committee of Girl Geeks Toronto, I was super stoked to see how a sister event (pardon the pun) would go down in Silicon Valley. I arrived at the Computer History Museum a little later than I hoped due to a traffic laden drive only to find hundreds of women and a handful of male supporters with drinks and munchies in hand. In the short time I had before the talks started, I grabbed a glass of red and met a couple of friendly engineers from eBay in the process. Things were off to a good start!


When it came time for the talks, a panel of six women who represented the event’s sponsors, AT&T and Hortonworks, took to the stage for their 10-minute or so slot which was followed by a group Q&A. Each woman on stage shared stories about their career path and the difficulties they faced along the way in male-dominated workplaces. They also spoke of times when they rose to the occasion and why they needed to. There was an overall theme of the importance for women to support each other through mentorship and hiring as they rise through the ranks.




One of the speakers who particularly resonated with me was Valerie Vargas, vice-president of customer insights and big data in the AT&T mobility and consumer markets. After a very brief sing song introduction which revealed her first major was in musical theatre (a far cry from the marketing and then law degree she ended up with), Valerie broke down the four essentials to creating a strong personal brand.


1. Have Purpose

The first step in developing your personal brand is figuring out what your purpose is. Your purpose reflects your core values, which are reflected in your actions through things which you’re passionate about. A simple exercise to determine your purpose is what Valerie referred to as the passion test. To complete the test, simply write down what gets your juices going, and then rank your passions by importance. Chances are, what you’re most passionate about will reflect your strengths.


2. Differentiate

The second step is determining how you are different. Valerie described a scenario where you get into an elevator on the eleventh floor only to find the CEO of the company you for work alone. She then posed the question, “How in that ten floor ride are you going make your CEO remember you? What are you about and why?” She encouraged attendees to write out their elevator spiel, practice it, and remember it.


3. Be Consistent

Consistency and trust is built through experience. Valerie has what she calls ‘the ten foot rule.’ Anyone who comes within a ten foot radius of her gets a smile and a greeting (I tested this later, it’s true). She prides herself on having a reputation for always being positive and friendly. For those who are a bit shy or find themselves at a loss for things to talk about at events, Valerie recommends preparing three questions in advance. She used the example of asking people, “What surprised you about tonight’s event?” A divergence from the typical, “What did you think about tonight?” question we’re all so used to getting. Her suggested question opens up the discussion to insights which otherwise might not arise.


4. Use Emotion (Gut Feel)

Create an impression by conveying emotion through action and body language. Regardless of how you might perceive yourself in your head, project what you’d like the world to see. A good test to find out if you’re really projecting the personal brand you’d like is to ask your friends/colleagues/family to provide you with three adjectives that they think best describes you. I did a similar exercise in my reputation management class as part of the public relations program I took at Ryerson a few years ago, and the results were somewhat surprising. I’m curious to know what people would say now – let me know in the comments, or on Twitter!


Like the foundation of any well known and loved brand, these four factors go a long way when it comes down to the bottom line – personal or professional.

I look forward to attending and blogging about the next event :)

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