Learning to brag big key to success
Corporate consultant believes modesty doesn’t pay
By Alec Rosenberg
Sunday, August 03, 2003
Peggy Klaus isn’t afraid of going “over the top.”
Sometimes she does it in a bathroom. Other times she drives down the freeway and yells, “I can’t wait to tell you this.”
On this occasion, the Berkeley author and corporate consultant is hosting a brag party at Rockridge Library in Oakland, promoting her new book, “BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.”
The 50-year-old Klaus faces the crowd, jumps up and down, and shouts several times at the top of her lungs, “I am so excited to be here.”
She catches her breath. “A few of you looked very scared back there,” she says. Then she has the audience of 70 professionals go “over the top” by raving about the catered lunch. Women, she says, should act like Bette Midler and men like Robin Williams.
“Go out there and brag,” Klaus says.
Klaus has plenty to brag about. Trained as an actor and classical singer, she bounced around before finding her career calling. She worked as a reporter, ran a theater company, coached entertainers, became a Hollywood producer and director, and lectured at universities before becoming a corporate consultant.
Klaus now coaches 15,000 to
20,000 people a year with Fortune 500 clients such as American Express, Cisco Systems and Disney. Her book has had 23,000 copies printed and ranks 57th on Amazon.com’s business communications list. Her success has spilled into another venture. She co-owns Lost Canyon Winery in Oakland, which won silver medals for its Pinot Noir and Syrah wines at the 2003 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
But it wasn’t always so smooth for Klaus.
She and her three sisters grew up near Philadelphia. Her extroverted stay-at-home mother, who enjoyed traveling and the theater, died from pancreatic cancer when Klaus was 10. Her introverted father, a prominent attorney, died of a heart attack when Klaus was 21.
“He said, ‘Don’t toot your own horn. People will recognize if you’re doing a good job,'” Klaus said.
But Klaus found that modesty didn’t pay.
“I was losing jobs because I couldn’t bear to speak about myself in a way … about my accomplishments,” Klaus said. “I figured out if I didn’t want to be eating out of baked-bean cans for the rest of my life, I should learn how to do this. So I did.”
Klaus fidgets with the tab from a can of Diet Coke as she talks about her path to success. She sang opera at George Washington University and studied music and theater arts at Beloit College. She reported for an arts newspaper in Washington, D.C.; started a children’s choir, teenage theater company and cultural arts center in Taos, N.M.; and earned graduate degrees in drama, speech and theater from the Royal Academy of Music and Drama Studio in London.
When the Drama Studio opened a school in Berkeley, Klaus came West to teach there. On her first day, she met Randy Keyworth, who would become her husband.
“He swears I loved him at first sight, but I will only admit to liking him immediately,” Klaus said.
To keep near Keyworth, Klaus landed a job producing “The Goodtime Cafe,” a comedy on KGO TV in San Francisco. It led to work in Hollywood. She coached entertainers for “Cosby,” “The Tonight Show” and other shows even though she doesn’t watch TV herself.
She directed the Broadway hit “Defending the Caveman,” starring comedian Rob Becker, but left the entertainment world to care for a friend with cancer.
In 1995, she founded Klaus & Associates in Berkeley. Her first corporate client was AT&T.
“It was scary. They had this maze-like building. It looked like little rats would go into these doors,” Klaus said.
But the response was positive. Her client list grew to include Goldman Sachs, Levi Strauss and JP Morgan Chase. “They were very open to it,” Klaus said. “CEOs, CIOs, CAOs — all of those O folks — they had a terrible time talking about their companies.”
Klaus used her background as a performer to coach business people to pay attention to gestures, timing and voice.
“They started to get business because they didn’t bore the people to death,” Klaus said.
Klaus defines bragging as a way of discussing your accomplishments in a story-like manner using impressive tidbits about you, said with passion, enthusiasm and confidence. It’s not about babbling, interrupting or being self-involved.
Good bragging can help in job interviews, performance reviews and social situations from parties to family outings, Klaus said. She encourages people to create “bragologues,” or short stories about their accomplishments.
“If they don’t do it professionally, their careers are going to stall or they are going to derail,” Klaus said. “You’ve got to speak up.”
Bob Riskin, one of her winery partners, initially met Klaus when he was an executive at Levi Strauss. He saw how she transformed a colleague and asked her for help in pitching a $200 million proposal.
“Peggy prepared me, and I was able to present it in a very effective manner,” Riskin said. “She made me pretend I was an evangelist. I had to give my presentation to her as if I were the Reverend Bob. She instills this sense of confidence and safeness to try things you wouldn’t do otherwise. … She clearly got results for me and clearly gets results from others.”
Klaus’ achievements attracted media attention. While talking about bragging to a Wall Street Journal reporter, Klaus said she gave bragging workshops — she actually hadn’t given any yet — and the reporter wanted to write about them.
Klaus arranged one. “I figured if I’m going to fail, fail big,” she said.
She didn’t. The workshop was a hit. A Journal article came out in April 2002. A bidding war emerged for her to do a book about bragging. She chose Warner Books, which wanted her to write it in 12 weeks. Klaus called a friend and got busy. She turned in the first draft in September and it was accepted.
“I’ve never experienced childbirth, but this is the closest I want to come to it,” Klaus said.
Klaus has kept busy. Lost Canyon Winery launched this year in Oakland’s Embarcadero after 20 years of home winemaking by business partners Jack States and Klaus’ husband, Keyworth. Klaus provides moral support and delivers pizza for the winery, which uses grapes from the Russian River and Sonoma coast.
Klaus’ book came out in June. Publishers Weekly praised her writing style and said her tips “lend a hands-on feel to this valuable business primer.”
Klaus has promoted her book on a 12-city brag party tour, including the stop at Rockridge Library. People need to get out of their comfort zone and practice being their best self, Klaus says. She learned it first hand.
“I had to let myself be who I am — outrageous, edgy, silly,” Klaus says. “I now get to do everything I want. I get to perform, I get to write, I get to teach, I get to direct people, I get to produce things and I get to learn every single day. And I get to have a winery and travel and meet people from all kinds of industries.”