Last Updated May 16, 2011 5:37 PM EDT
1. Cultivate passions outside of your work.
People want to do business with people who are fun and interesting. You can (and should) differentiate yourself by being excellent at your job. But you can really stand out through your avocations. Become an expert at something - whether it's chess or pole-vaulting. Travel widely - especially to places off the beaten path (you're more likely to engage people's interest if you talk about your trip to the Baltics instead of Paris).
2. Get ready for the Question.
The minute you enter a cocktail party, you're going to be asked The Question: What have you been up to lately? Some people fumble and demur - "Oh, nothing much." Or, even worse, they talk about something boring - "Well, we went grocery shopping last weekend." Frankly, there's just no excuse to not have a ready answer that will lead to an interesting conversation. Try "We've been taking fencing lessons" or "I'm working my way through the collected works of Nabokov." Almost anything is fine, as long as it's personal, true, and not the lame answer you get from most people.
3. Find your wingman.
Many people worry about seeming like a self-promoter. They might have just completed an Iron Man Competition or published an op-ed in the New York Times, but they fear it'll seem like bragging if they raise the discussion. Having a wingman, a friend who will talk you up, solves that problem. (Leil Lowndes discusses this to great effect in How to Talk to Anyone About Anything .) Of course, in exchange, you should talk up his or her accomplishments too.
4. Link your interests to work.
One secret to maximizing the value of your personal brand is linking your interests to your professional life. When talking about your activities, be sure to make the connections explicit, because many people won't immediately see them. If your world travel has expanded your cultural understanding and knowledge of the European market, then make sure to mention ithat - don't just drone on about what great meals you had. And almost any athletic undertaking can be positioned as honing the discipline you need to succeed at work. Being viewed as an expert in one field often "crosses over" and increases others' perception of your knowledge in other areas. So leverage your skills and interests for all they're worth.
Who do you find truly intriguing - and why? What other strategies have you seen people use to become more compelling?
Too many suck ups and yes men in your office?
Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, hans s