Introductions & The Elevator Speech

What do you do? 

This is probably the most common question you will encounter, whether you’re shopping for a car, exploring the city, or meeting new people in social situations.  When you first meet, the curiosity factor generally stems around what you do.  It isn’t necessarily that they are interested in hearing about your daily activities, but rather wanting to know what they may have in common with you, how you fit into their picture, or they may just use this question as a conversation starter.

Aside from the general public and sales people trying to figure out if you can afford their product, business professionals will also want to know, as they are seeking to build their network, looking for new opportunities, and in some cases may know of openings in their company, or may even be hiring managers interested in filling a vacancy.  Whatever the reason, having a short introductory speech prepared is a fundamental part of connecting with others for the purpose of building your professional network and contact base.

A short introductory speech? 

I know, the word speech can generate a little anxiety but honestly, there is nothing to fear.  This type of “speech” refers more to conversational story-telling than to presenting a long-winded conference in front of a large audience.  The idea is to present your professional story in sixty seconds or less to an individual or small group, while leaving the door open for questions and discussion.  Often referred to as an “Elevator Speech” this introductory speech is meant to be presented in situations of time constraints, like… riding in an elevator (hence the name).  Business professionals are busy people and may only have a minute to listen, so making the most of that minute is crucial to the future of your business and/or professional endeavors.

Remember, your introduction is a conversational story-telling exercise and when asked “What do you do?” the one thing you Never want to tell someone is “Nothing” or “I’m unemployed,” as this type of answer is a negative response and leaves nothing to talk about! Not to mention-you have just become the most uninteresting person in the room.

The best way to answer is to provide your “audience” with information that includes these elements;

Your First & Last Name
Unless you are already acquainted and they know and address you by name

Who You Work For (The Company Name)
There are exceptions to this:

  • If you’re speaking with someone at the same company, this information might be obvious (unless they have never seen or met you), so instead, tell them which department you work in.
  • If you are unemployed, indicate that you are currently seeking new opportunities in your field and/or industry of interest, since answering this way might generate a job or business lead.

Your Title or Area of Expertise
In all cases, be prepared to present a brief explanation relevant to the position you want, as well as your skills & experience.

  • In cases of unemployment your previous title may or may not be relevant to the type of position you are seeking.  If you are uncertain how to navigate this for best results then try using terminology that will encompass a specific skill set geared toward your job search; i.e… (Marketing Design Specialist/Administrative Coordinator/Business Analyst) Just be absolutely certain that your skill set demonstrates the title and expertise you wish to portray and be ready to explain it.
  • Self-Employed-In this case and depending on your business, if you don’t have a specific industry recognized designation or professional degree, you may elect to call yourself a consultant but please use a descriptive term before the word consultant that best describes the field you specialize in; i.e.… (Sporting Goods Consultant/Brand Marketing Consultant/Consumer Survey Consultant, Website Development & Design Consultant)
  • Stay-At-Home-Mom(or Dad)- An admirable job but try using your skills as a title instead; most people know that Stay-At-Home-Moms don’t really stay at home watching soaps and eating bon-bons all day, but using “Stay-At-Home-Mom” as a title probably won’t lead you to a job or business opportunity!  You have a long list of “job duties” and experience that you can draw from…Depending on what field or industry you want to find work in, maybe something like: Event Coordinator, Children’s Activity Director, Child Care Provider, or Administrative Scheduler, some people have even chosen Domestic Engineer as a title.  Perhaps you have experience as a volunteer for the PTA, child’s sports team, or a local non-profit and can use your experience there to generate a title.  Whatever the situation, you have skills and qualifications that go far beyond what “Stay-At-Home-Mom” portrays.

A Brief & Beneficial Synopsis
This is the overview or explanation of your skills, knowledge, and qualifications-(3-4 sentences should suffice).

  • Be brief but succinct-Express relevance to your expertise and create interest without embellishing the details or providing over-use of industry jargon and technical terms.  (This is a conversational dialogue, not a technical one)
  •  Explain your title and/or expertise in terms of how you can benefit this person(s) and/or their organization with your expertise, skills and abilities.  (In other words…What’s in it for them?)
  •  Refrain from making it the “All about me” statement, as your “audience” will be more interested in how you can benefit their organization or department as opposed to listening to you brag, ramble and boast about your accomplishments.

A Personal Business Card
A personal business card is an absolute must have, even if you’re not employed-It’s simple and inexpensive to make and defines your name, title, and contact information in a tangible form (Not to mention, people frequently do share information in their networks.)

  • If you are employed and making contacts for your own personal business reasons, do not use your company generated business card-The person(s) you are speaking with might know your employer and this could jeopardize your job.  (Supply your own personal business card to use for these situations)
  • The back of the card is also a great place to showcase your elevator speech or “unique sales pitch” for future reference. (It’s a very useful tool for closing your introduction, or when the person you want to talk to isn’t available, or especially to leave with an employer after the interview)

In closing there are some things to remember about making the most out of your elevator speech moment…

Be Prepared
The opportunity for you to answer the question “What do you do?” can come at any time; therefore, it is in your best interest to be ready with your answer, without making it sound like a rehearsed response.

  • As with anything you do-and do well, practice makes perfect-Ask a friend, family member or colleague to practice your speech with you, practice in front of a mirror, or practice in your car-It doesn’t really matter where or how you practice, it just matters that you do.
  • It should sound natural and not rushed, like it’s just another conversation you would have about your favorite sport, hobby or news story (of course keeping it in a professional tone and context).
  • Don’t try impressing your “audience” with big words or fancy terminology;  it’s awkward and most likely, this isn’t how you would speak during a normal conversation. (Just be yourself)
  • If you feel yourself talking too fast or stumbling over words to fit all the information in, then scale it down to accommodate your speech pattern, tone, and ease of presentation.
  •  If your story changes, then so should your elevator speech…It isn’t a one size fits all.  You may have varying forms of “audience” and if this is the situation, you should have more than one version of your speech in order to compliment your particular interest at the time.

Be Open
Face your “audience,” show enthusiasm for what you do, be confident in your abilities, smile and make eye contact!

  • When you show enthusiasm and confidence, you are more likely to get a response, a business and/or job lead, a few questions or perhaps even a request for an interview.

Be Engaging & Show Interest
Remember this is an opportunity to have a conversation, so even though technically an elevator speech is meant to last for a minute or less, the opportunity for conversation is always a possibility.

  • The “audience” may want to know more about you and ask questions…this is a great sign! It shows they are interested in what you offer; so engage them, answer their questions, and ask some questions of them.
  • If time permits and you have concluded your elevator speech and given them your personal business card, this is a perfect time for you to ask questions pertaining to their professional interests, what they do, what department they work in, or maybe if they know anyone who might need your assistance.  (This is all subjective to the situation and how you met.)

Thank Your “Audience”
Manners and politeness are always important!  When your conversation is over, thank your audience for their time and express interest in speaking again soon.

  • The worst thing you can do after an introduction is walk away without acknowledging and showing appreciation for the time your audience spent with you; after all, they did just spend time listening to you and it is time they will never get back.

So, tell me…What do you do?

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