So, what do you do? How to nail your networking intro

Elevator speeches. 60 Second Commercials. 30 Second Commercials. Personal Introductions. Networking Introductions. Defining Statements. Positioning Statements.

Ahhhhhhhhhh! Which one do you use? And when? And with whom?

Tough question. Especially because since the early 90's, tens of thousands of articles, books, manuals and guides have been written on the topic of networking. And all of them address various techniques on how to answer the question: "So, what do you do?"

To put it in perspective, consider these results from a recent Google search:

  • 30 Second Commercial – 135,000 pages

  • Elevator Speech – 128,000 pages

  • Positioning Statement – 106,740 pages

  • 60 Second Commercial – 33,500 pages

  • Defining Statement – 26,000

  • Personal Introduction – 3,600 pages

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    Wow. Overwhelming, huh? Makes you wonder which one is right! Still, each of these techniques is some variety of your Networking Introduction. Unfortunately, it won't come out the way all the books and articles say it will. It's doubtful you'll ever tell someone what you do in an elevator; you'll probably never have exactly 30 or 60 seconds to do so; and the odds of you explaining it the same way each time are highly unlikely.

    In REAL networking, you'll be rushed, caught off guard and asked unexpected questions. You'll meet people on busses and in bathrooms. You'll address three strangers at a time, get interrupted mid-commercial, and sometimes, you won't get a chance to say a single word until the last five seconds of a conversation. And all the while, you won't have time to decide whether or not you should give your Elevator Speech, 30 Second Commercial or Defining Statement!

    Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you there.

    But it's true. Networking is unpredictable. And yet, we depend on it for the growth of our careers. According to a 2004 report from the Federal Bureau of Labor, 70% of our new business comes from some sort of networking. So, rather than put additional pressure on yourself by worrying about how many seconds you have, here are some key points for an effective, concise and memorable Networking Introduction.

    Start from the Top

    Because you never know how much time you'll have to introduce yourself, I suggest starting at the top with the following exercise. Take five pieces of paper. Assign one of the following sentences to the top of each sheet:

  • Who you are

  • What you do

  • Whom you do it for

  • How you do it

  • What happens as a result

    Write down all the words, characteristics, ideas, phrases and the like that pertain to each of these areas of your introduction. Have fun! Spend at least a few minutes on each sheet. The whole point of starting with this activity is to understand the full scope of you and your business.

    Back to the Bottom

    Now that your mind is swimming with dozens of key points about your work, it's time to get down to the "Bare Bones Intros." These are pithy one-liner type sentences that grab attention and intrigue the listener. Now, since thousands of networking resource claim to have their own magic formula, I'll simply offer the technique I've found to be most effective in my own business:

    I'm a/an (fill in the blank with your job title )...
    and I work with (now mention your target customers )...
    who want to (become, increase, learn, improve, you get my drift )...
    so they can (now name some benefit or result that you can provide).

    You don't have to use this exact formula. Just be sure your Bare Bones Intro includes what you do, whom you do it for and what happens when you do it. So, write out different versions. Say them out loud. Share them with friends and colleagues. And eventually be able to pick out the most effective ones.

    Anytime, Anywhere

    In my networking workshops I make it a point to tell my audiences members: "There is a time and place for networking: ANY time and ANY place." With that in mind, let's take the material you brainstormed from earlier and put it to use in possible scenarios. (You might want to practice these with a partner too.)

  • Scenario 1: You have five minutes at your local association meeting to introduce yourself via speech to 100 strangers in the audience. What would you say?

  • Scenario 2: At the sub shop you go to once a week, the teenage cashier says, "Hey there! It must be Tuesday again, huh? Good to see ya! And you know, you always come in here, but I don't think I know what you do…" (Remember, the line is long.) What would you tell her?

  • Scenario 3: You're participating in a rapid-fire-speed-networking-blitz type activity in which you have less than 30 seconds to introduce yourself to 25 people in a row. GO!

  • Scenario 4: You're dressing in a hurry in the locker room when the new guy introduces himself. He notices your briefcase and asks, "So, where do you work?"

  • Scenario 5: You email a complete stranger who was referred to you by someone in your network. She probably gets 100 emails a day, so you don't want to make it too long. What do you write?

  • Scenario 6: As you fill out your new credit card application, you notice two boxes. One says, "Occupation," and the other says, "Please explain in the space below." It's a small space. Better make it quick!

  • Scenario 7: Your spouse runs into her boss at Happy Hour. You shake his hand and he says, "Nice to meet you! So, what do YOU do?" (You think he's had a few.)

    Nailing Your Networking Intro

    All specifics aside, the most important part of a Networking Intro is: always be memorable. In a July 2003 article from Entrepreneur Magazine, Ivan Misner, founder and CEO or Business Network International (BNI), explained "The ideal introduction is brief and memorable - one that provides enough impact to arouse the interest of those to whom you're introducing yourself and get them to join your word-of-mouth team."

    So put away your stopwatch. Forget about the elevator. And stop thinking about networking as a commercial. Networking is the development and maintenance of mutually valuable relationships. And those relationships are initially sparked by your ability to effectively, concisely and memorably introduce yourself when someone says, "So, what do YOU do?"

    By Scott Ginsberg, aka "The Nametag Guy." Scott is the author of three books and a professional speaker who helps people maximize approachability, become unforgettable, and make a name for themselves. To book Scott for your next association meeting, conference or corporate event, contact Front Porch Productions at 314/256-1800 or e-mail scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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