I still remember the ice breaker my English teacher kicked off our class with nearly a decade ago. It went like this:
I used to study at [Name of Elementary School]. I now study at [Name of High School]. In the future, I would like to study at [Name of College].
We went around the room and all repeated each other, while our classmates looked on, bored to tears. What does that little exercise have to do with networking? Everything.
To put it bluntly: Generic kills.
When you’re talking about yourself, you’re introducing your brand to the world. If you say what everyone else does—only changing the fill-in-the-blanks—you’re forgettable. You have to amp up your individuality in order to be heard.
Reflecting back, I guess my teacher deserves a lot of credit, because I recall this incident every time I introduce myself through a one-line pitch. I think: How can I tell my story quickly, but memorably? How can I stand out at this event? Or, more importantly, at this interview?
You may think it’s impossible to show how fiercely talented you are in so few words, but remember your goal isn’t to share your whole resume, it’s to get them thinking, Huh, tell me more.
Here are two different ways you can zoom in on what you should say:
Option 1: Find Your “Why?”
Most people introduce themselves by sharing what they do: “I’m a [job title].”
While no one's going to run away screaming, it doesn’t prompt a very interesting discussion (and there’s also a chance the other person will nod politely, but have no clue what you actually do).
Why should really be the backbone of your elevator pitch.
Why do you work in graphic design?
Why did you pursue finance?
Why is systems engineering your passion?
When you add your “why,” these lines get instantly more memorable.
I’m a graphic designer, because, ever since I was kid, I’ve had a sketch pad pretty much attached to my left hand.
I work in finance, because I love helping people save for their biggest goals—like a client of mine who just opened a restaurant!
I picked systems engineering, because of the flexibility to work on projects in all different fields that have huge impact.
The approach instantly makes you both more human—and more memorable.
Option 2: Share Your Impact
What big (and small) problems are you solving? Review your testimonials, performance reviews, or LinkedIn recommendations to get a better sense of the solutions you deliver. Ask your boss, co-workers, or clients what they see as your biggest strengths.
For example, when I describe my work as a copywriter, I don’t just say “I write words.” That’s boring—and what does it even mean? Don’t many jobs include writing words? Instead, I say, “I help startups and entrepreneurs express themselves clearly and magnetically so they can be noticed and remembered.” That’s easier to understand—and—more interesting.
When you lead with what you’re best at, you make sure new contacts know right off the bat you’re someone they’d want in their network.
As a business coach, I help entrepreneurs think strategically, grow their businesses, and earn bigger profits.
I'm a lawyer who makes legal support crystal clear so freelancers can focus on what matters most in their businesses.
I'm a recruiter who helps top companies find qualified talents so they can do phenomenal work together and constantly stay ahead of their competition.
Once you’re feeling good about what you’ve come up with, it’s time to share it with a few trusted friends. (And by trusted, I mean people you can count on to give you honest feedback.)
Ask if they were meeting you for the first time, if they’d be inspired to keep talking to you. Do they feel you do a good job of sharing your strengths?
Once you've incorporated their feedback, practice saying it in a way that feels natural to you (your new pitch, not the feedback)! Do this and the next time someone asks you the age-old “So, what do you do?” question, you’ll be able to answer with confidence.
Photo of people shaking hands courtesy of PeopleImages/Getty Images.