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How Do You Talk About Yourself?

Is it time to freshen your elevator pitch?

In his article, “Introvert’s Guide to Self-Disclosure,” on CBS, Robert Pagliarini, says, “Exclusively focusing on the other person is a great way to break the ice and to learn about others.” He continues, “But if you don’t ever talk about yourself, your interests, and passions, you’re not going to create a meaningful relationship.” Pagliarini offers tips to help get you there.

This brings to mind an important question: How is your elevator pitch, or the quick, authentic, and confident reply to, “So tell me about yourself”? The elevator pitch is rarely delivered in an elevator and doesn't have to entail selling. Even though it is a time-worn topic in career and networking articles and books (mine included!), every time I attend a social event, I still hear different variations on, “I’m an accountant.” Monotone. Eyes averted. Throat clearing sound. Fidget. Jazz it up, number crunchers! Other folks too. Have a heart for your audience. Or carry smelling salts.

At my most recent Self-Promotion for Introverts® class at New York University, the consensus among the participants, who included HR managers, a lingerie designer, a film and TV editor, and a music industry blogger, was they wanted to spend plenty of time developing and practicing their elevator pitches. It’s one thing to write a strong synopsis of what you do and another thing to say it again and again, adjusting it for different conversation partners, and asking for feedback. So each student waded through a sea of pitches, listening, delivering, offering gentle suggestions, and pitching some more in a fun and iterative exercise. Here was one of my favorites, by Colin Whyte of the Redcard Writing Group:

“I trade words for money. After 18 years writing for magazines, now I help businesses get their messages across through clever tag lines, product names and service descriptions. Why spend a fortune on a flashy Web site and then pair that with flat copy penned by some employee who hates writing? My services cost a tenth what an agency would charge and I always help clients present their message in the stickiest, most memorable way possible.”

I don't expect that Whyte would say all that from the moment you were introduced to him. However, if you're an introvert, or someone who prefers to think before sharing your thoughts, it serves you well to have some introductory language about yourself up your sleeve when it's your turn to say who you are. Even if you're an extrovert*, having an elevator pitch keeps you on point and helps keep your message focused. After all, most people don't have the attention span to listen to you formulate it out loud.

Ready to craft—or refine—your elevator pitch? Do this exercise which I've adapted from my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead. Start by identifying one specific target audience. Your pitch can be a sentence or several sentences. The idea is to create a starting point or some default language you can use to describe yourself in situations where you can make meaningful connections. Of course, you'll adjust your pitch depending on whom you're talking to, the timing, and the appropriateness of the occasion.

If you need help getting started with your elevator pitch, answer these questions:

  1. What do you do?
  2. What's special or different about your approach?
  3. What problems do you solve, and for whom?
  4. What else would your stakeholders like to know about you? If you don't know, do some research.

Weave your answers together, take the best bits, and then write one punchy, cohesive pitch. It may also help to ask some of your fans (former bosses, clients, colleagues) for their input.

For more advice, check out "Prepping for Warren Buffett: The Art of the Elevator Pitch" on the blog of Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Work Week. Also see my story, "Branding Yourself: Your Billboard," to help you think creatively about your personal branding. As Pagliarini says in his article, “If you find you are always the one asking the questions, start sharing those things for which you are most proud and passionate.”

Here’s how I introduce myself when I’m having fun: "As the author of Self-Promotion for Introverts®, I help make invisible people visible—without smoke and mirrors or sawing anyone in half." How about you?

Excerpt adapted from Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, 2009, p. 135.

*Also spelled "extraverts" by Carl Jung and the communities of the MBTI® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.

Copyright © 2010 Nancy Ancowitz