February 28, 2012

It's hard to describe...



Have you ever gotten stuck while describing something and just couldn't quite put it into words? If you're sitting around with friends and you can't quite explain the amazing meal you had at the Indian restaurant, it's no big deal.

But when someone asks you about your service or product, you better be able to describe it. "I'm not doing it justice," just doesn't cut it. One woman I heard recently at a networking event started her 10-minute presentation with, "What should I say?" Not the strong opening I was hoping for.

Even something as short and sweet as your professional introduction (aka "elevator speech") (and it IS short and sweet, isn't it?) needs to be crafted and practiced so you don't find yourself saying, "I can't really describe what I do." And believe me, I've actually heard people say this! If you can't describe what you do to people who would hire you, how will you ever get a customer? If you're confused, they'll be confused.

At a speaking engagement, at a networking event, in any business-oriented situation, you should be prepared to talk about the following:

1. What do you do?

You need to have your professional introduction nailed. It should be short, concise and not one of those contrived "make me guess" kinds of statements.

If you are a jack-of-all-trades, pick the most relevant aspect of your work to represent when you're networking. I used to run a nonprofit, a jewelry business and my public speaking coaching business all at the same time. When someone asked me, "What do you do?" I picked the one that made the most sense in the setting I was in. If it came up in conversation, I would mention the other businesses, but otherwise, I focused on one job and made it primary.

If you can't describe or define what you do, or you overwhelm a new contact with too many options, you are diluting your focus and your message. People may determine that you do too many things to do any one of them well. Or they may perceive that you have several jobs because you aren't successful in any of them. Or they just don't know who you are and what your message is, and they can't refer you to anyone.

2. What do you speak about?

This might be hard if you have a lot of topics, but the best way to describe what you speak about is to share the general theme of your presentations. I speak about topics related to public speaking. These topics might include networking, making presentations fun, using preparation rituals, promoting your business without sounding like a commercial, using PowerPoint more effectively, understanding adult learning principles ... but they all come back to public speaking and presentation skills.

If, as I mentioned above, your speaking topics are unrelated and diverse, pick the ones that make sense with the group you're talking to, and focus on those. I would also argue that, if you have too many disparate topics, you are again diluting your focus and message, and therefore your potential client pool.

Other questions you might be asked in business networking or speaking situations:

Who is your ideal client?

What is the process like (of using your service or product)?

How or where do you make (sell, market, design, promote, advertise, etc.) your product or service?

Explaining yourself and what you do is about clarity, consistency, and credibility, and it's about concentrating your concepts and message so that there is no question who you are and what you're about.

Be prepared. Practice. Know exactly what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. Never again be the person who, when asked what you do says, "It's hard to explain."

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