In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
Remember elementary school, when meeting new kids on the playground was fun? Whether you were playing a sport or just sitting at a table in the cafeteria, getting to know people used to be an exciting and interesting activity. So why do we hate networking events so much?
One reason, no doubt, is the anxiety you feel anticipating the inevitable moment when someone turns to you and asks, “So, what do you do?” Thankfully, this anxiety can be entirely alleviated if you get used to introducing yourself.
The first thing to remember is that at a networking event, you are engaging in a dialogue, an ongoing conversation among a group of people who are all getting to know one another. Your objective is not to get in and out as quickly as possible and grab as many business cards as you can, but to bring yourself fully into a dynamic conversation with others.
If you do this correctly, you will never introduce yourself exactly the same way twice. The specific words you choose will arise spontaneously in the moment, depending on the person to whom you are talking. But planning the highlights of what you want to say in advance will help you engage confidently in these interactions. Effective introductions have three components.
Characterizing your salient passion
Consider these examples:
Person A: “In the last three years of my career I have been most focused on helping people communicate more effectively in a professional context.”
Person B: “I’ve been an engineer since college, and I have really loved breaking down different business problems and using technology to solve them.”
Person C: “During my consulting years, I realized that the experiences I most valued were those that allowed me to help build something new. So I joined STARTCO where I helped launch new products for a year before starting business school.”
Author Simon Sinek made a splash with his Ted Talk about “Starting with the ‘why.’” This—your passion—is your “why.” Notice that the bolded terms in these examples give the listener a window into what really matters to the speaker. Conveying your passion in your introduction allows the connection to start on the basis of your enthusiasm and values.
Vividly Illustrating the Passion with an Example or Two
Person A: “For example, I lead workshops for students in business school and teach them how to tell their personal stories in a way that inspires them and employers. I use the ideas of Hollywood movies to help people uncover their natural storytelling abilities.”
Person B: “In fact on my last project, I examined a resuscitation device designed specifically for premature babies and discovered a way to make it more flexible and consistent, leading to a 20% better outcomes.”
Person C: “The coolest product I helped launch is called a ‘widget.’ In a span of only six months, we got the thing designed, manufactured, and distributed to a small market in Southern California. It’s already profitable, so the company is planning to scale up production for a National launch in the next year.”
These examples are abbreviated and brief, but you could easily expand much more in this section.
Concluding and Opening the Conversation to Others
Person A: “I love my work because it’s fun and it really makes a difference for people. It also allows me a lot of flexibility to travel, which is something else that is really important to me.”
Person B: “It has been very rewarding to see my work make a real impact on young lives. I always love to ask people what problems they have that technology could help solve. Does anyone have any good ideas?”
Person C: “My goal after business school is to transition into a marketing role at a larger company. I have so much more to learn and I hope to get some good training and mentoring in the nuances of customer insights in my next job.”
See how these statements invite someone else to either ask a follow-up question, chime in with their own perspective, or draw a connection between the speaker and what they do? At this point, you want to clear a path for others to enter and participate in the conversation.
Play with a few different ways of introducing yourself, and see if you can surprise yourself each time by coming up with something different that is exciting and inspiring. With just a little practice, you might even find that networking events start to be fun.