It is a frequently asked question when meeting new people, or making small talk in a cubicle moving swiftly up to the 21st floor of an office building: "So, what do you do?"
A strong answer to this common query has the power to open doors to new relationships and business opportunities.
Because you never know when or where you might meet a prospective client or referral, it pays to be ready with a simple and compelling reply, often referred to as an "elevator speech." Your short but memorable introduction will leave others interested in hearing more. Follow these eight steps to help you explain your identity with diplomacy.
Tailor your response to your audience. Your answer may be different at a friend's dinner party than it would be at a networking event. Create a few distinct versions that fit a variety of situations: "My name is Diane Gottsman, and I specialize in alleviating awkward moments at social and business events just like this."
Remember, it is not a sales pitch. The goal is to introduce yourself and explain what you do in a compelling manner. Do not confuse it with a hard close. Avoid cryptic responses such as, "I make people's dreams come true by guiding them toward financial freedom!"
Keep it conversational. Strike a balance between casual and rehearsed. You will not appear genuine if you glibly rattle off a slick monologue. Plan what you want to say in advance to avoid struggling for the right words.
Choose wisely. Stay true to your own voice so that you feel comfortable representing what you do and what you have to offer to a potential client. Include the specialties that set you apart, while avoiding jargon or a detailed description of your work.
Practice. Once you have written down a working draft, begin saying it aloud, whether rehearsing with your spouse, a friend or yourself in the mirror. Run through it until you can express your message naturally, warmly and enthusiastically. Remember to smile!
Stop talking. After you have completed your brief answer, give the other person an opportunity to speak. The ideal outcome is for them to ask you about what you just said or to introduce themselves, so allow room for conversation. Remember, meaningful connections develop from a two-way dialogue.
Let it evolve. Like your career, your speech will change over time. Review it every so often to match your current focus and to better represent what you do.
Keep it short. As the name indicates, this speech should be succinct enough to complete from floor 1 to 31. Stay focused on what you do, how you help your clients and what sets you apart: "My name is Diane Gottsman, and I am a corporate etiquette and leadership trainer."
Finally, if your brief exchange goes well and you would like to get to know your new contact better, suggest a follow up meeting: "I would like to learn more about what you do and how we might be able to help each other. May I offer you my business card?" The manner in which you highlight who you are and what you do depends on your confidence and ability to articulate your message.
You may also find The Importance of Taking Risks on Diane's blog helpful. Connect with her here on The Huffington Post, follow her on Pinterest and Instagram and "like" The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook.