Obviously, there are lots of ways to talk about what you do. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t terribly effective, and many actually turn people off.
Attention! Attention! I’m Introducing Myself Now!
The biggest challenges in making an impactful introduction are the natural limits of human interest and the “cost” of paying attention to your message. Consider for a moment the literal meaning of “pay attention.” When you speak, the other person must deploy mental and emotional resources to receive your message. These resources, like any form of energy, are always in short supply.
When you start speaking, the other person is literally paying out energy and effort to absorb and understand what you’re saying. If there’s no immediate reward in self-interest, entertainment or novelty, your listener will quickly expend his mental and emotional gas. Therefore, you must be brief and your introduction must be unique, novel and compelling.
Never assume other people are paying attention as you are speaking. More likely their thoughts are drifting to who else is at the party or what they’re going to eat for dinner. Your first and most important task is to get their full attention.
The Problem of “I Know What You Are!”
The problem of attention is especially challenging if what you’re saying is familiar. The moment you describe yourself in familiar terms (for example, “I’m a Financial Advisor with XYZ firm”), the listener realizes there’s no novelty in the conversation. At this point she politely smiles, nods and turns off her mental engagement. Most people know what a financial advisor is. After all, Cerulli says that there are a lot of advisors out there: 316,109 client-facing financial advisors. Why would anyone “pay” their attention to this?
One (ineffective) way advisors have tried to deal with this is by using creative metaphors or extreme language. The instinct here is correct: you need to do something quickly to make it worthwhile for the other person to pay attention. “I’m a personal CFO” or “I provide customized, personalized and holistic wealth management solutions” or “I really, really care about my clients” are all attempts to spark novelty and increase significance. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of websites, e-mails, and print and television advertisements have burned out the effectiveness of highly charged words. You end up sounding like you sell used cars or pitch infomercials.
The Structure of Engagement
The key to combating attention deficit, consumer burnout and familiarity has much more to do with the structure of your message than its content. You’re a financial advisor and you can’t change that, nor should you. You want your listener to know this so that he can decide if he wants to engage your services. To keep his attention, create a sense of novelty by the way you deliver your message. Here’s a strategy for introducing yourself effectively.
First, it’s always best to wait to be asked, “What do you do?” This is easy to do in most social circumstances: simply ask the other person what she does, and then follow up with a string of questions about her occupation or situation. Pursue her assertively and with authentic interest. This will set up a need to reciprocate. In some cases, the person will even feel a compulsion to “even things up” by pursuing you in the same way.
When the other person finally asks, “And what do you do?” resist the temptation to launch into your elevator speech. Your first priority is to increase the novelty of the conversation in the mind of the listener so that he will budget more attention to your answer. Start by being reluctant to answer the question: “Well, it’s a bit difficult to explain. It takes me a couple of minutes to make it clear, and I get a little self-conscious about how to answer that question.” If you pause here, the other person has the choice of walking away and feeling relieved that he doesn’t have to continue the conversation, or he can say, “No! Really! I’d like to know.”
The listener almost always wants to know more.