The two most valuable benefits of my membership in the Billings Chamber of Commerce are both in the category of networking opportunities. One is the group I’m in called Collaborate; there are about 40 of us who meet every Wednesday morning to share news. The other is the evening event called Business After Hours, held the second Wednesday of each month. Many businesspeople attend events like these. The question is, what skills do you employ to take advantage of such opportunities?
This article introduces one essential technique for getting the most out of these and other opportunities to introduce yourself. The technique is known as the verbal business card. My intent here is to introduce the what, why and how of the verbal business card and challenge you to create your own. In subsequent articles, I’ll elaborate on how to use your VBC to launch a fruitful conversation in person, and on the adaptations to make when contacting someone by phone.
What exactly is a verbal business card? First, it is not an “elevator speech” nor a “60-second commercial” for your business, to cite two popular descriptors. The verbal business card is much shorter than that: ideally about 10 seconds or less, or no more than ten words. Your verbal business card is a hook, designed to get the person you’ve just met to respond with “Tell me more” or “That’s interesting – how do you do that?” When you hear that response, you know you now have permission to go into your elevator speech or 60-second commercial. Without that buy-in from the person you’re meeting, he or she is likely to start tuning you out in as few as seven to ten seconds.
For example, consider this lame introduction I used to give when I had just started my public-speaking business:
“Hi, I’m David Otey and I’m a motivational speaker, presentation coach, and seminar presenter.”
So what? Unless you just walked out of a meeting with an assigned task of “Find a motivational speaker,” that introduction is not likely to stir you to action.
But if you had walked up to me on a recent Wednesday evening at Business After Hours, spotted my nametag and asked me what I do, you might have heard me say, “I help you make your expertise more profitable.”
“Really?” you reply, “How do you do that?”
Now before we follow the rest of this hypothetical conversation (which will be the subject of Part 2), let’s contrast these two introductions. The first is a statement of how I define myself. It has nothing to do with you. Hearing that, you would not get any idea how I might help you; it does not trigger any desire to know me better. Not only that, but it says nothing about the actual solutions I provide – it’s all about delivery modes (speaking, coaching, etc.).
The second one, on the other hand, says nothing about delivery modes or self-identity. Instead, it goes straight to the heart of how I can help you (as a presentation skills coach, though you don’t know that yet). Because it appeals to your self-interest – profiting from your expertise – it piques your curiosity and breaks your preoccupation with what you had planned to say next. In short, it starts a conversation.
How can you craft your own verbal business card? First, break the habit of saying “I am a…” and begin instead with an action verb. The best verbs for this task are ones that imply working together on something, like these:
“I help you…”
“We show you how to…”
“We work with small businesses to…”
“I give individuals the tools to…”
Along with the suggested verbs, these examples also illustrate two other points. One is the choice of subject (I or we), and the other is the option of specifying your target clientele: do you work with businesses, individuals, entrepreneurs, CEOs? If so, here is an opportunity to include that information.
As to the choice of “I” or “we,” there are different schools of thought on this so I will defer that discussion for another time. For now, choose what you think is appropriate and comfortable to you.
The final choice to make is the most important: what do you do? What potential problem of mine do you solve? How do you make my life better, my organization more effective, or my company more profitable? Practice that mind-set. You don’t sell insurance – you help me find peace of mind. You are not a financial advisor – you remove people’s fear about retirement. You’re not an IT professional – you make computers stink less, to borrow a response from someone in Collaborate (although he did not say “stink”).
Don’t worry if you don’t come up with the perfect verbal business card on your first attempt. Spend some time with the idea and let it evolve.
So, what do you do? Leave me a comment with your verbal business card and let me know!
I wish to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Ed Tate and Gary McKinsey to the content of this article.
In a previous post, I introduced the verbal business card, a tool for briefly introducing yourself in a networking situation. Unlike the better-known “elevator speech,” the verbal business card is designed...
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