Everyone should know how to introduce themselves to a prospect.
You can be a designer on an interview, a start-up CEO on a pitch meeting, or a consultant at a mixer meeting people who could be clients: it doesn’t matter. You need to let people know why you are worth listening to in seconds.
Think of it as an elevator pitch for YOU.
When I began my start-up, my mentor, Harry Max, taught me how to introduce myself. It not something you really think about, until you sit down with a VC or angel, and suddenly have to tell people why you are worth paying attention to. Often people default to telling their entire life story…
Um, I went to Georgia tech and studied political science then I took some Photoshop classes and got a job at a consulting firm and then I worked at AOL and then I worked at Yahoo and then I worked at google and then I worked at this startup that was bought by Facebook.
By the time you get to the good part, your audience is napping.
A better introduction is a highlight of your greatest hits, in reverse chron. Here is what Harry taught me, and it has served me well.
My name is <name> and I’m <role> at <company> where I <win>. Previously I was at <company> part of the team that <did amazing win> and before that I was at <company that needs no explanation> where I was <role>. Optional: As well I <wrote book> <was president of nonprofit><other relevant >.
Of course you can rearrange this in many ways, but focusing on place/win is the secret. i.e. “I was at the design consultancy Hot Studio where we reinvented Snapfish’s editing suite.” “I was at Yahoo where I built the search design team and instilled data-driven design practices.” etc. If the company is known, you don’t have to explain it. If it is unlikely to be be known to the person you are pitching you might add a couple words like “design consultancy” or “shopping start-up.”
Be careful on describing those wins… your intro should be extremely short. It’s a teaser to get the person listening to you, and hopefully asking questions about one of those nuggets. You are there to sound authoritative and intriguing, not like a braggart. It’s a fine balance.
I recommend you write your introduction out, then practice it.
I was lucky; Harry coached me through creating mine. If you have a patient friend, or know someone who also needs practice, you can work together on it. It might go like this…
You: I’m lead User Experience Designer at Scorcher Studios
Friend: Where you…
You: Oh god, I dunno.
Friend: What was the coolest thing you did? What was fun?
If you talk about stuff you love, your face will light up and people will want to work with you.
You: We created an internal asset management tool that reduced production time by 50%
If you’ve got numbers, share them.
You: Previously I was a designer at Humongous Shopping
Friend: Where you…
You: Oh man, I redid check out, but it was a trainwreck, the PM’s didn’t understand anything
STOP! Again, you need to stay positive. Do you think anyone wants to come in to work every day just to hear you complain? No matter how justified your issues are, you need to stay positive. Never lie, but look at the upside, wherever you can find it.
Repeat after me: I will not use my introduction as a cry for therapy.
You: I designed the checkout system. This was a challenging project because the team was unfamiliar with UX principles, but we collaborated and learned from each other.
Look, you just got to prove you can work through adversity. And as my mamma always said, if you can’t say something nice DON’T say anything at all. Pick a different project if you need to.
Finally, the third item is your closer. Try to wow them if you can. If you can’t, keep is mellow and just name the company and role.
Even if you have worked thirty places, you are only going to name three. It’s like keeping your resume to one page. Those three are usually the last three you’ve worked on, but if you did something extra cool way back in the day, you can bring it up. It’s about looking good. Introduce it like this “but one thing I’m particularly proud of is when I was at…” or “As well, I was lucky enough to…”
Friend: and before that…?
You: I was lucky enough to have be part of wine.com and in 1995 I invented the first shopping cart.*
So write it out, practice your spiel, and cut it down until you impress yourself! You should have a miniversion for chance meetings and introductions, as well as your standard. The mini looks like this
Hi! I’m <name> and I work at <company> doing <role/project>. We just did <cool thing> Previously I was at <company>.
If you haven’t changed jobs often, you can talk through projects:
Hi! I’m and I work at doing and before that I was working on where we .
You’ll find you use this for the rest of your life, at conferences, at PTA meetings (modified, hopefully) and at high-school reunions as well as when potential employees say “Tell me a little bit about yourself…”
Usual caveat; this is what works well for me. Your mileage may vary.
* That was Harry.