“So, what do you do?”  Whether at a conference, networking session, work meeting or cocktail party, this question will come up at nearly every event you attend.  Having a good answer to this question will make you more interesting and more likely to find yourself engaged in a meaningful conversation.  It will also make you more memorable, which can increase your career prospects and your network. 

The phrase “elevator speech” is used to describe the short nature of the time it should take to deliver it.  It only takes a few seconds to go from floor to floor on an elevator.  What makes a good elevator speech? 

1.     Clarity on who you are and what you do

A good elevator speech answers two questions: who are you, and what you do.  Who you are should always include your name.  When starting your elevator speech, try to avoid relying solely on your title.  Instead, try to explain what you do in the context of why you do it.  The fact that you’re a compliance manager or vice president doesn’t really tell anyone what you do

Your elevator speech will necessarily change depending on the environment.   For instance, at a conference, you might say, “I’m Jenny Campbell, and I work Xyzzy’s compliance and audit function in our Denver office.”  If you’re at a cocktail party where people are unlikely to work in compliance, you can try, “I’m Jenny Campbell, and I help my company to be more ethical and compliant with the law.”  If you’re at a work meeting, you could say, “I’m Jenny Campbell, and I work to make sure the company doesn’t pay bribes or get in trouble with the law through the compliance function.”  By expanding on what you do day-to-day, or what your intentions and responsibilities are, you’ll immediately be more interesting. 

2.     Succinctness

A good elevator speech should be no more than 45 second long.  Sound short?  It is.  People have short attention spans, and their ability to follow a longer explanation wanes with each additional second.  In order to keep your elevator speech to 45 seconds, you’re going to need to practice it.  Before an event, practice your answer to the “what do you do?” question.  By practicing it, you’ll be ready to respond quickly and comfortably.  That will free you to respond in kind to listen carefully to the other person’s answer when he or she tells you what they do.

3.     A good handshake

Never underestimate the power of a good handshake.  A good handshake should be made facing directly toward the person whose hand you are shaking, with your body facing squarely toward them.  Shake hands like you mean it, with a firm grip.  Smile and look the person in the eye while you shake hands. 

4.     Follow-up questions

No one likes an awkward silence, so come equipped with questions to ask to follow up.  If you’re at a conference or networking event, “Where do you live?” or “Where did you come in from?” are perennial favorites.  The weather, local sports team, or recent event can be good, easy topics of conversation as well.  Think about one or two light questions that can keep a conversation going.

The more you practice and hone your elevator speech, the easier it will be for you to connect with people.  A great elevator speech can do more than just expand your network – it can take your career to the top floor.