In today’s competitive environment, you must differentiate yourself and your services in order to succeed. It’s not enough that you’re capable, experienced and passionate about what you do. Everyone from lawyers and accountants to financial service advisors and insurance brokers has suddenly realized they also need to “sell” in order to survive.

Here’s the rub. What if we are experts in what we have to offer, but ineffective at standing up in front of a room and promoting our services? Or if we have no idea what we do differently than our competition? Or if we hold the belief that clients have a negative impression of our profession?

These are all valid concerns we hear every day when we speak at networking groups throughout the country. But there is good news. When done well, speaking is the least expensive and most effective way of setting yourself apart. And “selling” no longer works. We do business with people we know, like and trust—not with the person who “asks for the close.”

Make Your Opening Memorable

Since the economy took a downturn, networking organizations have seen a huge increase in members. But maximizing the value of your membership takes more than getting to know members one-on-one. At most group meetings, you are asked to stand up and introduce yourself. These self-introductions are typically called elevator speeches.

When constructing your elevator speech, the first thing to consider is, what kind of business do you want more of? Rather than listing all of the products and services you or your company offers, select one that you believe will be the most beneficial or the most attractive for the assembled group. Then go deep, rather than wide, when describing this particular kind of client interaction, anecdote or process. The goal is to be memorable, not deliver a menu of services that slide out from your memory like Teflon.

Once you have the theme of your elevator speech, how do you grab the attention of potential business partners and draw them to you at a networking event? Since attention precedes comprehension, take a page from cognitive science and employ novelty and surprise. When delivering your elevator speech, don’t fall back on traditional openings, like “Good morning, it’s a pleasure to be here with you all,” or, “Thank you for allowing me to present to you,” or, “I have a story to tell you.” Habit and formality make us recycle these tired introductions. They are fillers, windups or placeholders that have no value. Eliminate them. You will still be considered polite—while gaining respect for not wasting your listeners’ time.

Dive right into a brief, arresting opening. Grab a line from a current news event. Relate an analogy, simile or metaphor. Be creative and

colorful. Use descriptive words and visual snapshots, and avoid generalities. When you do hear yourself using a generality, such as “situation,” “problem” or “client,” follow it up with a “such as” or “for example” so we can picture your description. Then link this opening to your services and how you solved your client’s challenge or provided value.

Relate a Client Success Story

An alternative self-introduction is to relate a client anecdote. This is such a critical vehicle for generating business that we devoted an entire chapter of our book Own the Room to the construction and delivery of anecdotes. There is great power in telling success stories, but you have to set the hook and keep your audience or client engaged throughout.

Over the years, we developed a template for client anecdotes we call OSB.

The first act in this three-act play is called the Obstacle. Rather than giving lots of context or background, simply state the challenge your client was facing, and be sure to include what was at stake and if it was time-sensitive. The greater the obstacle, the more your audience is engaged.

The middle act is the Solution. This is where you detail the services you provide to overcome the obstacle. Use active, muscular verbs to demonstrate your value, such as execute, designed, partnered or discovered. If we don’t see your value, you risk being commoditized, that is, having to compete based purely on price. But if we can picture what you do and it sounds difficult, complicated or incredibly smart, you have created a positive impression. To make the solution more compelling, include what the client discovered or what was revealed.

Act three is the Benefit section, and this is what every potential business partner wants to know about. For a dynamic close to your story, include the unexpected benefit. This is where you relate what the client realized going forward, an insight gained or a change in behavior. Word of warning: the unexpected benefit is what the client realized, not you. So rather than saying, “Because we saved him thousands of dollars, he referred me to his colleagues,” it would be, “Because we saved him thousands of dollars, he was able to take a family vacation.”

Be Authentic and Personal

Relating stories from your own experience will not only attract potential clients, it will also lessen the anxiety that typically plagues us when standing up and presenting in front of a room. There is a common fear that we are being judged, that we’re not an expert, or that we don’t know our material well enough.

But remember this: we instinctively do not trust polished speakers. They don’t seem genuine. Instead, if you are a little rough around the edges, we know you are doing your best to connect with us. Even more importantly, you are delivering fresh material that was constructed specifically for us. We would much rather hear from a speaker who is immediate and present than from someone who clearly has delivered their content many times before.

With authenticity, you establish credibility and open the gates of trust. This is the true art of persuasion and the mark of a great communicator.

DEBORAH SHAMES and DAVID BOOTH are former
actor/producers who now run a successful corporate
communications firm. They co-wrote
Own the Room: Business
Presentations That Persuade, Engage & Get Result, together with
co-author Dr. Peter Desberg, a clinical psychologist
who specializes in stage fright. To read a sample chapter, go to
www.networkingtimes.com/link/shames&booth