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Hey You--Your Elevator Pitch Stinks. Fix It.

Hannah P. Morgan

Back in the day, it was enough to introduce yourself by just stating your job title and employer. Today, we have to do more to win someone's attention. People have more to do and less time to do it. They're overrun with to-do lists and trying to balance their personal and professional lives. We also have to be sure to manage our personal reputation, that important message of who we are beyond our employer. The message you share needs to take on a new spin. Your job title, responsibilities, and work history are no longer enough to set yourself apart.

Your pitch. Known as an elevator pitch, 45-second commercial, personal branding statement, or value proposition, this is the message you share when someone asks you "What do you do?"

Many of us are ill-prepared to answer this, often leaving important details out. This is a golden opportunity, whether you're employed or unemployed, to share what problems you're especially good at solving, how you do what you do uniquely, and who benefits from your talent.

Short and sweet isn't going to work. Our natural instinct is to respond with the shortest answer possible, because, truth be told, we don't like talking about ourselves.

Is this the typical response you use? "I am [insert your job title] with [insert your company name]." Another outdated pitch goes something like this: "I am a [insert your job title] with expertise in [two or three skills you want to show off]. My background includes [a list of companies or industries you worked in]."

While neither are technically wrong, they don't cut it. They're too focused on you. Jamming information in the listener's ears won't engage them. They won't remember what you've said. Your introduction needs to be in terms the listener can understand and relate to in some way. It is your audience that determines how the message is received; therefore, your pitch must be worded in such a way that anyone can understand what you're talking about and feel good about it.

What can you say in less than two minutes? Jeffrey Hayzlett, former chief marketing officer at Kodak, writes about the importance of the pitch in his book The Mirror Test. He calls it a 118 Pitch, where in the first eight seconds you hook your listener, and then during the remaining 110 seconds you drive it home. According to Hayzlett, "Simply, your 118 Pitch must do the following:

--Grab the attention of your prospect.

--Convey who you are.

--Describe what your business offers.

--Explain the promises you will deliver on."

When you're at dinner with friends and family, using a pitch with lots of industry buzz words and jargon or using terms that are very specific to your work would likely be out of place and miss the target. Lighten it up. Make it as fun as possible. For example, instead of saying, "I am a corporate trainer with XYZ company," a more engaging start would be: "Everyone wants to feel better about themselves ... I push people to their limits so they don't mind working hard." If you were attending a professional conference, using the same attention-grabbing opening would certainly set the stage and get a fellow trainer's attention.

Pour your heart into it. Before you start your pitch by listing your current job title, employer, and work history, remember that the listener will be much more likely to remember you if they like you. Tell your story in a way that is authentic. In other words, find a way to capture your personality, passion, excitement, and enthusiasm for the problems you solve and the work you do. Make sure you include the types of problems you solve rather than skills you possess. If you can do all this, you will most likely catch the attention of whomever you are speaking with.

You, Inc. is your business. If you're serious about managing your career and professional reputation, you'll want to start talking about the promises you'll personally deliver on. Yes, it is important to represent your company's message, if employed, but don't overlook the value you bring as an individual. And the "business" Hayzlett refers to above, can be You, Inc.

What do you offer? What problems do you solve for internal and external customers? How does your work make a business more profitable or more efficient? Here are some additional reminders to keep in mind as you develop your pitch:

--If you're unemployed, it is not necessary to confess your employment status within the first attention-grabbing eight seconds. You deliver results and value where ever you go.

--The words will come together after you practice ... a lot. Don't worry about making your pitch perfect from the onset. Keep fine-tuning it as you go. Try using Harvard Business School's Pitch Builder to get started.

--Test your pitch on people you know will provide honest feedback.

--Don't use trite imagery or over-simplistic language. Use carefully selected examples of success in your job to tell your story.

--Your pitch should be about you, first and foremost. You can pitch yourself as an independent agent or you can pitch what you and your company do. Your employer's story is not necessarily yours, unless you want it to be.

Your mission is to connect on a deeper level with the people you meet. To set yourself apart and be remembered by extremely busy people, take steps today to focus on how you present yourself during your introduction.

Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain.

Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.

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