There are few conversations as anxiety-inducing as the work conversation. You don't want to be that person who won't stop talking about work, but you also need to talk about your business if you want it to grow. So, we tend to try to talk about work quickly (the elevator pitch), in a sanctioned environment (such as a networking event), or to avoid it like the plague (like at a dinner party). But it doesn't need to feel rushed or staged, and even a dinner party can be a great place to talk about what you do.
Here's how to talk about your business with strangers in the proverbial elevator, at a networking event, and at a social gathering like a dinner party.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
"Elevator Pitch" is the term used for a quick introduction to you and your business that can be done in the time that you are in an elevator with someone. Of course, that's absurdly imprecise. Are you going 15 floors? Three? So let's say that you have between 30 seconds and one minute.
Before you even get started writing an elevator pitch though, there's one thing we need to be clear on: an elevator pitch is not a sales pitch. An elevator pitch can be a gateway to a formal sales presentation, but they aren't the same.
If you're not selling something, what are you doing then? You're giving the listener enough of a taste that they want more. To do this, there are three things you must include in your elevator pitch: an introduction of yourself and your company, an answer to the question "what problem does your company solve?", and a request to meet. Remember to say your full name and the name of your company, to illustrate the need your business fills and why your solution or product has value, and, if the listener shows interest, don't say "email me if you're into this." Instead, end with something more concrete like "What's your availability next week?"
THE NETWORKING EVENT
Networking events can be downright painful. In a room full of people looking to connect with as many people as possible, it can feel like speed dating without any of the playfulness. For many people, their first reaction to the discomfort is to park themselves in a corner and wait for someone to come to them. This isn't the best strategy. Ideally, you'll walk up to someone, make eye contact, reach out your hand for a handshake, introduce yourself and ask a question like "is this your first time here?" or "how did you get started in this industry?" People spend an average of 60% of a conversation talking about themselves. Avoid that statistic by leading with a question.
If starting the conversation is never going to be in the cards, there is something you can do to up the chances of a positive experience: smile. In a study, Claire Conway, Ph.D., found that people are 86% more likely to start a conversation with a stranger if they are smiling.
When it's your turn to share (and listening should always come first), talk about your business by telling stories that connect what you do to why you do it, and to why the listener should care. Just because it's a networking event doesn't mean that the conversation needs to be stiff, and it's much more likely a casual meeting will turn into something bigger if the people you meet feel like they know more than just a list of facts about what you do - they know you.
THE DINNER PARTY
Yes, talking about work at the table is almost universally seen as a faux pas, but that doesn't mean it can't be done gracefully. First, remind yourself that this isn't a networking event or an elevator pitch. You should not be jumping from person to person, and you should certainly not have back-to-back side conversations squeezed between bites of food.
While the stories you tell at a networking event are focused on illustrating what you do, the stories you share at a dinner party should be centered on what makes you excited about what you do. If the person you're speaking with looks like they are zoning out, don't jump to a fresh pair of ears. Pivot the conversation back towards them by asking what they are passionate about. Build rapport through genuine connection.
Regardless of where you meet someone, there is one last piece to the successful connection puzzle: follow-up, ideally within three days.