How to Introduce Yourself and Not Put Me to Sleep

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While I sat in my morning networking meeting, all the coffee in the world could not keep me awake as I heard professionals recite their name and profession. If people can’t show excitement in their introductions, then how are they going to handle a referral I send to them? Don’t they know they’re introduction tells the room who they are?

The first step to successful networking is in the way you introduce yourself. We all have a tendency to listen to the way other people present themselves and model our pitch aft er theirs. The problem with this conditioned response is that it makes you forgettable; it’s difficult to distinguish you from everyone else in the room.

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The most compelling way to differentiate yourself is to tell a story about a client and give a concrete example of the type of work you do. Try to avoid talking about those clients who give you headaches. All that tells us is that you don’t like working with that type of client — it doesn’t tell us why we should send clients your way.

Instead, select a story that highlights a success and pick a client that is representative of an area in which you’d like to work more in depth. Emphasize how you accomplished something amazing for that person — but try to refine your story to about a minute. This isn’t easy. As attorneys, we love to talk. But you could end up speaking for five minutes and lose everyone’s attention.

I have adopted the introduction method that’s taught through Eloqui, a communications and presentation course taught by fellow ProVisors member and group leader Deborah Shames. Eloqui suggests setting up an obstacle you faced with a client, explaining how you provided a solution, and describing the benefit to your client. You only have 20 seconds or so to set up the problem, so you have to be compelling yet brief. The solution you share should include some active verbs that address what you did to fix the problem for the client. Avoid using the phrase “I helped.” It’s neither strong nor compelling. Instead, try “I negotiated,” “I examined,” or “I evaluated.” Then explain briefly why what you did was a benefit to the client.

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The focus of your introduction should be on the client, not on the fact that it was your defining moment as an attorney or the biggest case of your career. Present yourself as someone who solves problems, not someone who puts money in their pocket. Try to show how you both met and exceeded client expectations, with sentences like, “Not only did I get my client out of jail, but he was off probation and we got all the charges dismissed.”

When you’re setting up the obstacle, hearing your client’s name draws listeners in. Honor client confidentiality by using a fake name. Say “we’ll call him Bob.” The more you can personalize the client in your story, the more people in the room realize they know someone just like Bob — and that Bob needs your help.

Here’s an example of a successful introduction I’ve used:

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Jason was a minor league baseball player who was on probation for a DUI. He was traveling this summer and was very likely to get picked up by the majors. However, Jason couldn’t travel to another state without a judge’s specific permission to do so. His agent couldn’t coordinate all of the different last-minute changes in the schedule because they didn’t know if he was going to be sent to a different city for playing so well. If Jason didn’t get that permission from the court to travel, he would lose his opportunity to play this summer and the possibility of getting picked up by the majors.

I got in front of the judge who sentenced him and presented a very complicated solution to the problem. Knowing that this judge wouldn’t want to take all of the extra steps to approve my 40-step plan, I suggested that the judge transfer the case to another judge who had worked with Jason early on. Once I got in front of that judge, he agreed to let Jason travel. And not only did I get him permission to travel, but because I was in front of the right judge, I convinced him to let Jason off probation completely and we were able to file an expungement to wipe this off Jason’s record. My name is Doug Ridley and I’m a criminal defense attorney.

It may feel strange at first to use your newly crafted introduction in a situation in which others are simply saying, “Hi, I’m Jane Doe, and I’m a divorce attorney.” You may get a few raised eyebrows, but you can bet you’ll be memorable — and that, right there, is half the battle. Douglas Ridley

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