By Lilian Abrams, PhD, MBA, MCC. Some of us really hate to feel like we are “selling” ourselves. We want to feel authentic with others; we want to connect with them on more important, more “real” topics at hand; and we would strongly prefer that the quality of our work, our thinking, and our very being show up and stand out on their own, without us having to make a big deal out of it. The idea of spending time crafting a message about ourselves and our accomplishments, to sculpt how we land on others, makes us cringe.

I truly understand. I also know that in some situations, this view actually hinders you and your audience from moving to real connection and interesting discussions. And here’s why:

  • If your audience doesn’t know you, giving them a 30-second elevator pitch can help position you. It tells them why you are valuable and interesting to them, and why they might want to talk to you and what about. It actually can help you move on much more quickly to the really interesting stuff.  
  • If you don’t take the time to orient your audience to what you bring to the conversation, they will take incomplete, superficial information and make assumptions about you — usually incorrectly — that will take valuable time and energy to correct.

I will give you an example. I have a coaching client I will call Mali. She is a very bright young woman, a PhD candidate in Engineering, who has worked for several years for a very well-known global non-profit. In her job, she successfully travels to emergency hotspots the world over to help needy people obtain good-quality drinking water. In addition to being intellectually very quick, well-spoken, and personally kind, Mali is also polite; she comes from a cultural background where one doesn’t put oneself forward so quickly, especially if one is younger and lower in status than the others present. 

Recently, Mali attended a conference in her topic area. After one presentation, she went up to the presenter to talk about the subject. She waited to the side, politely, and when the person turned their attention to her, she started out by asking a question. Her question was fairly quickly and superficially addressed in response. In truth, Mali was somewhat brushed off by the presenter.

When we discussed this during coaching, I pointed out that had Mali presented her real-life practical experience as well as her current PhD activities, the presenter would have better understood who stood before her and the level at which Mali could be spoken to. The presenter would have understood that Mali has very interesting, valuable real-world experience and ideas based on her extensive experience, which people like this presenter often are a bit envious of.  Had the presenter known this, chances are they would have engaged in a much more interesting and fruitful discussion on both sides. However, this would have required Mali to begin with a quick self-description that presented her experience and educational pursuits for her audience of one. This is indeed happened some time later, when Mali met the presenter in another context. The person said to her, “Oh! I wish you had told me more about yourself in the beginning! I thought you were just some young graduate student who didn’t know anything yet; I had no idea who you were.”

I do take my own advice in this area: I have a 30-second description of my education and experience, which I can expand to fit my audience’s level of interest. I often work with clients on successfully and strategically influencing others. Is this an area in which I might assist you as well?

To learn more about positioning yourself with your audience and developing your influence as a leader, schedule a consultation with Lilian.