Introductions are a great opportunity we often waste.

Opportunity: to give a vivid picture of who you are and what you do

Waste: not really communicating what you do and what you have to offer

What exactly do I mean? Here’s an example.

Stranger 1: Hi. I’m Shannon Lee.

Stranger 2: Hi. I’m Doug Forester. What do you do?

1: I’m a lawyer.

2: (Eyes glazed over.) Oh, that’s nice. There seem to be a lot of lawyers here tonight. I’m an engineer.

1: (No idea what Doug does all day) Oh. So, is this the first time you’ve come to this event?

Even though these two people told each other the basics, by resorting to labels, they didn’t communicate anything interesting about themselves and they missed an opportunity to connect on a deeper level or even to just have an interesting conversation. So what should they have done?

Stranger 1: Hi. I’m Shannon. Shannon Lee. (Repeating your first name will help the other person remember it better and will slow you down so that you speak more clearly.)

Stranger 2: Hi. I’m Doug Forester. What do you do?

1: I’m a lawyer. I work with people seeking asylum in the United States. In fact, just today, I learned that a woman from Peru that I’d been working with was granted asylum. Now she’ll be safe from her abusive husband who tried to kill her. (This time Shannon provided a short anecdote to create a picture and gave Doug more info that he can use to continue the conversation.)

2: Wow. That’s intense. How did you get involved in that type of work? (Hopefully they’ll go on to have an interesting conversation, about asylum cases, immigration, Peru or Latin America, domestic violence, politics, local related events, Shannon’s career path or anything else suggested by her anecdote.)

Maybe you’re not saving lives every day like Shannon, but that doesn’t mean your description of what you do for most of your waking hours has to be boring. In fact it shouldn’t be. You can always add an anecdote that will highlight your skills and competency. If you work in an office, tell how you solved a problem and what effect that had on people. If you work directly with people, you must have a million stories about daily interactions. Just remember to keep the focus positive and don’t tell stories that put other people in a negative light.

It can be hard to break out of the mold, when everyone else is doing the my name, my label routine, but it’s worth it.