How would you describe your job and company to a bunch of strangers at a cocktail party?
When a Tribune business writer posed that question to a local luminary, her answer looked to me like a case study of what-not-to-say.
“I’m CEO of Ingredion, almost a $6 billion global ingredient company. We supply healthy ingredients to all the food and beverage companies around the world. We’re in 40 different countries.”
You know my first rule of introductions with impact. Nobody cares who you are and what you do until you give them a reason to care.
And how do you give them a reason to care? You make it more about them than you. (Because what does everyone care most about? Right – themselves.)
So is it a good idea to open with your title, company name and annual revenue? Not really. And what the heck is an ingredient company anyway? And who cares how many countries they operate in?
Ilene Gordon hasn’t asked for my advice. But if she did, I’d have a few suggestions. You might find them useful too.
Lead with your listener, not with yourself.
And that’s easy for a company like Ingredion because everybody eats.
So we could tell that bunch of strangers at a cocktail party:
“When you eat creamy yogurt, a crunchy snack or something hearty like pasta … it’s not just the taste you notice. It’s the texture. Food companies come to Ingredion for help getting that mouth-feel exactly right, with healthy stuff that comes from plants. I’m the CEO, so I keep my eye on what people want from food. Good taste and good nutrition.”
When a business owner – or a CEO – starts with some blahblah about them, our eyes glaze over. When they tap into our experience, challenges or fears they draw us in.
Of course there are a lot of other ways this introduction could go.
“Seems like these days more people are more concerned about what’s in their food. Used to be, boxes, cans and packages were full of things you couldn’t pronounce. Now people want healthy ingredients that grow in the ground, not in a test tube. I’m the CEO of Ingredion; we develop those natural ingredients that give your food the taste and texture you want.”
Sometimes you can use a trend like concern about what’s in our food to open your introduction, then pivot to something specific about you or your company.
On the subject of trends:
“You know how everybody’s telling women to “lean in,” take their place at the table and be leaders? It’s not that easy. In the Fortune 500 there are 478 male CEOs. And 22 women. That makes Ingredion a trend-setter; I’m one of the 22. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s …”
Of course I can’t tell you what Ilene Gordon has learned but I’m quite sure she’d have something valuable to say to a group of women at our imaginary cocktail party. How much more interesting than “…$6 billion global ingredient company.”
And there’s always the element of surprise to start a compelling conversation.
“Chances are pretty good you’re a chewer. But you could be a cruncher, a smoosher or a sucker. Those are all the different ways people use their mouth when they eat. At Ingredion, where I’m the CEO, we’ve studied the whole range of eating styles so we can help food-makers create appealing tastes and textures.”
If it were me, I’d go with that one every time. Because it right away raises questions. Am I cruncher? A smoosher? As soon as you have someone wondering about what you say, wanting more information, figuring out where they fit in … you have the beginning of a conversation.
And that’s the whole point of describing yourself to a bunch of strangers at a cocktail party. Or anywhere else.
These examples illustrate a couple of compelling conversation caveats.
They’re short. Less than 30 seconds at the rate most people speak. The longer you go on about yourself and your company, the less people listen. You should pass the conversational ball, not dribble it forever.
They could easily be tagged with a question to start a dialogue. “Do you like creamy or crunchy?” “What’s the most important thing to you when it comes to that list of ingredients on a label?” “Can you imagine yourself heading up a big company?” “Do you have a sense of your own eating style?”
They use plain English. “Healthy stuff that comes from plants” vs. “Plant-based starches.” Not because we don’t understand what “plant-based starches” means but because it’s not the way we talk.
When you stick with your own jargon, you put up a barrier between you and your listener. Using their language builds a bridge.
So how would you describe your job and company to that bunch of strangers? Post your introduction in the comments; we’ll call it a virtual cocktail party.