How many times have your been asked, “What do you do?” 

You answer with your job title and a long list of your job responsibilities peppered with “like” and “you know." If you are paying attention, you might notice that your listener’s attention is fading as you speak. It is documented that you have a captive audience for 7-20 seconds, after that the mind wanders.

Why is it that we have such trouble articulating our profession? Perhaps it’s because we are a silent service profession with no celebrities or fan clubs with whom we can be easily identified.

Let’s face it, until Jennifer Lopez starred in the movie “The Wedding Planner” even that profession was relatively unknown. To my knowledge the sequel “The Meeting Planner” is not high on Hollywood’s list of upcoming feature films. So let’s change the perception that we travel around looking at hotels, ordering the coffee and perhaps a projector.

Let’s make this two-minute elevator speech a teachable moment as well as 90 seconds of fame. It is an opportunity not just to promote yourself, but also to help your listener understand what meeting planners really do and just how valuable we are.

Wikipedia defines an elevator speech as a short (15-30 second, 150-word) sound bite that succinctly and memorably introduces you. It spotlights your uniqueness. It focuses on the benefits you provide. And it is delivered effortlessly.

Start with WHO you are. Tell people your profession, not your job title. Job titles are bestowed upon us when we accept the position and may not describe what you do whereas your professional title does describe what you do and can stay with you throughout your career. So perhaps you can first respond to the question with: “I’m a Meeting Professional and currently the Senior Conference Manager for the XYZ Department."

Next tell them WHAT you do: “I advise senior management on the implementation of the FTR, that’s Federal Travel Regulations, pertaining to conference participation.”

Then comes the WHY: Meeting planning requires an in depth knowledge of your organization’s requirements and regulations as it relates to budgets, locations, food and beverage and all the other resources needed.

In the 1993 film, "Philadelphia," Denzel Washington's character asks throughout the film, "Explain it to me like I'm a six-year old." If you want to communicate effectively, pretend you're talking to a child. If you're worried you'll come across as insulting, you won't. You'll come across as refreshing and engaging.

At most your introduction of yourself should take no more than 60 seconds and rather than drone on, it’s time to ask a question to qualify your listener to see if they may be a prospective resource, customer, employer or just an interested bystander. Remember this is a conversation, not a presentation.

Perhaps you can engage them by saying: “Here’s a quiz for you—do you know which sides of a stage the Stars and Stripes and the State flag should be placed?” If they don’t know, you can share your knowledge with them and if they do know, you can congratulate them! Then you can go on to share some of your accomplishments.  Remember, you are going for sound bites with a "wow" factor, not curriculum vitae. Leave them hanging.

The best responses are those that pique the listener's interest and that lead to more questions.

Have a closing line; don’t just let your new friend just wander off. Always have a business card in your pocket or purse. Ask for their business card if you really think this person might be a future resource. There’s a wonderful free application for the iPhone called CardMunch by LinkedIn. You open the application, take a photo of the business card with the iPhone and upload it. Within 24 hours the information has been added to your contact list—no more lost business cards.

(Editor's Note: CardMunch was discontinued by LinkedIn, but a variety of app alternatives are available).

The elevator speech is as important as your business card and should be as readily available. Practice it, not as though you were reading from a script or you have memorized your lines, but you are engaged in a conversation. Tape it (most smartphones have a voice memo capability) and listen to yourself. Practice it a lot!

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "I never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it." Now it's your turn. What do you do?

Carroll Reuben’s career as a corporate and association event director spans almost three decades. She is a recognized industry speaker as well as a sought after raconteur and keynote speaker. Currently Carroll provides event-consulting services for the corporate, hotel and association industries.

She also serves as an instructor for California State University, teaching the Event Management Certificate Extension course offered at two of its campuses. She holds CMP Emeritus and CMM credentials.