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How to Say Who You Are and What You Do in 20 Words or Less

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on Jan. 4, 2015

"Have you ever tried to explain what you do, but all you do is talk and talk and talk, and you can't seem to stop yourself"?

The people in the room nodded sympathetically.

"And then after you finish, someone asks you, 'What do you do again?'"

Everyone laughed.

I was sharing an interview experience in a workshop.

One where I didn't get the job.

I had a long and successful corporate career, but one thing never got easier. I never knew what to say when someone asked me:

"What do you do?"

I'd either freeze or ramble.

Even when I was prepared, I was forgettable. Or I was memorable, but for the wrong reasons.

Sound familiar?

Personal branding wasn't much help either.

The self help books and online "gurus" offered canned phrases, fill-in-the-blank paragraphs, and run-on sentences. Their own "personal branding" was filled with jargon like, "capturing your authentic voice".

I got taglines like this:

I am a passionate, creative and inspirational executive who brings excitement, focus and leadership to open-minded, engaged and curious audiences in order to create a memorable experience they will want to share with their co-workers.

Now I sounded memorized, not memorable.

When I searched online, I was sent to branding statements like this one that "delivers the goods" according to one personal branding expert.

COMMUNITY AFFAIRS MANAGER with 10 years of experience visualizing, developing, and organizing company wide philanthropic events, maintaining connections with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, coordinating diverse employee volunteer opportunities, and creating dynamic external and internal event communications.

When I read it my first thought was, "What's a community affairs manager"?

Eventually I stopped working on my personal branding statement. If that's what my competition was saying, I wasn't too worried. And as long as I was a corporate citizen my reputation would carry me, and personal branding didn't matter as much.

Then I left the corporate world and had to attract my own clients.

Suddenly "What do you do" became important.

Really important.

No one cared about my title or my list of accomplishments.

They cared about QUICKLY understanding what I could do for them.

So I studied memorable headlines, sticky ideas and iconic brand lines, and I learned the most memorable messages were the simplest.

I realized that someone doesn't have to know "visualizing, developing, organizing, philanthropic, diverse, coordinating, dynamic, internal and external" to understand what I can do for them.

And with 20 words or less, I transformed how I connected to people.

Here are 3 ways to say who you are and what you do in 20 words or less

1. Start with your title and turn it into a description

Use a title based description when your audience is familiar with what you do. Prioritize the ONE thing you wanted your audience to remember and emphasize the outcome or benefit. Limit yourself to 20 words or less.

Here are 2 examples for the community affairs manager:

  • "I create dynamic community outreach events to help my business and employees help the people in our area."
  • "I create connections between nonprofits and Acme employees and organize events that help the community."

2. Write it like you're talking to a 10 year old

Be clear, not clever. Make a statement that's easy for you and your audience to remember. No big words. No corporate speak. Use everyday, 1-2 syllable words that a 5th grader would use.

Start with a core statement of 10-12 words and keep simplifying it.

  • "I help my business help my community better."

  • "I help my company help people."

  • "I help the people that I work with help other people."

Now your message is simpler and more memorable.

3. Transform what you do into something "bigger"

Reframe what you do to go beyond your title. Use simple language to set the context, and then contrast it with a passion driven or mission driven benefit.

  • "I do more than help my company help people, I create opportunities for others to get involved and change lives."

Next say it out loud:

"I'm Bob, the community affairs manager for Acme.

I help my company help people. For over 10 years I've had the privilege of creating opportunities that change lives."

Hooray! I can remember that.

So can you.

Be more memorable in 20 words or less.

A simpler message is more powerful and more memorable. You'll remember what to say.

And I'll remember you.

I'm Rebecca Okamoto and I help people say who they are and what they do in 20 words or less.

Interested in learning more? Contact me at reo@evoke.pro to get more information about my workshop, "How to say who you are and what you do in 20 words or less."

I coach individuals and offer workshops on how to express yourself more simply, clearly and effectively. I also write about career insights to help you advance your career faster.

Looking for more ways to be more memorable? Take a look at these Evoke posts

Career Traps Career Myth BUSTED: Your Results AREN'T Speaking for You

Humility Trap How to Hack Your Humility Trap

Get Noticed 5 Presentation Tips Your Audience Will Love

Check out the The Career Toolbox page for more practical tips and tools.

Photo/Justice League by 1upLego, on Flickr

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