Going up in your career? With a well-crafted elevator speech, you could be

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Closed elevator

How many times have you found yourself at a party or a networking event and heard the question, “What do you do?” It’s pretty much guaranteed to come right after you introduce yourself. It’s a common question, but if you answer it well, it can also be an opportunity. That’s why it pays to have a quick synopsis of what you do in your back pocket. This quick overview is sometimes known as an “elevator speech,” because it answers the question, “How would you describe your business to an important connection in just the space of an elevator ride?”

The most effective elevator speeches are succinct (about 30 seconds, but no more than a minute) and targeted. Figure out who you want to reach and what you want to say. Are you trying to get a job? Then make what you have to offer to a company the focus of your speech. Trying to sell a product? Make that your focal point. Figure out your audience and write to their needs. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Get excited about what you do. 

If you’re really pumped about what you have to offer, your passion will come through, loud and clear. True passion tends to come across as genuine, not sales-y, so you don’t seem too pushy or overwhelming.

Set yourself apart. 

Take some time to honestly ponder what makes you unique. In most cases, there are lots of people who have your exact job or skill set. What inimitable you-ness do you bring to the projects you take on?

Be honest and clear. 

When you’re passionate about what you do and when you’ve really given thought to what you do well, you don’t have to artificially inflate your skills or use confusing jargon to make yourself seem smarter and more important. Tell your story with honesty and simplicity.

Write, write, and write some more.

Take some time to self-examine and determine your strengths and what you have to offer, then write several drafts. Don’t edit yourself. (You can do that later.) Take lots of different approaches: quirky, serious, businesslike, fun. When you’ve written and written and written some more, put your work aside and sleep on it. After a few days, come back to it and edit. Whittle it down to less than a minute, and make sure it sounds authentic, because in order to make it a speech, you have to actually say it.

Practice makes perfect.

In front of a mirror, alone in a room, role-play with a friend—it doesn’t matter what you do to bring this speech to life, just do something. It has to feel natural coming out of your mouth when you put it into practice. If something feels stilted or just doesn’t sound natural, change it. Yes, you will feel goofy about it at first. But once you really get comfortable with what you’re saying, you’ll be glad you did it.

It takes some work, but once you get comfortable with it, your elevator speech means you’ll never be tongue-tied when opportunity knocks