Being an expert at something and communicating your expertise are two different things. Here's how to present your abilities to new clients in a way that lives up to your skills.
Share this article
The skill of establishing credibility is fundamental to anyone working in business. We are often required to advise our clients, external collaborators or colleagues. Their decision whether to accept our advice will be based upon two factors: The quality of the advice itself, and the credibility of the person who presented it.
You may equally find yourself in situations, perhaps at meetings or conferences, where you are required to present to new people, to engage them and get them to listen. Credibility influences the relationships that we are able to build with others, the level of cooperation that we are able to secure and the way that we are perceived as skilled professionals.
The question is how to generate credibility quickly? The process usually begins with the delivery of a simple personal introduction at the first point of interaction. This in itself is a skill.
"Presenting an exaggerated view of capabilities may lead to unrealistic expectations"
Delivered proficiently an introduction should enable your counterparts to understand your areas of expertise, the experience that you can draw upon and therefore the reason your words are worthy of consideration.
Consider the following personal introduction statements, taken from the consulting industry, when a new team member is being introduced to a client:
I would like to introduce John Smith. He is a consultant from our finance industry practice and brings broad financial experience to this project. He is one of our best consultants and I am sure that you will be very satisfied with his contributions.
I would like to introduce Stuart Jones. Stuart is a consultant from our finance industry practice and brings 9 years of experience working with risk management solutions.
Please meet Damon Jarvis. Damon brings 9 years of experience as a consultant in our finance industry practice working specifically with risk management solutions. We selected him for this engagement as he has just returned from a similar project in South America conducted for one of the leading banks there.
Which consultant would you engage, John, Stuart or Damon? More interestingly the three statements could, in the absence of names, have referred to the same person yet each positions the individual quite differently and with a different resulting client perception. A number of characteristics should therefore be considered when making an introduction at the individual-level.
A credible introduction is an objective one. Presenting an exaggerated view of capabilities may lead to the setting of unrealistic expectations that become difficult or impossible to satisfy. Consider instead the introduction as an exercise of presenting evidence.
The factual evidence that we present provides the receiver with a clear basis to make their own evaluation of who we are and the potential contributions that we can make. Let’s consider our three statements again.
Statement 1 is vague, rather selling-oriented and is unlikely to impress mature individuals who have heard many people brag about what they can do, often in the absence of a solid experience base.
The words ‘he is one of our best’ are unwise. We are all humans and the first time that John makes a mistake the reputation of his organisation will take a direct hit. ’And he was supposed to be one of your best…’ the client will say.
An introduction that is vague or fluffy is likely to be ineffective. A more tangible approach is achieved by quantifying expertise and experience. Expertise in a specialist field or technology could be quantified through reference to certification by a recognised body.
Experience can be quantified by specifying the number of years working in a specific domain, or through the use of references to similar work that was conducted successfully elsewhere.
To this end Statement 2 offers much more clarity. The years of experience are quantified as a substitute for the phrase a broad experience. Additionally, the domain of experience is now more precisely stated. The first statement told us that the consultant belonged to a finance industry practice which may address a very diverse set of issues.
This time a more specific reference to risk management solutions is included. The client can now begin to understand what this individual can actually do, the problems that he can solve, and the questions that he can be approached with.
The final example further quantifies the value of practical experience by including a reference. References tend to command a high level of attention from clients as those who have hands-on experience are likely to understand obstacles and issues that are likely to arise and are familiar with strategies for overcoming them.
When making an introduction it is your responsibility to connect your skills and experience to the discussion context at hand. This requires you to consider the experience that you have built over time, identify the most relevant points and to emphasise them.
This is very different from reciting a standard introduction time after time. Ask yourself the questions: Which of my skills are most relevant to this situation? What similar work have I done in the past and how can that experience be leveraged?
The ability to communicate concisely and deliver clear, emphatic content in few words is an admirable quality of a skilled speaker. Coupled with the prudent selection of vocabulary it can be very powerful.
Consider the length of your introduction and the amount of content to include. If you are to be the main speaker at a one day seminar it may be pertinent to spend 2-3 minutes outlining your experience, thus enabling participants to draw upon it and direct questions appropriately.
In a meeting, on the other hand, when participants make short round-the-table introductions you may need to restrict yourself to a just a few words.
Stuart Jones, 20 years working in telecommunications with a focus on operational processes and automation…
Even in few words it is usually possible to articulate clearly the nature and depth of your experience, building credibility and outlining your potential contributions.
Samir Parikh is the CEO of SPConsulting AB. His new book The Consultant's Handbook: A Practical Guide to Delivering High-value and Differentiated Services in a Competitive Marketplace is published by Wiley.