When people ask, “What do you do for a living?” how do you answer?  If you simply reply, “I’m a psychologist” or "I'm a therapist," you’re missing a valuable opportunity to market yourself and increase referrals. 

Next time you introduce yourself to someone, be prepared with a brief, powerful statement that describes what you do in such a way that people will want to know more.  In the business world this is called an “elevator speech.”  Imagine that you have 16 seconds, while the elevator goes from the lobby to the 10th floor, to explain to a stranger what you do.

What can you say in 16 seconds or less?  Plenty.  In that brief moment not only can you state your name and job title, but you can also establish a relationship with people in a memorable way that will pique their interest.

Here are some sample introductory statements.  Which would best make you want to get to know more about the speaker?

Ho-hum intro:

“My name is Jane Smith and I’m a psychologist.”


“My name is Jane Smith.  I’m a psychologist who specializes in ADHD.”

Better still:

“My name is Jane Smith.  I’m a psychologist who works with ADHD -- you know, kids who are distractible and have trouble focusing.”


“My name is Jane Smith.  I’m a psychologist who works with ADHD. You know how some kids are really smart, but it doesn’t show in their schoolwork?  I help them and their parents figure out what’s holding them back, and what to do about it.  Do you have children?”

Here’s what the last statement delivers that the first three do not:

  • It emphasizes benefits rather than diagnoses or processes
  • It presents a benefit in the form of a scenario, which helps the listener envision using your services
  • It draws the listener in, helping to create a relationship with you.
  • At the end, a question opens up possibilities for you to explore whether this person is a candidate for your services.

Plan to have at least one prepared elevator speech. Better yet, have a few -- one for each aspect of your practice that you want to emphasize.

Write and rewrite your 16-second introduction until it flows naturally, in your own speaking style.  Memorize and rehearse it.  Try it out on family and friends, and ask for feedback.  Call your voice mail and recite your speech on it. Do you sound confident? Are there spots where you hesitate?  Use the feedback to make adjustments.

Here are some guidelines to help you craft your elevator speech:

1. State your name, specialty

2. Grab the person’s attention with a provocative statement, an intriguing issue, or something that shows your passion. Here are some opening phrases you can use:

  • You know how some people. . . ? Well, I help them to. . .
  • I specialize in . . . I really enjoy . . .
  • If you . . . , I’m the kind of therapist who can help you to . . .
  • Did you ever wonder how . . . ? Well, I . . .

Always aim to emphasize the benefit to the recipient, rather than the process by which you work.  Thus, instead of saying you do marital counseling, talk about “helping couples learn to fall in love again.”  Rather than merely saying you treat depression, state that you “help people look forward to getting up in the morning.” Instead of “stress management for business” you might “have a 4-step program for making teams more productive.”

3. End with a short sentence or question that draws the listener in. In the ADHD example above, the elevator speech ended with, “Do you have children?”  Tailor your question to the person you’re speaking to.  Thus, with a teacher or physician you might ask, “Do you ever see kids like that?” Such a question invites natural conversation in which people can learn more about your services.

4. Finally, hand the person your business card, and say, “Please keep me in mind if you would like to work on this.” Or say, “If you know someone who can benefit from working with me, please have them call me.”

At this point -- which is usually less than five minutes after your initial 16-second introduction -- you will have established a relationship with the other person, who will think of you when the time comes to consult a psychologist or to make a referral.