There are a million and one lists out there of different questions to spice up small talk and elicit fascinating discussions. But I was just at a conference last week and I can confidently report that about 95 percent of the time people still open with some version of the classic, "So, what do you do?"

Answering this well isn't just the difference between a lonely or productive networking event. Having an answer in your back pocket that grabs the other person's attention and sparks meaningful conversation can be the difference between business success or failure, making a friend or missing an opportunity. 

Introductions matter, and most of us are terrible at them. We bore other people with bare bones facts, stammer through complicated explanations, or annoy everyone with a too-strong "elevator pitch" type intro. There has to be a better (less stressful) way, and marketing strategist and speaker Clay Hebert claims to have it (hat tip to Swiss Miss). 

You're probably terrible at introducing yourself. 

At TEDx Reno, Hebert explained what usually goes wrong when we try to introduce ourselves. First, most of us are never trained in this skill. "There is no driver's test for introductions," Hebert notes, "which is why we crash them every day." And if we are taught anything on the subject, we learn the idea of the elevator pitch.

But how many times have you actually been put in a position of simultaneously meeting someone and having to pitch them in real life? "It's a made-up construct, a myth," claims Hebert. And if you actually try to deliver an elevator pitch unasked in real life, you're probably just going to make everyone really uncomfortable

Instead of a long, canned speech designed to sell the other person on you (or bumbling through half your life story), Hebert insists the ideal introduction is aimed at grabbing the other person's attention. Think of your intro as a hook to draw the other party deeper into conversation. 

What kind of introduction accomplishes that goal? Not some self-absorbed, long-winded recitation of every aspect of your professional life. Instead, Hebert believes the ideal introduction is short, snappy, focused on impact not ego, and deliberately incomplete to draw out further questions. 

How to be the person everyone wants to talk to. 

That sounds good in theory, but to put Hebert's insights into practice you'll need something more concrete. Helpfully, he provides three simple plug-and-play formulas that anyone can use to craft an attention-grabbing introduction. 

  • I + help + achieve a result. The magic of this formula is that it moves the focus from yourself to your impact. And it does it in a concise way that invites further conversational excavation. "Shoot for intrigue over information," instructs Hebert (and avoid buzzwords at all costs). For this formula and any other, if you want to introduce your company rather than yourself just swap in "we" for "I." And If you want to swap in another action word for "help," that's fine too. "Susan Cain could say, 'I help introverts unlock their power.' Simon Sinek could say, 'I help leaders find their why.' David Blaine could say, 'I prove magic is real,'" Hebert offers as examples.  

  • I'm like X for Y. In this formula X and Y must be two things that are generally not paired together. Hebert gives this example of blogger and TED speaker Tim Urban: "I'm a personal trainer for procrastination." 

  • I turn X into Y. "Yo-Yo Ma could say, 'I turn music into motion,'" Hebert offers as an example of this final formula.  

Are these formulas dead simple? Yes, and that's their beauty. Not only are they easy to remember, they also project both humility and confidence. At the same time they invite the other person to ask for more information, drawing them into the conversation. 

Hebert's overarching theme is that we often try to stuff way too much into an introduction. Less is more and fun beats complete. Offer just enough information to spark curiosity and you'll suddenly become the person at the event everyone wants to talk to.  

If this column has sparked your curiosity about Hebert, here's his complete talk below: