Meeting new people -- whether in a formal networking event, at a party, or even in the cabin on a long airplane flight -- can be an opportunity for your business. Such new people could become valued investors, employees, customers, or business partners. 

But turning strangers into assets for your business starts with how well you (and the other person) answer a simple open ended command: 'Tell me about yourself.' If the answers reveal shared values, a common vision of the future, and skills that complement each other, such conversation can make you and those former strangers better off.

Even poor conversations can help save you time if they don't work out -- due to wildly different values, vision, and the absence of mutually helpful capabilities -- by keeping you from working together in a business setting. But under better circumstances, they can lay the groundwork for future collaboration.

The best way to answer the 'Tell me about yourself' command is to tell a story. As CNBC reported, Yale's Office of Career Strategy recommends that you craft a so-called motivational story which in two minutes explains how and why you became interested in your current line of work.

Below are three keys for a highly effective motivational story and how to apply each element to crafting an effective networking conversation. 

Rightly-Structured Story 

An effective motivational story overcomes a listener's skepticism with the teller's passion, talent, and ability to generate tangible results. Such a story should include the following elements:

  • An opening: A sentence that conveys your professional identity and why it's important to you. 
  • A Challenge: A story that shows how you chose among options to solve a new challenge and how that solution shaped your professional identity.
  • Your sources of skill. Detail the relevant professional projects and academic experiences that have helped you develop the skills that enable you to excel professionally.
  • A closing: Pinpoint your listener's most important business goal and how you believe your experience can help bring that goal into being.

To help you craft a story with these elements, ask yourself the following questions (the first two of which are suggested by the Yale experts):

  • How did you become interested in your professional field?
  • What experiences helped you develop the skills needed to excel in it?
  • Based on your experiences what are the key principles for success in this field?
  • How can collaborating with you make others -- such as potential employees, customers, investors or partners -- better off?

Personable Delivery

How you deliver a story makes a big difference in whether you can engage other people and find projects on which to collaborate productively. Start by asking about the other person and listening thoughtfully to their answer.

When you speak, look the other person in the eye, convey a range of emotions in telling a story. Ask the other person if they have felt similar emotions or had the same experience. Use humor to bring someone to your side and share appropriate credit with others -- including the role of good fortune -- in telling your success stories.

Compelling Authenticity

In addition to being likable, avoid trying to project what you think someone else expects of you. Puffing and fakery show a lack of respect for your listener and reflect an underlying lack of self-confidence. 

Highlight the challenges and activities that truly motivate you and don't be afraid to discuss the kinds of situations and environments which reduce your motivation and effectiveness.

Once you have a preliminary response to 'tell me about yourself' you ought to practice it with people who know you well. Get their feedback on which parts of the story and your delivery are most effective -- and which need more work and why.

And when you've refined your motivational story, try it out in increasingly important networking situations. By building a network of people who share your values and vision who can complement your strengths, you'll be on a path to greater shared success.

Published on: Jan 27, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.