You’re Not Just a Designer: How to Stand Out

By Terri Trespicio

My first year at HOW Design Live, I led a breakout session on networking, a thing that everyone loathes.


Terri speaking at HOW Design Live 2016

Part of the effort of networking, I said, isn’t getting good at just “networking” (the most awkward sounding thing on the planet), but connecting with people. And that doesn’t mean just spouting your resume, but sharing what you do in a way that makes sense to, and matters to, the other person. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.

I plucked one friendly gent out of the third row:

“You sir, what do you do?”
“I’m a designer.”
We all laughed. After all, this was HOW Design Live, after all.
“What do you design?”
“Can you be more specific? For what?”
“For the web.”
We all burst out laughing, of course. Poor guy. He was put on the spot! But I drilled down further.
“OK, but for whom? Who cares if you do your job? Who stands to benefit? How do you fit into the system of where you work?”

Turns out, this young man was a graphic and web designer for the fundraising arm of a university, if memory serves. I said, “See, you’re not just a designer who designs things. You’re part of the fundraising effort, instrumental in creating an interface and graphics that attract and engage the people who are most likely to contribute funds to the school. That’s not just a design job. It’s so much more.”

He hadn’t thought of that way. This is the problem. We all see ourselves inside the silo of our “job.” Same goes for people who run their OWN shops, by the way—they tend to think of themselves as a person who does a job for other people, and they fall short of really showing the client or prospect why she should choose them. They don’t quite connect the dots.


It’s not your customer’s job to figure that out. Internal or external client, by the way. Part of what makes someone a stand-out is being able to highlight not just your services, but the real, actual value to them. And make it crystal clear.

You want to run your career as a series of tasks? Be my guest. But I believe there’s much more to you than that.

There is a difference between YOU the business (where you earn your keep) and YOU the brand (why and how you do it). To find it, you must identify your special sauce.

This is what I ask my clients to get the wheels turning:

  • WHAT do you do? Think beyond the most general answer (“I help people be healthier and/or happier”). What problem are you really solving for them?
  • WHY do you do it? What is your background and how does it give you a different perspective from your peers? And what are some of your strongest beliefs—even better if they tend to run counter to what we all tend to think.
  • HOW do you do it? How is your method or approach different or unique? What kind of results have you had and what do you attribute that to? I want to know!

One powerful way to freshen up your “pitch” is to look at it from the other person’s perspective. Want to get better at it? Try this:

Explain what you do for a living to a fifth grader. Find one—your own, someone else’s, and say, “I’m going to tell you what I do, and you tell me if it makes any sense.”

Then, do it. Tell the kid what you do. And then ask her to explain to you in her own words, what she thinks you mean. Remind her this is not a test of HER intelligence, but of yours.

You don’t succeed at this exercise until that kid can explain to YOU what you do.

Next, explain what you do to someone who is not in your industry. Do they get it? If they don’t, it means you need to find a way to make people care about what you do in a way that makes sense to them.

This is what I do—and I happen to be running my first-ever live teleseminar on just this issue. It’s called the WHY YOU Workshop, and it’s happening on three consecutive Wednesdays, on August 10, 17, and 24 @ 7:00 p.m. E.T.  All calls are recorded, so you don’t have to be live every call—and, best part? First 10 people are guaranteed hot seats (and we may even have room for more). That means a select few will get live coaching on the spot. (Which you can reserve, right now!)

I’ll be teaching you my process for identifying what makes YOU worth choosing. And you’ll never look at your business, your brand, or your career the same way again.

By the way, I had the honor of talking about this with Ilise Benun who was kind enough to have me on the HOWLive podcast! Take a listen!

Terri Trespicio is a New York–based content/branding expert, writer, top-rated speaker at HOW LIVE—and stand-up comic. A former senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart, she has contributed widely in the media, and has appeared on the Today show, Dr. Oz, The Early Show, The Martha Stewart Show and The Anderson Cooper Show. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Her popular TED talk, “Stop Searching for Your Passion,” has earned more than a million hits. She’s also the co-creator of Lights Camera Expert, an online program for experts seeking to grow their media careers. She lives in Manhattan. More at

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