A small business owner recently told me she hated networking and avoided it whenever she could. She said, “I can never explain what I do so people understand it … and sometimes I just don’t feel like talking about work.”
I told her it might help to realize that when people ask what we do, they’re often just looking for a hook on which to hang a meaningful conversation.
Which is why it’s important to stop telling people what we do.
Well, do you know anyone who likes listening to a speech? Neither do I. The good news, there’s a way to transform traditional elevator SPEECHES (which tell what we do) into elevator CONNECTIONS that lead to intriguing two-way conversations. Here’s how.
If you don’t feel like talking about work, you can say, “I’m happy to talk about that … and first may I find out a little bit about you?”
Giving other people an opportunity to go first is rare and welcome. First, it establishes you’re genuinely interested in them. Secondly, you’re more likely to discover something in common (You both have kids? You both like to run? You went to the same college?) you both would enjoy talking about.
If this is a business-related gathering and you want to talk about your job, it’s still smart to not explain what you do. Here’s why.
I started an INC 500 workshop by saying, “Do you know ANYONE who likes listening to a monologue? Neither do I. In today’s world, people want two-way dialogues.That’s why, from now on, it’s smart to replace one-way elevator speeches with two-way elevator connections.”
An entrepreneur named Colleen raised her hand and said, “I agree with you in theory. I just don’t know how to do this in practice.”
I asked, “What do you normally say when people ask what you do?”
She said she explains she’s the CEO of a computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging company.
A what?! None of us had any idea what she did. I asked, “Want a better way to introduce yourself?”
She replied with a heartfelt “Yes.”
“From now on, instead of explaining what you do (which is like trying to explain electricity), focus on the real-world results of what you do that people can relate to that they may have experienced. What are those?”
“Hmm. Well, I run medical facilities offering MRIs and CT scans.”
That’s better already, because we can see what you’re saying. What you do is no longer vague, it’s visual. Plus, we probably know someone who’s had an MRI or CT scan, so now we can relate to it.
However, don’t stop there. When we tell people what we do, they say, “Oh,” which ends the conversation. We don’t want to end conversations, we want to open conversations. You can do that by asking a three-person question.”
“What’s this about a three-person question?”
“If you ask, ‘Have YOU ever had an MRI or a CT scan?”‘ and they haven’t, you’ve created a conversational cul de sac.
But if you ask, “Do you know anyone – could be a friend, family member, or someone at work – who’s ever had an MRI or a CT scan?” you give them options which increases the likelihood they know someone who has experienced what you do.”
“That makes sense. What next?”
“You listen. Imagine the person says, ‘I haven’t, but my daughter hurt her knee playing soccer.’
Confirm that connection by linking what you do to what they just said. You could say, ‘Well, I run the medical centers that provide MRIs like the one your daughter had when she hurt her knee.’
Their eyebrows will go up (a sure sign of intrigue) and they’ll probably say ‘Aaahh,” which is a lot better than an apathetic ‘Oh’ or a confused ‘Huh?’ It means they get what you do.
Now you can follow up by asking about her daughter’s knee and if she’s back playing soccer. You’ve just set up a mtually-interesting two-way conversation … all in under 60 seconds.”
Colleen sighed and said, “Why didn’t someone teach me this years ago? I can’t wait to share this with my staff.”
How about you? What do you say when people ask, “What do you do?” What do your employees or team members say?
Whether we like it or not, we will get asked this question for the rest of our life, everywhere we go. And what we say matters.
Think about the lost opportunity costs of Colleen’s inability to clearly, compellingly answer that question. She was surrounded by successful entrepreneurs, all in a position to partner with her or recommend her. But that wasn’t going to happen if they didn’t understand or value what she did.
Why is why, from now on, when people ask what you do, don’t tell them.
1. Ask a three part question. “Do you know anyone – could be yourself, a friend or a family member – who __________?” (and fill in the results of what you do they may have experienced.)
2. Listen to what they say. They’ll probably give an example of someone who has bought, used or benefitted from what you do.
3. Link what you do to what they just said. “Oh, we____ ” and fill in what your organiztion provides that they’ve experienced … using the same words they just used so they know you listened.
When you do this, you turn meaningless chit-chat into a mutually-meaningful conversation … all in under sixty seconds.
This can help you genuinely enjoy meeting people … all because you stop telling people what you do.
Try it. It works and it’s a win for all involved.
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Sam Horn is on a mission to help people create the life, work and relationships of their dreams. Her TEDx talks and books have been featured in New York Times, on NPR, and taught to Intel, Cisco, NASA, Capital One and YPO. This is excerpted from Sam’s Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention?