How to Answer the Question: So, what do you do?

networkingbyRedHead5147onFlickrI’m a speaker – have been for over 25 years (back then, I was carrying a book of condoms and a banana around teaching my college classmates how to protect themselves from the HIV virus).

Because I’ve been on stages and in front of rooms of people for so long, people often assume that I do not get nervous talking with others.

This is pretty far from the truth, frankly.

They say we teach what we need to learn.

I’m a classic case of that. Part of the reason that I began speaking all of those years ago is because I got so anxious talking with others.  I began speaking largely because I had such anxiety in new social situations (at the time, I didn’t know what an introvert was – and that I was one) and I simply wanted some really effective ways of dealing with that social anxiety.

Networking can be scarier than speaking

I’ll admit that all of these years of speaking have been a powerful teacher. While I get nervous before every presentation in front of a new audience, I have a lot of confidence in my ability to engage and inspire a room full of people when I speak.

But here’s the distinction: giving a presentation and standing in a small group of my peers are very different creatures.

It took me a lot longer to feel comfortable at a networking event, chatting in small groups of people I don’t know, than it did to get comfortable speaking (if comfort is the word you want to use for a love of speaking that still involves significant nerves).

While this may surprise you, think about the difference. When you are the speaker, you are automatically given some level of “prestige.” You are being held up as an expert in your topic area. Assuming you only speak on topics where you have masterful expertise (and I highly recommend this be the case), this feels right and good to you as well.

Why it’s so hard to talk to people at networking events

Networking does not give you this automatic advantage that speaking does (unless you are the speaker for the night as well). Walking into a room full of people, for many introverts (me included) or socially anxious people (me included) can be overwhelming. Heck, you don’t have to be an introvert or socially anxious to feel significant discomfort in this situation. Thoughts fill our heads like:

Where do I go first?

Why does everyone look like they know each other, except me?

I can’t just walk up to these people – they are clearly engaged in private conversations!

And then, of course, the real crux of the matter:

What will I say to them?!

It took me a lot longer, but I decided a few years ago to take this fear of talking with others at networking events head-on, too.

Now, I’ll admit, it’s still not as easy for me to walk up to a group of people I don’t know at an event as it is to be the speaker. And there is much to say about what has worked well in these “networking”* conversations that has nothing to do with what I actually say. As in all relationship building, how we listen and show genuine engagement is far more important than exactly what we say about ourselves.

But that’s all easy stuff because as a people-loving introvert, I love hearing about other people. The hard part was talking about myself in a way that serves my business as well as the new relationship I’m engaging.

That said, I’ve come up with a pretty reliable way to talk about what I do at these events. Just in case you struggle with talking about yourself that way I have, I’ll give you the “formula” so you can plug and play your particular details.

A formula for answering the question: “So, what do you do?”

Here is the formula I use – and I share with all of my clients as well:

What do you solve?

For whom do you solve it?

How will their lives be better after buying your stuff or working with/hiring you?

If you use this formula, you will have covered the essentials of a great Hello Intro. (Since I think “elevator speech” in no way represents this circumstance, Hello Intro is what I call the answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”)

But even with this great formula, your Hello Intro might still be pretty boring. Even if it’s not boring, it might not express powerfully enough just how awesome it would be to work with you. Which is why I recommend adding one more element: a sense of what it feels like to work with you.

Adding in the element of what it feels like to work with you isn’t as difficult as it might sound. You do this by word choice, analogy or even just the tone of your voice. The point is that when people feel inspired to work with you or refer you to a friend, a whole lot of that inspiration comes from the style of your communication, way beyond the words you say.

An example. My answer to the question: “So, what do you do?”

By way of example, let me tell you my answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

Let’s just play out the whole start of the conversation – just for fun :)

Lovely person at the event I’m attending: “Hello. Are you having a good time here tonight?”

Me: “I am, thank you. How about you?”

Lovely person at the event I’m attending: “I really am, thank you. So, what do you do for work?”

Me: (smiling at the invitation to share about my work) “I help women in business get what they want by stepping into their authentic, powerful voice.” (smiling again)

Lovely person at the event I’m attending: “Huh – interesting. How do you do that?”

Me: “Well… women come to me for three reasons: (tapping on my fingers to count them off) 1. They are frustrated at work because their ideas aren’t getting heard or acted upon in the ways they want, 2. They have a presentation coming up and they want it to be amazing (I’m a speaking coach), or 3. They own their own business and they realize they need way more clarity and confidence when they talk about their business and do presentations to magnetize clients.

Lovely person at the event I’m attending: “Well, that is very cool! I have a friend who is having that exact struggle in her work…” or “… wow, I really need you… ” (see, it works great! :))

Of course, I am quick to turn the conversation around and learn more about them. It is so important that we keep the emphasis on relationship-building, not on sales. Now is not the time to “sell” ourselves – the relationship is not ready for that yet. 

So, what do you think? Does this formula serve you in creating your own Hello Intro? Whether you like my formula or not, let’s hear your Hello Intro in the comments. I want to learn more about you. Plus, we can all benefit from hearing as many Hello Intros as possible to help us refine our own.

 

*I don’t like the term networking. It reminds me of a bunch of wires all connected together at a server in some cold corporate closet. I just haven’t come up with a better way to express this special kind of interaction. If you’ve got a better term, I’d love to hear it!

Thanks to Redhead 5147 on Flickr for this image that makes me think of one too many anxiety-inducing networking events of years past. Happy those years are over.

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh my goodness, I can relate! I am always 10x more comfortable in a speaking situation than networking one on one or in small groups at an event. Remembering that it’s about relationship building first helps. And having a great answer to “what do you do” helps too!
    Thanks!

  2. says

    Michelle, you’re the only other person I’ve so far encountered who uses one of my very favorite expressions: “How will their lives be better” as a result of working with you? This goes straight back to “people buy emotionally and justify rationally”. Great reminder!

    Also, thanks for reminding us that we really will meet lovely people at networking (and other) events. In fact, the more we expect to meet them, the more of them we’ll meet. (Don’t you love how that works? :))

  3. says

    How funny we each have our own “fears” around “talking” and “speaking”. To stand ion front of even 10 people i get wobbly needed and nauseous… But at networking functions, i have taken the fear out by not focusing on “getting leads”… I go in to make a friend! By doing this the pressure is off and if the conversation goes right… I have a new friend … and friends become an unpaid sales force!!

  4. Michelle Barry Franco says

    So true, Kelly. It’s those genuine friendships that develop from these meetings that make it all worth it (anxiety, included, in either situation) – both financially and personally.

  5. Michelle Barry Franco says

    Kindred spirits, Susannah :) That true connection focus really is the magic, isn’t it? And yes, knowing what you actually want to say when they ask what you do makes the whole thing feel so much easier and better. Then we can get on with the real connecting part, actually. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone!

  6. Michelle Barry Franco says

    So awesome, Kathleen! That’s one of my favorite expressions, too. It just automatically shifts the whole perspective on communicating. I like to ask it with speaking coaching clients often because it is so easy to get caught up in what we are planning to say – our goals and our intentions – that we can forget how to frame our whole message with their needs and wants at the heart. Of course, the best thing about asking this question of ourselves is that we are quite sure to captivate them when we answer this question powerfully and then craft our messages and make our connections accordingly!

    And finally, and very importantly – YES, I do love how it is so true that when we expect to meet lovely people we will, in fact, meet plenty of them. It’s a reliable, beautiful truth. Thank you for being here, Kathleen.

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