how to answer the question “what do you do?” without boozing, sleazing, or wanting to die (part 2)

how to answer the question “what do you do?” without boozing, sleazing, or wanting to die (part 2)

The holidays are upon us, and you know what that means…huge dinners, road trips, and meeting new people at parties!
I got a jumpstart on family visits when I drove to New Jersey to celebrate my birthday. We went into NYC and saw An American in Paris on Broadway! 
mom patty and elizabeth derby in nyc at thanksgiving
My sister and mom and me in Times Square. Can you tell I’m a bit under the weather?
On my actual birthday, I lost my voice, which meant I could spend a truly lovely, quiet evening at home. My boyfriend made me brownie batter and I binge-read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea under a blanket on the couch.

Whether you’re intentionally pounding the pavement or not, you’ll likely make the rounds this season.

So here are my 6 tricks for building YOUR easy, authentic answer when somebody asks, “What do you do?”

1. Ignore the voice that says, “You’ve got to get this right!”
No you don’t. Seriously. Unless you’re pitching your dream biz partner or a room full of potential investors, this is a not one-shot deal.
Think of every get-together as an opportunity to practice speaking like the lovely, engaging human you are.
Pay attention as you talk, though. Notice what words resonate with whom.For example, I’ve noticed that the word “storytelling” is HUGE in the entrepreneurial community. In a crowd of small business owners, I’ll say, “I do storytelling for marketing and branding” and get a nice response.

2. Make an amazing impression before the Q&A starts.

Awkwardness abounds at parties. Get a leg up by breaking the ice. Not only will you set others at ease, you’ll make everyone more receptive to hearing your big idea.

Swipe these simple acts of excellence: 

  • Smile whenever you make eye contact.
  • Say hello first.
  • Ask curious questions.
  • Listen.
  • Start a conversation with the person standing alone in the corner.
  • Be the first to share a funny or personal detail from your life. (Your favorite book of the moment? A joke you heard recently? Your appreciation for the resurgence of velvet?)
 Essentially, go out of your way to be show genuine interest with everyone you meet.

In life as in copywriting, make your audience feel interesting and they will find YOU interesting. Remember, people remember how you made them feel…not what you said.

3. Nix the idea of selling yourself. Start a conversation instead.

When someone asks, “What do you do?” she’s trying to be polite. She doesn’t want to make your head spin; she’s just looking for a safe way to start a conversation.

So the next time you hear it, take a deep breath and remember: We’re both here to have fun. My pitch is an opportunity to explore common interests in my field of expertise

Truth is, you won’t sell anything at a networking event. Nobody is whipping out her credit card.

Remember that networking = getting to know people through genuine conversation.
That’s it.
When you take this approach, you’ll sow the seeds for future partnerships without really trying. It will become obvious (quickly) whether or not you and someone else are good fits for one another.So officially and forevermore, I give you permission to ease off the icky “must sell now” mentality and coast into a feel good “here’s what’s up” convo.

4. Back away from the job title.

During casual introductions, most people lean on their job title to do the work for them. But let’s be honest, nobody knows what your job title means.

It’s like when you introduce yourself to someone who says, “I’m a program matrix manager” and you’re nodding, yet totally mystified. You start to question your sanity and intelligence and nobody likes that.

Most titles are confusing, jargon-heavy non-starters. Avoid them.
The only two times you should use your job title:
  1. When your conversational partner works in your industry. Maybe you’re both transformational coaches, for example. In that case, you’re off to the races and don’t need my help.
  2. When you’ve got a title that conjures a concrete image.  So if you’re a doctor, a teacher, or an astronaut, you can say “I’m a doctor/teacher/astronaut.” At this point, you’ve given them enough info to a) understand what you do and b) start a conversation.

But assuming you two do NOT share an industry and you DO have a title that sounds vague, stiff, or boring (i.e. consultant, coach, manager, etc.), try to avoid saying your title. Nobody knows what it means anyway.

But wait?? If you don’t provide the standard [insert job title here], what ARE you supposed to lead with?

Glad you asked.

5. Link your area of expertise to a subject of common interest. 

Instead of a job title, provide CONTEXT.

To make it easy for strangers to understand what you do, you need to ground them somewhere familiar, then introduce an unfamiliar idea (i.e. your work).

Describe a situation they already know, then introduce your work in the context of that picture.
Let’s practice right now.
Ask yourself the following questions and write down whatever idea comes out first.
  1. What universal problems do you address in your work?
  2. What universal desire or goal do you help people achieve?
  3. What common situations, current events, or celebrities operate in your field of expertise?
Now fill in the corresponding blanks:
  1. You know how most people struggle to ______? I help people do that.
  2. You know how most people want to ______? I help people do that.
  3. You know  ______? I do something like that.

Here’s an example.

Let’s pretend I’m a story strategist (whatever that means!), and I’m talking to a fellow entrepreneur.

If I want to focus on the problem I solve (the ickiness of self-promotion), I can say:
“You know how most people feel sort of sleazy when they think about promoting themselves or their work? I help people do that. Specifically, I help them talk and write from the heart so they feel comfortable communicating their value.”
If I want to focus instead on what I help people achieve, I might say:
“You know how people can reach a certain level in business and then they want to start teaching, giving speeches, writing books, etc.? I help them do that by getting them clear on their stories and big ideas.”
If you want, take a few minutes to brainstorm now. How does your job relate to strangers? To online entrepreneurs? To moms? To teenagers?

Think about potential peeps you might meet in your travels and take it from there.

6. Let your passion shine.

Most people haaaate their jobs. But not you and me! We Love Our Work, so this is where we really soar.

So after you used Step 5 to give a big picture impression about what you do, pause to see if your partner has any questions.

Is he or she is intrigued? Then rock and roll! If not, DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP. As long as you’ve communicated what you do clearly, you haven’t missed out on potential partnerships. Remember, not everybody needs exactly what you offer, and it’s not your job to manufacture someone else’s enthusiasm or interests. 🙂
Ready to explain yourself in a little bit more detail? Use my FAVORITE transitional phrase, “I love it because…”
Let your enthusiasm shine. Having fun is the single biggest trick for helping other people fall in love with you, so use it!

Once you’ve gushed about your own interests, you can swing it back to them with the easiest softball of all: “So what do you love to do?”

So there you have it: my 6 steps for how to answer the questions, “What do you do?” when you’re a coach, consultant, or creative in a (sometimes confusing) career. 
So what do you think? Will you give it a whirl?
I’d love to know…and I’d love to help if you’re still feeling stuck! Just ask any questions that pop to mind in the comments below.  And have fun with your next standout intro!
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Stop boring the pants off your readers. You're way too fun for that.