What a joy it was speaking for the ASHA Connect Conference in Minneapolis. I want to follow up on one of the ideas that seemed to resonate with many of you: why to never again tell people what you do. My example below demonstrates why this is so important. While speaking at an Inc.5000 event, I introduced the approach of replacing elevator speeches with elevator connections. An entrepreneur named Colleen raised her hand and said, “I can’t figure out how to do this for my business.”
I asked what she normally said when meeting people. She started explaining her job, using technical terms like magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. None of us had any idea what she did.
“Want to brainstorm a better way to answer the ‘What do you do?’ question?” I asked. She replied with a heartfelt “yes.”
“Okay, from now on, instead of explaining what you do (which is kind of like trying to explain electricity), focus on the real-world results of what you do that people understand or may have experienced. What are those?”
“Hmm. Well, I run medical facilities offering MRIs and CT scans,” she answered.
That’s better already, because we can mentally picture what you described. It’s no longer conceptual or highly technical. Plus, we probably know someone who had an MRI or CT scan, so now we relate to it.
Don’t stop there, however. If you tell people what you do, they’ll say, “Oh,” which ends the conversation. We don’t want to close conversations, we want to open conversations. You can accomplish this by asking a three-person question.
What’s this about a three-person question?
If you ask, “Have you ever had an MRI?” and this person hasn’t, then the conversation comes to an awkward dead end. But if you ask, “Have you, a friend or a family member ever had an MRI?” then you increase the likelihood they’ll relate to you and your organization.
Okay, what next?
You listen. Imagine the person says, “Yeah, my daughter hurt her knee playing soccer. She had an MRI.” Link what you do to what they just said. For example: “I run the medical facilities providing MRIs like the one your daughter had when she hurt her knee.”
They’ll probably say an intrigued “Aaahh,” which is a lot better than an apathetic “Oh” or a confused “Huh?” It means they get what you do and will more likely remember you. As a bonus, if they ever need what you do, they’re more likely to contact you because people like to do business with people they know.
Colleen then asked me why I repeated the phrases of my imaginary conversation partner. She worried about parroting someone. I’m not suggesting you repeat what someone says word for word, but using a few of the same words forms a connection through common language.
Colleen thanked me, sighed and said, “I wish someone had taught me this years ago. I can’t wait to get back to work and 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?
Think about it. Whether we like it or not, wherever we go, people we meet will ask, “What do you do?” And what we say matters. Colleen’s inability to answer this question at the Inc.5000 conference could mean millions of dollars in lost opportunity costs. She was surrounded by highly successful entrepreneurs, all in a position to partner with her, refer business to her or use her services. But it wasn’t going to happen if they don’t understand, remember or value what she does.
Many people tell me they hate this question, for a variety of reasons. They don’t know how to answer. They feel it pigeon-holes them or they don’t want to be defined by their job. They’re out of work. Or, they don’t have a position or profession people respect. Some tell me they dread networking, because they must endure a series of long-winded, boring, confusing elevator speeches.
I tell them, it might help to realize when people ask “What do you do?,” they’re really trying to connect. And this is why it’s so important to stop telling people what you do. Instead, try responding with, “I’d be happy to talk about what I do, but first may I find out more about you?” Giving other people an opportunity to go first conveys genuine interest in them. Also, you’ll likely discover something relevant you can use in your opening to reflect what you already know about them.
After the other person talks about themselves, you may want to say something like, “Do you know anyone who has challenges with speech or hearing? Perhaps someone got a concussion, was diagnosed with autism or experienced hearing loss?” (I’m not saying my example is perfect! Adapt to fit your work setting and the people you serve.)
Truly listen to their response and then link what you do to what they just said.
Voilà! You just created a two-way conversation more likely leading to a mutually meaningful connection. Furthermore, you acted as an ambassador for your profession, because the people you meet will understand and appreciate the work you do and the positive difference it makes for so many.
Sam Horn, founder and CEO of The Intrigue Agency, helps people create intriguing, respectful, collaborative communications and projects. She’s also written several books, including “POP!”, “Tongue Fu!”, “ConZentrate,” “Take the Bully by the Horns,” and her most recent title, “Got Your Attention? How to Create Intrigue and Connect with Anyone.”