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What do you do?

by | Jun 13, 2018 | Communication

Do you remember how you responded the last time you were asked the question – What do you do?

Last weekend I found myself in two very different situations with two quite different groups of people and I was fascinated by the difference in how those people present responded to the question.

On the face of it the two scenarios could not be further apart however there were a few similarities: They were both small groups of between 10 – 15 people, not everybody knew each other and both were assembled for a specific purpose.

Scenario #1 was a topic-based business breakfast meeting.

Scenario #2 was at a clay pigeon shooting range for my friend’s Stag Do.

At the shooting range, the instructor was a gruff ex-military with a sense of humour as dry as sandpaper and equally abrasive. He went round the group and asked us all what we do for a living, his aim was to find someone with the mental acuity to keep score but it felt more like an inquisition and so the responses were brief and to the point: Electrician, driver, project manager, bathroom fitter, carpenter, plumber…

I recognised pretty quickly that after a list of trades, explaining that I helped companies to reshape their visual brands might attract some derision so I opted for “marketing consultant” and we moved on swiftly to the next guy.

Later in the day I was chatting to one of the lads and he revealed that he wasn’t actually a plumber but that he ran a family business supplying commercial water softeners. He had opted for plumber for the same reason that I had opted for marketing consultant – in the context of the shooting range extensive exposition was unnecessary.

By contrast some of the introductions at the previous day’s breakfast group were expansive to say the least.
Lots of description, explanation, buzzwords and far too much talking.

So why should the two situations be so vastly different?

There are a few thoughts:

1. Context is important – Not every situation requires a sales pitch. Sometimes the other people around the room just need to know who you are.

2. Choose your words carefully – It can take a long time to find the right words to describe what you do in a way that resonates. Keep practicing and don’t just rely on buzzwords and catchphrases.

3. Keep it simple – In any situation, give just enough information to pique their interest and stop talking.
In many situations the more you talk the less they are listening

4. Speak to the problem – Rather than describing what you do, tell us what outcome we can expect from working with you (unless of course you have just been asked for your occupation see point 1)

5. Listen more than you speak – You can often gather more from what people don’t say than what they do.

What would you add to the list?

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