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3 Steps to answer: "So What Do You Do?"

17 August 2015

You’ve arrived at a networking event, checked in at the registration table and now turn your attention to the room. As you scan the crowd, someone approaches, greets you by name after a quick glance at your name tag and then asks THAT question… “So tell me, what do you do?” 

It’s a curious thing, the question we ask is not really the question we want answered. We’re more interested in the problem you solve, why we’d work with you, your approach to what you do, your uniqueness, your position and if you’re any good.

As much as we’re consciously on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate and build meaningful alliances, subconsciously our wiring for survival is also gauging the extent of WIIFM (what's in it for me). 

Our response to this question is a litmus test for how well we articulate the value we provide to the organisations and individuals we work with. Unless we’ve put some thought into our response, we might be missing an opportunity to connect and communicate meaningfully with the person in front of us. 

Our response typically spans one of six areas reflecting our default thinking style: pleasure, pain, position, peculiarity, passion and purpose. These convey what we’re about.

A response with a pleasure focus creates desire and happiness, a pain focused response adds value through removing frustration. 

Leading with position communicates authority, possibly prestige or established history and communicates a safe choice. A focus on peculiarity captures attention, stimulates thinking and communicates innovation. 

The value of passion is through engaging emotion. A word on passion, most people can detect inauthenticity a mile off, so only lead with this if it’s genuine. For example if I'm not passionate about golf you’re probably going to notice if I pretend to be. Leading with purpose, communicates meaning and creates connection with a cause bigger than the person or organisation.

The first step is get clear on what value specifically you or your products/ services deliver and what your angle is for  communicating this, for example pleasure or pain. Next assess the context - a networking event might provide a 20-second window to communicate your message, compared with sitting next to someone at a casual dinner versus a media interview. The context guides how formal or casual your response is as well as an appropriate length. Finally, play with the following formula: what you do (from above), with whom and why (outcome). For example I design backyard spaces to bring families together or I build websites that capture and convert for financial service businesses.

Is your focus more about creating happiness, building trust, solving problems, being different, making the world a better place or inspiring others? The clearer our message, the easier it is to market not only what we do, but more importantly, the value this contributes to others. 

I invite you to shift the perspective to how we add value rather than what we do, by simply asking "What are you passionate about?" rather than "What do you do?" at your next networking experience.

Here's to clearer communication!

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