How to deal with the ‘what do you do’ question. The fear behind the networking event introduction moment— and how to use a whole new approach to engage and intrigue your potential client or connection.
In a recent conversation with a client about networking fear, I dug down into why answering the question ‘what do you do’ was so excruciating!
The answer puts a slight twist on the obvious fear of not knowing how to put the answer clearly.
This is what my client said:
‘I think it’s about not being able to show who I am’.
I know that feeling.
If it resonates with you— read on.
I will briefly explore what lies behind this answer — and then crack on with an approach which should sort this issue and have you skipping and smiling into your next networking event!
The fear triggered by the question ‘what do you do?’
When someone asks you ‘what do you do’ by a stranger at a networking event there are many ways to respond.
These 3 response patterns create barriers.
The over-slick response. If you have a polished, scripted response that just cascades out of your mouth as soon as you hear the question — then bully for you! Might I add a word of warning though — you are not inviting instant rapport.
Most of us understand that a scripted answer will not always engage and will quite possibly bore.
‘Rabbit in headlights’ freeze. Your non-verbals might be interpreted as either stand-offish or out of your depth!
But it is not that surprising that you have gone into freeze mode — with a desire for flight mode. You have been put firmly into the spotlight.
When you ask someone a question, you trigger an unconscious flashback of their having been put on the spot earlier in life by a teacher, parent, or coach, and you create a syntactical ‘you versus me’ disconnect.
Verbal diarrhoea. A whirlwind of words envelops the questioner — creating confusion and no space to ask for more!
You can excuse it by saying you are enthusiastic, creative or wanting to inform them as much as possible — but… basically it disrespects the listener! They are none the wiser and might even judge you as being a bit ‘me me me’! (Which you are not.)
But why are we adopting ANY of these behaviours when trying to answer a perfectly simple question like ‘what do you do’?
There are a few reasons — all with ‘fear’ forming the foundation — but let’s focus on the ‘they won’t know who I am’ fear that my client described.
The inner script that stops you nailing your networking intro.
When asked ‘what do you do’, inside your head you are saying this:
I am a deeply complex and fascinating individual — nuanced and curious — still evolving and not keen on being labelled or put into a simple box. I do so many things both in my business and out of it — things that would take a year of getting to know you before you really understood. I have a history and I have quirks and questions.
If I try to sum up in 60 seconds — you might forever have a false impression of me and what I do.
I don’t want to risk that.
I also have a fear of being a disappointment!
There is nothing odd about this inner script.
You are human and you want to protect your identity. You find it hard to believe that people will come back for more — if we don’t get it all in right there and then we have blown our only chance.
This is understandable — but not the reality.
I promise you — they don’t need to understand your totality. They don’t expect to get to know you in 60 seconds. They just need to be engaged — intrigued.
They also need to feel that you are the kind of person they would like to talk more with. You have not come across as a robot or a garbled waffler.
Less is most definitely more when it comes to answering the ‘what do you do’ question.
In the first 20 seconds of talking, your light is green: your listener is liking you as long as your statement is relevant to the conversation and, hopefully, in service of the other person. But unless you are an extremely gifted raconteur, people who talk for more than roughly half a minute at a time are boring and often perceived as too chatty.
How to sort the ‘what do you do’ question fear.
I bring you the ART of engagement tactic.
leading to engagement.
Next time you are asked ‘what do you do’ with 60 seconds to respond — try the ART approach. Each step consists of part pre-planning and part context specific communication.
Attract your listener
Get their attention — cut through the ‘blah blah’ noise and the noise of pre-planning that is going on in their own head as they rehearse what to say when their turn comes!
Say something they don’t really expect.
I am NOT talking about deliberate ‘shock jock’ stuff — simply a fresh twist.
- Relevant crazy stat!
- Use a ‘benefit’ slant rather than a job description yawn.
- Make a surprising start — eg. ‘well — I have to admit I love what I do!’
Resonate with your listener
You have their attention — but it is easy to lose!
Now you need to make it about them — we all like it to be about us — be honest!
You know the most engaging photos are the ones with you in! You know the most engaging stories are the ones you can say — ‘me too’ to — in some way.
Explore this further in this video. For now — keep reading.
- ‘it’s a bit like what you do actually — but different!’
- ‘Have you ever seen/heard/been…. well….’
- I work with people who get really frustrated by xxxxx (something you know they will GET!)
Tempt your listener
Now your time is running out — don’t try and put the kitchen sink in! Remember the power of ‘less is more’. My background in performance has taught me that you should ideally ‘leave them wanting more’! Same with the opening episode of a Netflix series!
You just need to provide enough to get them intrigued — and then make sure they have a clear route to finding out more!
- I have an interesting approach to this — which I would love you to ask me about — but mustn’t hog any more time now!
- I am known as the ‘xxxxxxxx’ — but that’s a long story!
- I am a virtual coffee lover — hence the big button on my website — use it!
Think some of these things through in preparation — but don’t deliver in a scripted way — remember who you are talking to and where you are. Remember what is going on in the world. Be present.
Try combining these 3 ingredients in your answer — preferably in this order — and repeat this to yourself — ‘they will not expect to know my totality in 60 seconds.’
And finally — it isn’t all about you! You will have a huge impact simply by being a brilliant listener.
Be more interested than interesting.