Why You Need to Suck Less at Explaining What You Do

How often do you get asked: “What do you do?” When you don’t have a ‘normal’ job, explaining what you ‘do’ can be tricky.

Yes, you may love your work (which is awesome) but being asked repeatedly to explain your business or your software or your collaboration project, then getting nothing but blank stares or polite nods can be frustrating.

YOU know what you do. And you know it’s awesome.

But when you start explaining it to someone else; especially someone from a different industry, you may struggle. And as your the person’s eyes glaze over, the conversation takes a downward spiral, until you ultimately give up.

We’ve all been there. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be that way!

You can learn how to effectively explain what you do, and avoid the blank looks, the polite nods and the furtive glances towards the nearest exit.

When you suck at explaining what you do, not only does it lead to awkward conversations (and subsequently less social confidence), but you also lose out on awesome opportunities to share your message and get what you want. I’ll say that again.

Every time someone asks “What do you do?”, it’s an opportunity to share your message and get what you want.

For example – maybe you want more customers or clients. Maybe you want new job opportunities or funding for your startup. Maybe you want to collaborate with someone on a project. Or maybe you simply want to spread the word about something you’re passionate about.

Whatever your message is, whenever someone asks about yourself or what you ‘do’ – this is a golden opportunity to share it; to give a mini ‘pitch’ for you and your business. So don’t waste it!

3 Ways to explain what you ‘do’

1. Never the naked occupation.

How often have you or heard someone rattle off a one or two-word title when asked: “What do you do”?
For example: “I’m a graphic designer” or “I’m a developer”.

I call this the ‘naked occupation’, ‘cos you’re leaving it stripped bare with no other information. The problem with this is it doesn’t lead the conversation anywhere. I mean, what if your conversation buddy doesn’t know anything about web development? They’ll politely say “Oh, ok…interesting”, which really means “I have no idea what that is.”

Read more: 5 Tips For Building A Great Visual Brand

The goal is to have a great conversation. Make it easy for the other person to follow up by adding something to your ‘naked’ occupation. For example, you could add an interesting fact, or expand on a project you’re working on, or even talk about something that you enjoy doing more. For example:

“I’m an architect – I actually worked on a part of this building we’re standing in!”“I’m a graphic designer – I’m currently working on a children’s book about climate change.”“I’m a bookkeeper by day, but when I’m not doing that, I play piano in a jazz band!”

You wouldn’t leave your house naked – that would be awkward for everyone. Similarly, to avoid an awkward conversation – don’t leave your occupation naked.

2. Show how you’re different.

There are loads of developers, accountants, designers, photographers etc out there. If you simply told me “I’m an accountant” I’d be thinking ‘Yay…so what? Why is that important?’

You need to show people how YOU are different to the rest. What makes you special? How do you help people? And why should they care?

For example: “I’m an accountant, I specialise in helping small business owners get their books in line, which saves them loads of stress at tax time.” If I’m a small business owner, I’d be thinking “Oh cool! You could help me!” or if not, I may think of someone I KNOW who could use your help.

It’s not about talking about how good you are – it’s about giving them an opportunity to better understand what you do.
Read more: The Art of Networking in a Shared Office Space

3. Eliminate jargon

I remember once hanging out with a friend and a group of her doctor/surgeon colleagues. They may as well have been speaking Swahili – I couldn’t contribute to the conversation at all.

The same applies to one-on-one conversations. Step into your conversation buddy’s shoes for a moment. If you’re using industry jargon, how are they supposed to understand or carry on the conversation with you?

You may have had this experience before, and may have even given up trying to explain. The other day, I asked a fellow Hub member what he does.

He replied, “I’m a systems integration architect” (whatever that means).

When I asked what his response would be if a non-industry person asked him, he paused for a moment.

Then said: “I’m a former ski racer with a bad back.”

I cracked up laughing. He decided it was too hard to attempt to explain his role, so he avoided the topic altogether.

If this sounds like you, try this simple formula: ask them a question to see if they relate to it, and go from there. For example: “Do you know when you do ____ and _____ happens? Well I work on the ____ that does ____.”

For example, I asked a friend who works at one of the big banks to explain what the hell his title ‘Quantitative Analyst’ meant.

He said, “You know when you go to a bank to apply for a home loan?”

Yeah. “Well, all your info goes into the system, and I work on the mathematical algorithm behind that system that determines whether you get the loan or not.”

Ohhh. That made sense. You see what I mean?

So get clarification from that person: “Do you know ____ ?”

If they don’t, keep simplifying it until you get a ‘yes’, then step them through it.

So there are some tips to get you started on your one sentence pitch. Don’t be afraid to try out different things to describe what you do – test them out, and see what works. Not only will you be having better conversations with less awkwardness, but you may also even find yourself with a new friend,  opportunity or even client!

Read more: 7 Ways A Small Business Community Can Help You Grow

Christina Canters

Christina Canters (@cjcanters) is a Melbourne-based speaker, coach and creative who helps Gen Ys be more effective at public speaking and communication. She believes anyone can learn to be more confident and communicate better, and she shows people how through group workshops, individual coaching and her podcast ‘Stand Out Get Noticed’ at thecmethod.com.

Hub Australia is home to hundreds of growing businesses and offers a community of motivated entrepreneurs to work alongside and collaborate with. If you want to be part of an inspiring network of businesses, contact us today.