Conversational Skills

Networking 101- What to say when someone asks what you do?

It’s a scene that happens so often.  You’re chatting and having a lovely time at a work event. The someone asks you what you do. What do you do? There are, broadly,  3 options available-

  1. Start talking about you and notice that after 45 seconds your questioner has glazed over and moved into ‘I’ll keep on nodding my head, but I have no idea what this person is saying…’ mode.
  2. Say something, anything, and hope it sounds OK. Same result as 1 but the other person’s face also has confusion written all over it.
  3. Say something interesting and brief that ends with a question right back at the other person.

Opiton 3 is nearly always the right answer early in a networking relationship. My answer when asked is mostly a variation on – ‘ I run a couple of businesses, marketing and online retail, what about you…?’ Then I’ll be fascinated by them and stroke and double-click like a crazy, because I want them to know that I’m more interested in them than me. And for those minutes or hours, I am.

Inexperienced networkers think that they can ‘busk this’, or talk about an ‘elevator pitch‘, which is often abstract, self-obsessed and too long. Bores and the nervous will tend to assume that people will be fascinated and start talking.

Option 3- is the most polite, generous approach to networking and just remember that the time for detail is when you know the other person is really interested in your answer, not just being polite. Then you can say what you like and they’ll forgive you. Do that in the first minute of meeting someone, they’ll be looking for the door.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
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