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How to answer "what do you do"?

“So what do you do?”

The question rang in my ears because I’d heard it at least a million times before and at least 15 times that morning already. It wasn’t a terrible feeling. I just remember the question standing out on that particular day because I’d made a choice. A few months earlier, I decided to answer the question differently.

If we are technical, we answer the question incorrectly anyway. Someone asks what we do and we give them a title.

“Hi Janet. So, what do you do?”

“Oh, I’m a real estate agent!”

Let’s look closely at this for a moment. The question asked about an action and the response gives a role.

I’m an IT professional.

I’m a digital marketing exec.

I’m a social media consultant.

I’m a venture capitalist.

We answer with who we are instead of what we do.

To be frank, “so what do you do” is my least favorite networking question. I prefer to ask about who you work with, who you serve, your latest project…anything different than the question you’ve heard hundreds of times already at that event.

But, I can’t change everyone. So, I decided to change my own answer.

When the question came, “Robert, so what do you do?”

“I help leaders deliver critical messages with confidence!”

I said it, smiled and waited.

“Wow, that’s awesome. How exactly do you do that?”

“Well, I do it in a variety of ways. In some cases, I work with a manager or director one on one to help them with their presentation confidence and delivery. In other cases, I deliver a workshop to an organization about presenting for influence and sometimes, I give keynotes at corporate or association events on communicating like a leader.”

We’ve just had an organic conversation where I’ve shared the ACTUAL answer to what they’ve asked and in a more interesting way.

Once I began to use this approach, another interesting side benefit occurred.

“Hey Marianne, I want you to meet Robert. You should ask him what he does.”

Because my response stood out, it made others interested. Let me add, it wasn’t just that I had a different response. I also made sure to have a confident delivery. My delivery had to match what I was saying. Imagine me saying I help people with confidence as I stumble over my words.

Can you say mismatch?

So, once I made the decision to switch my response, I had to practice it until I was comfortable with it. I ran it by my wife 18.5 times. I asked my kids to listen. I shared it with a mentor of mine. I asked some of my speaker friends to share their thoughts.

I took this response through the paces because I wanted it to have impact.

Enough about me and what I did.

What about you?

How to answer the question?

How can you turn your ‘do’ into an interesting conversation?

Create a picture. A title doesn’t create a picture. Action words create pictures.

Begin with what you do…help/serve/assist/empower/move.

Then, share who you do this for or with.

Now, what do you help/serve/assist/empower/move them with?

And what does it do for them? What result do they get?

Here’s what it looks like. See if you can fill in your statement

“I help ___(who)_____ ________(action/what)____________ by ____(result)____”

Now, they actually have a picture of you doing the work and the faces of your clients after their transformation.

I know. I know. I know!

“Robert, it’s easier just to say I’m an insurance broker!”

Yes, it IS easier. But, is it more interesting? Does it establish a Know-Like-Trust factor more quickly? Does it differentiate you from everyone else in the room? Does it cause them to lean in and go deeper after you respond or do they simply begin to talk about themselves after? Or worse, do they just walk away?

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