Or that they did get it, but they didn’t care?
Maybe you were talking to the wrong people.
A tree surgeon visiting a marine biologists’ convention probably won’t get very far whatever they say.
Putting that aside, the most likely reason nobody understands is that you’re not describing it properly.
If that’s the case, don’t worry, you’re in good company.
Most people screw it up badly to start off with. I certainly did.
And if you pay attention, you’ll see the same mistakes being made over and over again.
Here are five of the bloopers I’ve noticed most:
Mistake #1: “I am a…. “
I’ve put this one first, because it’s the answer most of us give. Which makes sense, because it sounds like a logical answer to the question.
Except it isn’t.
Because the when people ask “What Do You Do?”, that’s not what they really want to ask you.
The real question is “Why should I continue paying attention to you?”
Other person: “Why should I continue paying attention to you?”
You: “I’m a life coach/IT consultant/Project Manager.”
Doesn’t make quite so much sense now, does it?
Mistake #2: “We deliver by results via best-of-breed conversations throughout the value chain”
Corporate Jargon is a sort of anti-language. It allows us to exchange coherent-sounding noises without actually conveying any meaningful information whatsoever. Quite an achievement, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The worst thing about it is that it’s so insidious. You hear the nicest people suddenly dropping “moving forward” into an otherwise pleasant conversation.
Here’s a quick test to find out if your answer contains jargon. Write it down. Now give it to another person who doesn’t work in your industry, and ask them to tell you what it means.
If you get a blank stare, or something that you don’t recognise at all, you have a problem.
A confession: I am not immune to this. I went through a phase of overusing the word “leverage” a few months back, until I realised what I was doing and had to stab myself in the hand with a pair of scissors whenever I said it to make it stop.
You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve now completely stopped the word “leverage”, and am slowly regaining the use of my fingers.
Mistake #3: Answering with an essay
Another one that’s a favourite at networking events. If uncontrolled, it means that by the time of a table of 10 people have finished telling you what they do during a breakfast meeting, everyone’s wondering what’s for lunch.
It’s much easier to fall prey to this when you’re talking to a group, because you’re less likely to notice everyone’s eyes glazing over.
We make this mistake because we’re afraid that unless we cram in every. single. little. detail. about our business, someone might miss out.
In reality, the opposite is true. The more information you try to cram in, the less likely people are to retain any of what you’ve said.
If you want proof of this, try watching some prime-time TV commercials. Count how many messages the advertiser tries to fit in to their 30 second spot (hint: you’ll only need one finger to count on). Learn from them.
Mistake #4: “I um… ah… erm… sort of… you know”
A quick quiz for you. Which of the following impressions would you like to convey when a potential customer, whom you are meeting for the first time, asks “What Do You Do?”:
A. A confident, capable and likeable person who has given a lot of thought to their business, the sort of customers they can help best, and how to communicate this
B. Someone who has just decided to leave their job, hasn’t really nailed down what they do yet, and was hoping they wouldn’t have to answer this question
C. Hugh Grant caught in the midst of committing sexual impropriety
If it’s B or C, go right ahead with this one. Otherwise, you might want to try a different approach.
Mistake #5: Switching off your normal voice and turning into an infomercial
When I used to go to too many networking events, I would sometimes have nightmares about the world being taken over by zombies. This dream had a twist from the usual zombie apocalypse though: instead of trying to eat my brains they would force me into a corner me and pitch at me nonstop about their service for a hour.
One moment I’d a be talking to a normal human being, the next moment their eyes defocus, their expression goes slack and I’d be bearing the full brunt of a force 9 sales pitch.
It’s easy to spot if you’re guilty of this. Do people instantly remember a pressing commitment that they had previously forgotten when you approach them? If not, you’re probably safe.
How about you? What’s your ‘favourite’ mistake? Tell me in the comments!