When it comes to meeting new people be it at a dinner, on a plane or at a party, ‘what do you do?’ is without doubt the most frequently asked question. Yes, it’s a standard icebreaker but it’s also a qualifier to see if there is potential to do business with the person standing before us.
Most people underestimate the power of this question and trot out an unrehearsed, unprepared line such as ‘Hi, my name’s Katie. Yeah, no. I, err, do a bit of this, a bit of that. Keep out of trouble, y’know.’ Not particularly helpful in building a credibility statement.
Or they say “I work for Boring Incorporated in HR” and leave it at that. Again, not much help in terms of giving the other person a handle on how to get the conversation going.
The answer to the question of ‘what do you do’ is a golden opportunity to steer the conversation in a way that helps the other person understand what you offer and as such, create the potential to do business together.
In other words, they don’t focus on what they do but on who they work with and how they help those people.
For example, a career coach might say:
“I help jaded school teachers find new careers that they’re excited about.”
A personal trainer introduces himself with:
“I help mothers with post-natal depression get fit and healthy so they can reduce or eliminate the need for medication.”
An accountant demonstrates her value by saying:
“I help high-profile actors and sports people maximise their tax deductions legally so they can make more money.”
As you can see, to make this introduction, or as it’s commonly known ‘the elevator pitch’ work effectively, the business owner needs to know who they service, what they offer and what benefits they provide.
In principle, this sounds simple but like synchronised swimming, actually doing it is much harder than it looks.
So what’s so hard about coming up with a 30-second statement?
Coming up with a one-liner that describes what you do is tough because distilling everything you do into one or two sentences presumes that you’ve answered a whole series of other higher order questions such as: What do you sell? Who to? For how much? Why do they buy from you? How are you different? and a lot more besides. It takes a lot of thinking to come up with a few words, or as Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.”
The art of refining your pitch is called ‘knowing your story’ and without it, it’s practically impossible to position yourself in the market, get traction in the media or create a community.
Case study: Neryl Joyce, Mercenary Mum:
When Neryl Joyce wanted to launch her professional speaking career, she knew what her one-liner was and because of that, became an instant media sensation that saw her booked on practically every TV talk show across the country. Her unique selling proposition was that she was a single mum who left her job as a check-out chick at Woolworths, became a solider in the Australian army and then went to Baghdad as a protective services officer to guard senior figures in the military. When she came back from Iraq, she wrote a book about her experience, Mercenary Mum, and spruiked it on the TV shows. Here’s the angle that virtually every show ran with:
▪ Babies, bullets and Baghdad: meet Australia’s Mercenary Mum!
▪ Mercenary Mum becomes a Baghdad bodyguard!
▪ From checkout chick to Mercenary Mum!
Notice how “Mercenary Mum” turns up in every headline? Was that by accident? No. Neryl knew her point of difference so she played it up – just as well too, because that is exactly what the media grabbed and ran with every single time.
So if you had to describe your one-liner, what would it be? It’s worth spending time on it because when you know what that is, you can promote it and get the word out in a congruent and convincing way.
It’s also worth spending time on it because it’s safe to say that for the foreseeable future, the question we are most likely to be asked no matter where we are or what we’re doing, will be ‘what do you do?’
Break out box:
Here are the top 7 secrets to creating a successful elevator pitch:
- Keep it to one or two sentences.
- Describe what you have done, rather than what you will do.
- Keep your product names out of the sentences.
- Don’t over-think or over-complicate.
- Solve a problem for people.
- Use words everyone understands.
- Write it for one person, not a group.
About the Author:
Written by online marketing strategist Bernadette Schwerdt.