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A Set of Words that you can use in 98% of Conversations with a Stranger

strangerThis post is a response to a question that you will always be asked, yet fail to find a suitable answer for. We all meet strangers on a regular basis, be it in a hotel lobby, a reception area, networking events, perhaps a social gathering or a dinner party. When we meet people in these scenarios, there’s one question that we are always asked yet we fail to have a response. That question is:

“So what do you do then?”

We know that question is coming, yet so often it’s answered in a very ‘kind of’ non-descript way. It’s either a direct response or your job title. You say you’re an accountant, a graphic designer, you work in construction.  However you choose to answer that question, it’s a one-word conversation stopper.

Before I give you the set of words to answer that question, you need to understand why somebody asked it. For me, there are a couple of reasons: one is that they may have been looking to find out what it is that you do so that they can see if there’s an opportunity for them to introduce a product or service they can sell to you.

The second and most common reason that people use that question is because they’ve run out of anything to say and it was a stock question they could respond with that allowed the conversation to continue. So if you reply to that question with a one-word answer, like your job title, then it becomes a conversation killer, unless they’re looking to sell to you or have an immediate need for that particular specialist. The other way that we choose to respond to that question, as opposed to a one-word answer, is to spend the next 2 to 3 minutes giving them a presentation or a sales pitch about our business and what it is that we do. I’m pretty sure that’s not the reason that they asked the question.  We haven’t yet earned the permission to push our products and services on to people.

“How do you help people?”

The next time somebody asks you “so what do you do, then?” I want you to hear the question “How do you help people?” That allows you to be more elaborate. An example: I was speaking to an accountant the other day and he responds to the question with the words “Well, I help local business owners ensure they don’t pay a penny more in tax than they need to.” The response is more descriptive and friendly. It explains the fact that the people who he helps are local business owners. It explains the results of what he does as opposed to how he goes about doing it. What this means is that if they want to know more, they follow with the response “So how do you do that, then?” That becomes your license to talk more about you and your business to present a solution. Until you’ve had those words, then carry on having conversations with people that are polite and friendly. Please don’t go pushing your products and services on people until they’ve invited you to do so. When somebody says to you “So what do you do, then?” rephrase the question to how you help people, answer that question instead of explaining who the people are that you help and what the results are of the work that you do with them. That will keep the conversation going. It will create more opportunity, and people will leave with a better understanding or explanation of what it is that makes you different from your competitors, rather than them pigeonholing you into a particular product or service.