How to Talk About What you Do


How to Talk about What you DoWe all hate it, right?  You are invited to a networking function, and you’re introduced to new people.  You know it’s coming but you have no way of stopping it… the new acquaintance opens their mouth and out it comes: “so what do you do?”.  And then you say…

“aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” – at least, on the inside.  This is your natural response because you know that your answer is rubbish, and you once read a marketing text that said you needed to develop an “elevator speech”, but you never have and so you’re stuck with the standard response.

To them, you say “oh – I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a law student”.  The conversation immediately stifles because neither you nor they have a clue what to say next in response to such a profound answer.

This article is about how to describe what you do to other people.

Make What you Do the Start of a Conversation – Not the End

One way of answer the “what do you do” question is to ask another question.

The point here is to direct the conversation towards an opportunity for you to talk about what you actually do and who you actually help rather than the label attached to your profession.

Saying “I’m a lawyer” serves no purpose.  For starters, many people you meet at networking functions will already know you’re a lawyer – so you need a better answer.

However, what if instead of saying “I’m a lawyer” you might say (if you were me) “well, Bob, you know it’s a bit of a dog eat dog world out there in business, don’t you?”  To which Bob would say something useful like “sure Chris, why do you ask?”  and I would respond “when one dog gets in a fight with another about the same business food bowl, that’s where I come in to help them sort it out”.

Stupid example, obviously, but you see the point – my response to the question was another question, designed to direct the conversation towards my area of work (or one of them) and actually continue the conversation rather than bring it to a close.

Be Positive – But Not Weird

If you can’t respond positively to the standard raft of “what do you do” questions then you are in trouble.  In fact, you shouldn’t be going to a networking function at all if you can’t be positive about yourself, your work, and your firm. Just stay home because you’re doing more damage than good.

On the flip side, don’t go all bright-eyed and zealot like when talking about your firm – it freaks people out and makes you look more like a cult devotee than a lawyer.

No – remain positive, have a good explanation for what you do, who you help and why you do it.  Had anything interesting happen recently that you are able to talk about (the range of this is surprisingly limited) – then do it.

Don’t Change the Topic

It’s true that people don’t want to hear you waffle on for an hour about your area of practice, but likewise if you are lucky enough to be asked “what do you do” then a good answer and a couple of minutes discussion will really help solidify a proper understanding of where your conversation partner can fit in to your practice (or maybe somebody they know might).

Lots of people immediately shy away from “what do you do” and deflect the conversation on to something else.  It’s a wasted opportunity, and principally it’s because they know they don’t have a good grasp of how to answer the question without sounding either boring or odd.

Don’t Sound Like a Marketing Textbook

We’ve all met this person – they say all the right things, do all the right things, they always swap business cards and follow up with an email sending you an article that they “thought you might find interesting” the next morning.  Then they do it again next time, and the next, and the next – until you realise you’re caught in some kind of strange professional services groundhog day.

Authenticity is still key here.  That might mean to get used to some of your conversation methods you need to practice them a bit – sure, you might face a few embarrassing situations but the more comfortable you are with discussing what you do, the more authentic you will come off.  Start with a mirror if you have to.

Good luck with your next marketing function – I look forward to hearing how you go.

Happy lawyering!