Explain Yourself

Last Updated Jul 6, 2011 3:22 AM EDT

It's scary how regularly I hear someone try to explain the nature of their work only to get themselves all hot and flustered. Maybe it's happened to you. Thought so.

If we are to successfully develop word-of-mouth opportunities and recruit supporters, it's crucial we develop the means of being understood. Really understood.

Too often when we meet new people and are asked what we do, we go for one of these responses:

  1. The simple response: "I'm a landscape designer."
  2. The baffling response: "I'm an environmental specialist concerned with horticultural planning and its impact on global sustainability."
Both are fabulous conversation stoppers. If you're really lucky the first will elicit a response like "Oh, that sounds interesting" --- which it clearly doesn't; the second is more likely to be met with stunned silence or a change of topic towards weather and sport.

To stand a chance of being understood we must use language that is interesting and that invites the continuance of relevant conversation. If we get shifted over to weather and sport too early in the piece, we may well begin a relationship, but we risk being that "nice person who does something with environments".

Trying to steer a conversation back to where you'd prefer it to be can be very challenging. A nifty little exercise I've being doing of late at Flying Solo is to ask business owners to rehearse words that can be easily understood by an eight year old. This precludes the use of jargon and demands that language be clear, straightforward and interesting.

The next challenge is to use language that elicits a reaction like "Oh, how do you do that?" as this allows us to introduce our processes and really get into the meaty side of what we do.

Let's get our landscape designer over here for a second attempt:

RG: "Hello, what do you do?"

LD: "I create beautiful outdoor spaces for people who like to relax at home."

Get the picture? Of course you do. So go and buy a packet of wine gums and sit yourself down with a friendly child. When you've found something that works, post it here and we'll see what the other kids make of it.

  • Robert Gerrish

    Robert Gerrish is a coach, author and professional speaker and the founder of Flying Solo (www.flyingsolo.com.au), the Australian online community for solo business owners.