Have you ever noticed how even the most introverted guests on talk shows always have such great stories? Is it because they have more charisma or can think better on their feet? No. These "impromptu" stories are well rehearsed. In fact, your favorite stars craft these stories days or even weeks in advance and then tell the show's producers so the host can ask the right questions. Is this cheating? Not at all. When you only have a few minutes on TV, you want to make sure you pack as much punch into the limited time you have. If this strategy can work for Brad Pitt and Jessica Alba on the Tonight Show, it can certainly work for you in job interviews and at cocktail parties.
If you're like the rest of us, there are two questions that you get asked daily that you completely blow: "What do you do?" and "How have you been?" These questions provide you with great opportunities to make meaningful connections and grow relationships.
This week, we'll tackle the ubiquitous "What do you do?" question that causes even the best of us to stumble. Rather than continue to muff this question, I'm going to show you how to make it TV worthy by helping you prepare a scripted, yet compelling response you can use over and over again. Keep these six tips in mind:
- Aim for 15 to 25 seconds. The typical response is less than two seconds (e.g., "I'm in insurance" or "I'm an executive assistant"), but you want your response to be 15 to 25 seconds in length. That's considerably longer than you're probably used to, and it may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but anything shorter than 15 seconds won't give you enough time to share everything you need.
- Focus on what, not where. It's okay to mention the company you work for, but you then have to follow it up with what you do there. Instead of saying "I work at IBM" or "I work for a real estate company," focus on what you do there. According to Dan Abelon, co-founder and president of SpeedDate.com (who better to ask about how to quickly make a great first impression?), he suggests describing what you do in terms of why it is important. For example, instead of "I'm an accountant at a hotel chain," say "As an accountant at a hotel chain I look for opportunities to save the company money and to make sure we manage our assets so we can continue to grow."
- Ditch titles. So you're the assistant vice president of operations? Sounds impressive, but nobody knows what that means. If you have an impressive title, feel free to share it, but immediately follow it up with a simple explanation.
- Keep it simple. In the 1993 film, Philadelphia, Denzel Washington's character asks throughout the film, "Explain it to me like I'm a six-year old." If you want to communicate effectively, pretend you're talking to a child. If you're worried you'll come across as insulting, you won't. You'll come across as refreshing and engaging.
- Get personal. Be sure to mention any hobbies you have, non-work projects in which you are involved, and/or charities where you volunteer. Also, don't be shy about briefly mentioning your family.
- Leave 'em hanging. The best responses are those that pique the listener's interest and that lead to more questions.
"I am a [job title] at [company name]. What this means is that I [describe what you do and why it is important]. When I'm not helping [reiterate who you serve], I love to [insert hobbies, passions, and/or information about your family]."
Here's an example of a good response:
"I am an executive assistant at ABC Company. What this means is that I make my boss look great by managing her calendar, keeping her organized, and helping her focus on the bigger goals. When I'm not helping my company grow, I love to go to the park with my three children, cook fancy French cuisine, and volunteer at Saddleback Church."
By answering the "What do you do?" question like this, you are giving the listener many more options to connect with you. Imagine you are casting a fishing line into the water. Think of each bit of information you provide as an extra hook. The more hooks your line has the more opportunities your listener can connect with you.
Mark Twain is quoted with saying, "I never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it." Now it's your turn. What do you do?
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