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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Networking Skills: 3 Tips To Answer ''What Do You Do?''

Fight, flight or freeze ...


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 27/01/2021 @ 8:00AM

What’s the most common opening question you get asked when you attend a business networking event? After exchanging names, I bet you get asked, "What do you do?". Answering is a basic networking skill ...

The question ''what do you do?'' can cause a fight, flight or freeze response!

The question ''what do you do?'' can cause a fight, flight or freeze response!

copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123rf stock photo

For most of you who are new to networking, this is the first challenge, and many who have been networking for some time still have a nagging feeling they haven’t bottomed it yet.

"So what's the problem?"

If we’ve set up a business, we all know what we do, what products we sell and what services we are offering. What makes it so hard to tell others when they ask?

I believe that two things get in the way:

  • First, we believe that we have to have a clever answer that astounds our audience.

  • Secondly we fear we don't have that clever answer and will make a fool of ourselves in front of all these new people who we are trying to impress. Two fears in one! A double whammy, especially for the English who are conditioned from childhood to hearing two strong messages: "Don't talk to strangers" and, "Don't blow your own trumpet".

Before you have time to answer rationally to the question of, "What do you do?", your unconscious brain has already reacted as if it was a threat. It prepares your body to respond with a rich cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters that prepares you to deal with that threat both physically and mentally.

You have probably heard it called the 'Fight or Flight' response which evolution designed for real physical dangers to your life, in this case, a potentially dangerous stranger.

"So you programmed to either attack them
or run away!"

Now, neither of those responses are appropriate to a polite question asked over coffee in a meeting room in your local hotel, and even less so when asked to stand up and formally explain what you do to 30 plus people.

However, your brain is now on alert and focused on the threat so has no capacity to introduce new ideas or thoughts. Although you 'know' the danger is not real, your brain still acts like it is and this can come out in how you answer the question.

See if you recognise any of these from your experience in asking others what they do. I have caricatured the response to make the point, but in some cases not by much!

  • Fight mode makes people louder, very direct, 'in your face' or even come across as aggressive. They answer with a full-on sales monologue or polished elevator speech using lots of long, convoluted words or jargon. It’s delivered at you,with no pauses for you to participate. You feel a bit shell-shocked by the end.

  • If they can’t run away, flight mode makes people retreat into themselves. They look away. Even move backwards and their answer is hesitant, vague, rambling and may even be full of apologies. You often find you still have no idea what they do when they finish. Alternatively, they dodge the question altogether and just tell you their job title. "I’m an accountant" or "I’m a change consultant".

  • I believe there is a third response to this unconscious fear and it’s the most painful to watch in others or experience yourself. It arises when the brain simply knows you cannot pick a fight or run away. The brain switches off, and you freeze. "Like a rabbit in the headlights" is the phrase that comes to mind here. I still blush when I think back to my first networking event, and the 20 minutes it took for me to join in with the other participants.

So I have three tips for you today to deal with this.

Be kind to your fellow networkers and help out those who are in a fight, flight or freeze mode. Take the pressure off by opening with some neutral questions to make them feel at ease.

People laugh about the English always talking about the weather, but the purpose of this as an opener is that it’s non-threatening and agreeing that yes, it is a bit chilly today creates a starter bond that enables the other person to relax. They will remember you as the person who helped them fit in.

Next, be prepared to answer the question, ""What do you do?" in two ways. First informally when you meet people, and secondly, as a succinct statement to start your 45-60 second presentation to the room or table. I recommend you do this in one sentence and then pause to let the other person ask you further questions.

And when you're formally presenting to the room? Well, I am indebted to Andy Bounds, author of the Jelly Effect for this tip. He reminds us that what people want to know is what you do for your customers. As he puts it, what the customer has as a result of working with you.

"He also advocates that you say this first before talking about yourself or your services!"

To crystalise this in your mind, finish this sentence: "After working with me, my clients ..." You don’t have to say all this preamble every time, you can shorten it. So my version is, "My clients know how to get more - a lot more - introductions to their ideal clients.".

Of course, the usual response to this is, "How do you do that?" to which I explain that I teach them a unique referral marketing strategy and then support them to apply it in their own business.

An alternative I use informally when talking over coffee at the networking event is "I teach people how to turn events like this into regular money" which works better for some people.

Lastly, practice it over and over again with your family and friends until it just comes out naturally. Remember, if you’re really nervous, your brain just isn’t capable of working out what to say at that moment so what comes out of your mouth is what is already in your brain!

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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