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Introvert Networking: What to say when they ask “What do you do?”

Almost everyone dreads the “What do you do?” question, but introverts especially dread it. Introverts are wired for deep, meaningful conversations, not long stilted, memorized, canned responses, such as elevator speeches. So how can you quickly get to a deep, meaningful, substantive conversation at networking events? I recently went to a networking event, and when […]

57009169 - female hands holding sheet of paper, close up
57009169 - female hands holding sheet of paper, close up

Almost everyone dreads the “What do you do?” question, but introverts especially dread it.

Introverts are wired for deep, meaningful conversations, not long stilted, memorized, canned responses, such as elevator speeches.

So how can you quickly get to a deep, meaningful, substantive conversation at networking events?

I recently went to a networking event, and when someone I didn’t know introduced herself and asked “What do you do?” I tried out what I’m going to share with you here. It worked like a charm, and I enjoyed a meaningful conversation that led to other topics – and now I have a friend and referral partner.

Then I went up to a small knot of people and waited till they opened up the circle to let me in. After the usual round of introductions, someone asked, “What do you do?” When I responded, a lively discussion ensued.

Before I give the simple yet powerful answer, let’s review what your strategic goals are at networking events.

Your goals are twofold:

1) Build authentic relationships. You know that people need to know, like, and trust you before they’ll ever do business with you. So you want to feel relaxed and be authentic. As an introvert, you tend to feel more relaxed when having real conversations about things you’re passionate about – such as the big problem your business solves.

2) Get on people’s radar. You want people to remember you as the one who… (whatever your service is). You want to become known as the go-to person for people with the problem you solve. You want to be top of mind to people who can make a referral when someone asks them, “Do you know anyone who can help with…?”

Now, what did I say when people asked, “What do you do?” This happened to be an event where I wanted to get on people’s radar for corporate training in the area of introvert issues in the workplace.

My response was a one-sentence conversation-starting statement meant to intrigue. I replied,

“I help introverts thrive in the workplace so they don’t quit.”

This one sentence has a few things going for it:

  • It’s easy to remember. If I have to remember anything detailed, as an introvert I have trouble getting to the place in my memory where it’s stored because I’m so distracted by the outer sensory data coming in at me. (I get a pained expression on my face when I’m trying to tune out what’s going on and go inward to my memory – not a good look!)
  • It’s “conversational.” People responded as if I was making normal conversation and not spouting off a canned elevator pitch.
  • It opens people up so a meaningful discussion can happen. People instantly jumped in to add their impressions and to ask questions. The discussion quite naturally trended in the direction of the topics I’m passionate about: employee retention (why introverts just quit instead of speaking up), an invisible cultural diversity issue (extroverts vs introverts), the cost of losing talented employees and training new ones, as well as other workplace issues we all were interested in.
  • It includes the elements in a regular elevator pitch. While that 1-sentence conversation opener is informal sounding, it still contains the elements in a more stilted elevator speech: Who I help, what I help them do, and the result.

To give you another example of an intriguing 1-sentence opening statement that automatically leads to a meaningful conversation, for my introverted women solopreneur business, when someone asks “What do you do?” I say:

I help introverted women solopreneurs succeed from INSIDE their Comfort Zone.

You can imagine the lively discussion that ensues from that statement!

Now it’s your turn. Look at your elevator speech and see if you can pull from it to craft an intriguing 1-sentence conversation-opening statement that feels good to you.

I’d love to see what you come up with. Post it in the Comments for feedback & as a way of getting yourself on people’s radar – I’m all about natural networking for introverts! Alternatively, you can email me your draft statement and your thoughts at [email protected].

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