“So what do you do?”
No one ever has a good answer to this. I don’t. I’m so unprepared for this question, that I give a different answer every time. I ramble on. I’m boring. To stop myself from talking I ask the other person what they do. I then proceed to think about what I should have said, and completely miss their response.
What do you do?
I decided to research the problem.
I came across Clay Hebert, who “helps leaders, executives and entrepreneurs tell better stories, fund their dreams and do work that matters,” according to his Twitter profile.
Marketing is about understanding how your customers want to feel…and then giving them stories and products and services that help them feel that way.
Word of mouth is about those stories being portable stories that are easy to spread.
It’s that simple. And that hard.
— Clay Hebert (@clayhebert) October 20, 2018
He shares a formula in talks that has worked extremely well for me and for our private clients at Leadstream. In this post, I want to share the building blocks of that formula. But first, let us dispell a few myths about introducing yourself.
Myths About Introducing Yourself
There are three myths that dictate how we typically answer the question, “so what do you do?”
Myth I – It’s about you
Our default stance in the world is that everything revolves around us. As a result of this, we tend to default to thinking that someone asking, “so what do you do?”, means they want to know about us. So we make it about us. We tell our life story, our reasons and motivations for why we do what we do. But no one cares about that. Everyone else is just like us. Their default state is that the world revolves around them. What they mostly care about is how what you do impacts them.
Myth II – It should be 100% complete
How could people possibly understand us if we don’t give them the full picture? I used to start every answer with some version of my move from South Africa to the United States. This is a big part of my identity, and I felt I needed to make it explicit so the person asking could understand my unique and intriguing perspective in the world. Only, I wasn’t creating intrigue. You can tell from my accent. That’s creating intrigue. In most meetings, the other person asks about it anyway. More on creating intrigue later.
Myth III – It should be 100% accurate
Our desire to be accurate forces us to be boring. We use boring words like industry jargon, because, you know, that is what the thing is called! We give exact dates (how many times have you been part of a conversation that stalls as one person tries to remember an irrelevant date?) because people need context!
These myths have one thing in common: they don’t take the needs of the person asking the question into account. We filter our answer through our own view of the world and end up giving a response that fails to hit the mark. It fails to create intrigue. It keeps conversations short.
A better way to approach this is to prepare. To take into account who we are talking to and serve their needs (and even desires). To create intrigue. Clay Hebert has a helpful formula for this.
The Perfect Intro Formula
The perfect intro formula starts, somewhat ironically, with “I”. But you then flip the usual next word (e.g. “I do”, “I am”) into something that makes it about them – “I help”. Who do you help? Describe this person in a way that includes the person you’re talking to – “I help business owners”, or “I help marketing executives”. Finally, describe what you help them do. What is the result you help them achieve? What do you help them become?
You perfect intro formula, therefore, looks like this.
Rules For The Perfect Intro Formula
There are a few rules we need to explore for using this formula.
Everyone’s industry is filled with jargon and buzzwords. The trouble is, they’re not familiar to people outside your industry, They also tend to be long-winded, and soporific! Instead of saying, “I help entrepreneurs leverage market inefficiencies to generate outsize returns”, you could simply say, “I help entrepreneurs jump on 10x opportunities.”
For my business, I could say “I help business owners generate leads at scale to grow their business.” (I did say that).
Now I say, “I introduce people to their next customers.” (“People” may sound generic, and it is, but more on customizing this to come).
Use as few words as possible
When I’m crafting my intros, I tend to think in verses. I’m a big fan of rap and I love listening for the rhythm, or meter, of a spoken sentence. In rap, it’s essential to stay on the beat and emcees do this by stressing syllables in time to the four beats of the musical backdrop, mixing up rhythms of the intervening syllables to provide variety and surprise.
Think of your intro as one line in a rap verse or a song. Reduce the number of 4-syllable words wherever you can and as a rule of thumb, aim for about 6-8 words in total.
This is especially true when you introduce yourself on LinkedIn. Most people will read it on their phones and don’t want to scroll through line after line of text.
Intrigue over information
Remember, the goal here is to create intrigue. Get your listener interested in what you do. Don’t explain everything to them. Rather give them enough to pique their interest so they ask you for more information. That leads to dialogue. That creates a conversation. And we (you and your listener) are all far more comfortable in conversation.
There Is No Perfect Intro
Wait, what? You just gave me a formula for the perfect intro?
I know, this sounds counter-intuitive, but you now have the building blocks for creating multiple perfect intros. You see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach here. You have to adapt your introduction to who you’re talking to and keep it fresh. The good thing is, it’s much easier to do once you have your basic building blocks in place.
Customize for different audiences
In this case, play around with the “who” part of your intro.
If I’m at a conference for online course creators, I will adjust my intro slightly and say, “I introduce course creators to their next customers.” An industry event for insurance brokers? “I introduce insurance brokers to their next customers.” The opportunities for customizing are endless.
Use alternatives to the word “help”
Another part of the formula you can tweak is the word “help”.
I’ve already done that in my example. I say “I introduce” instead of help. You can get really creative here. Here are a few examples:
- I help families heal through counseling –> I build better families
- I help COOs grow their business –> I teach COOs how to scale
- I help people understand themselves better –> I decode personal stories
Introduce your company
In this simple switch, “I” becomes “we” and you speak for your company.
A defense contractor might say, “we protect those that protect us”.
An alternative formula for the perfect intro
You could also switch it up completely and use a new formula. Have fun with this one.
Where people know what X and Y are, but don’t often see them paired together.
The example Clay uses references the Quentin Tarantino classic, Pulp Fiction, and specifically Harvey Keitel’s character Winston Wolf. (He has a killer intro too!)
The intro is, “I’m like the Wolf from Pulp Fiction, but for brands.” The immediate association you create is that you are a Fixer. You solve problems. And you are into Tarantino films. So much intrigue!
The bigger and more well-known you get, the shorter, and pithier you can get with this. Some of my favorite examples:
- I day-trade attention – Gary Vaynerchuck
- I notice things – Seth Godin
Why Does This Perfect Intro Formula Work?
It’s time to take a step back and notice why this works so we can develop more context for crafting our own intros. Clay identifies five reasons why preparing a perfect intro works.
We’ve touched on this a few times already, but it’s worth repeating: the primary purpose of the perfect intro is to create intrigue. It’s like a headline for who you are. Like any good headline, you want to entice the reader (listener) into wanting to know more. Into reading the article, or asking you a follow-up question. When you introduce yourself on LinkedIn, you want to entice them into clicking on to your profile and learning more about you.
Flexibility and context
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for attributing much of their success to reading voraciously and continuously learning across multiple disciplines. Trained as a meteorologist during World War II and as a lawyer at Harvard before devoting himself to business, Munger has drawn heavily from the study of psychology, economics, physics, biology, and history, among other disciplines, in developing his system of “multiple mental models” to cut through difficult problems.
“If you skillfully follow the multidisciplinary path, you will never wish to come back. It would be like cutting off your hands.” – Charlie Munger.
We all have multiple interests and develop these over time into talents, becoming T-shaped professionals. You have many talents, now have many intros.
A short, concise answer to the question, “what do you do?” is unexpected. It gives your listener permission to direct their conversation based on what interests them about your response. Instead of switching off expecting a boring response, they are surprised and encouraged to engage, willingly, to learn more about you. Think of all the ways people introduce themselves on LinkedIn – which stand out for you?
Many recent conversations with people I’ve known for a long time have gone something like this:
“I introduce people to their next customers.”
“Wait, that’s what you do? Ohhh! I had no idea. That makes so much sense now.”
And you know what happens next?
“I need to introduce you to XYZ. I think she could use your help.”
You become instantly referable. This is especially helpful when people introduce you on LinkedIn.
There is nothing quite like walking into a room full of strangers fully prepared with an excellent response to the question you’re going to hear most often while you’re there. Instead of going in reactively, hoping to think on the spot during your next conversation, you are proactive, not with a canned speech that will send everyone to the bar as an excuse to get away, but with a short, intriguing response, designed to leave them curious for more. Set those shoulders back and stand tall!
What Do You Do For The Curious Few?
Ok, so at this point, you might like this formula too. Maybe you’ve brainstormed a few ideas for yourself. Just when you start to get comfortable with one, your mind may start thinking ahead. What if someone is curious for more? What if they say, “well, what does that mean?” or “how do you do that?”. What if they throw down the gauntlet and call out my perfect intro?
Tell them a story.
People love stories. It gives you a chance to explain what you do in a narrative format that fits naturally in a conversation. Your story could be about why you started what you’re doing. It could be a great client story in which you provide evidence of the thing you help people achieve. What is your story? It’s worth spending the time clarifying what and why you do what you do, so the next time you deliver your perfect intro and someone asks you what it means, say to them, “let me tell you a story” and follow it wherever it goes.
How to Introduce Yourself on LinkedIn?
In my online course, where I help business owners and sales professionals use their LinkedIn profile as a sales channel (see what I did there?), we spend a lot of time in the Messages module on crafting the perfect Openers. These include the message you use when you invite someone to connect with you and the slightly longer message you send once they accept your request. In the module on your Profile, we dissect what makes a great Headline.
The Perfect Intro formula works really well as your Headline. In fact, if you’ve got one after reading this article, update your LinkedIn profile with it now, and see what you think.
Your connection request message can then expand on your headline by providing just a little more context about what you do.
Treat an acceptance of your connection request as the opportunity to then tell your story. If the story resonates and the timing is right, you’ll be surprised where these conversations take you.
For the full talk by Clay Hebert, click here.