It’s the holiday party season (or egg-nog circuit time of year) which means endless networking opportunities. Endless opportunities to network with colleagues, make polite small-talk with co-workers or clients or friends of friends. Just the schmoozy stuff that makes you think “this is most wonderful time of the year“…Not!
Not because there is no “standard” icebreaker to crack the silence or ease the awkward moments – that (unless you care about the topic), don’t come across as, well, grasping for a conversation starter. Do we really want to talk about the weather? Could it end up in a climate change debate, perhaps. Either way, a fight or feigning interest is hardly a conversation worth having (or starting). Then there’s the go-to “what do you do?” question many of us resort to when we meet someone new. Not a particularly original conversation starter however, as many of us spend a lot of time working, not a bad question to ask either.
The challenge with the “what do you do” question is the answer: there is an extremely high prospect of a formulaic, well-rehearsed elevator pitch-type response. I see it as an unfortunate spillover from the startup frenzy into social settings. It’s problematic as the overly practiced, jargon or buzz-word filled response can be a real conversation killer.
My build your dream bottomline: An elevator pitch in a social setting should always invite “tell me more” conversation.
I’m not saying don’t think ahead as to how you’d answer the “tell me what you do question” at a party. By all means, imagine how you’d talk about your new role or share an idea you’re working on, or explain a social venture you’ve recently launched. Have that information at the ready – and think about delivery of your answer too. With your answer are you delivering a speech or are you welcoming in a dialog? Watch the facial expressions of the person you’re speaking with to see if your explanation is making sense or there’s a spark of intrigue or commonality (or are you simply tossing words in their direction?).
Pro networking tip: always insert a pause after your first line or two to invite the other person into your response (aka the “tell me more moment”).
The go-to response of an attorney I know at a big New York City based firm to the question “what do you do” used to be “I’m an IP attorney and partner at….blah blah blah” – I suspect you may have an uncontrollable urge to roll your eyes and scramble for an excuse to exit the conversation simply reading that response. Fortunately, with a little urging from me, the attorney switched up her introductory “what do you do” elevator pitch from “I’m an IP attorney and partner at…” to “I open up new markets in the pharmaceutical industry”. Boom! It’s an intro that begs the question “how?”.
While you’re reworking your elevator pitch, here are a few more resources to help you navigate social settings this holiday season:
- Networking At Holiday Parties (latest episode of the Build Your Dream Network podcast).
- Get into character and a few more networking tactics adapted from Broadway.
- Networking etiquette from the incomparable Helen Ellis (best-selling author of Southern Lady Code and American Housewife) will ensure you’re the best guest of any party.