In Nancy Klein’s ‘Time to Think‘ there’s a part you might miss, if you blink. Fortunately, it caught my attention.
An anecdote about describing what you do.
Referring to industry events, Klein explains:
‘Those moments at receptions are easy to dread because, you usually have less than 4 seconds in which to respond, before the eyes of the person asking have meandered elsewhere, scanning the room in that highly refined networking way for a more prestigious or riveting person to talk to’.
I heard this and it resonated with me.
Have you ever been bumped into someone at an event, or a party, been caught slightly off guard or unprepared, then mumbled something about what you do? Perhaps you had food in your mouth and started with started with an apology as you tried not to let pastry flakes fly in the other person’s face?
Or you’ve witnessed someone crumple in the face of your enthusiasm as you’ve asked them the question?
It’s these sorts of times people need a snappy, engaging intro and a polished delivery.
I’ve never thought about this before, but now I do, wow, how am I going to fit anything into that short a space of time?
Klein says 4 seconds, but actually means 7. Here’s her intro.
‘I am president of time to think, an international leadership consultancy teaching people and organisations how to help each other think for themselves’.
Time it for yourself.
What’s going on under the surface?
Bernadette Jiwa, in her book, ‘What Great Storytellers Know: Seven Skills to Become Your Most Influential and Inspiring Self’ talks about what happens as we process information.
Think of this from the perspective of the person asking you what you do:
‘The amygdala, part of the emotional centre of the brain, is our brain’s gatekeeper. It’s constantly filtering signals and stimulating a response, preparing us to react or respond—to flee when we’re threatened or empathise when we’re emotionally engaged.
We prioritise information by subconsciously asking three questions:
Is this a threat?
Is this boring?
Is this too complicated’?
When you give a boring or complicated answer adrenaline triggers the fight/flight response in your listener. They start looking for someone else to speak to.
When you give an interesting, easy to understand answer, oxytocin (the skin to skin chemical you might have heard about at pre-natal classes), generates instead a ‘tend and befriend’ effect and that person wants to hear more.
So what can you do?
You have 4-7 seconds and the listener will ask themselves these questions.
Let’s have a look at Klein’s answer:
‘I am [role] president of [organisation] Time to Think, an [what it is] international leadership consultancy [what it does] teaching people and organisations how to help each other think for themselves’
Role | organisation | what it is | what it does
I’ll try this out:
I’m [role] head of digital investments product delivery for [organisation] C Bank, [what it is] an historic Private Bank [what it does] which serves customers and their families at all stages of their lives
Something’s not right. That works if I run the company, but I sound disconnected from my role. I need a link between me, my work and the organisation.
Let’s try again:
I’m [role] head of digital investments product delivery for [organisation] C Bank, [what it is] an historic Private Bank [what I do] and my job is to help customers invest with us by providing appealing and easy-to-use technology.
Better, but still not quite.
Role | organisation | what it is | what I do specifically = simple.
But it lacks some intrigue like Klein had (President, teaching people and orgs to think for themselves)
I’m [role] head of digital investments product delivery for [organisation] C Bank, [what it is] an historic Private Bank. [what I do] I help customers invest with us by providing appealing and easy-to-use technology. [intrigue?] I do that by having a team culture people are excited to be a part of.
I can live with that, at least as a starting point. I just need to keep it somewhere close to hand and remember it next time I’m asked the question.
Can you use this structure to come up with a simple and intriguing answer to ‘so what do you do’?
Will have my 7 seconds ready by Saturday
Timers at the ready!
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