“What do you do?”. This is one of the most frequent questions I am asked. “I am a communications expert,” I usually answer very abstractly, knowing that this is a tested ice-breaker. “A communication expert? Meaning what, exactly? Do you mean advertising?”, is a typical follow-up. And, depending on the person and context, I select an answer.

Generally, “what do you do?” is not an easy question, unless you do something that by definition can be described in one word or at least a few words, such as notary, dermatologist or teacher. Things get tricky when you’re doing something that needs further clarification or when you can’t describe yourself in one, single word, as in my case. But even in this case, it’s still useful to be able to add the element that differentiates you from others and make your answer uniquely.

As any communications experts will readily suggest, the solution is an “elevator speech” -a short description that each one of us is worth creating in order to be able to briefly highlight our unique talents and powers.

The idea is easy, yet effective. Imagine that you are in an elevator with someone who asks you this question and you wish to answer it in the best possible way. Suppose it’s the man or woman you like, a senior executive at your firm, or a friend’s friend who happens to unexpectedly meet you there. Yes, you can answer in a word, a “lawyer” or a “communications consultant”. However, experts suggest to use up the few seconds that usually elapse before you get let’s say from the ground floor to the fourth floor or vice versa, in order to give the other person the information that will illuminate what you do and make him or her remember you. Thus, you can answer “I am a lawyer, specializing in copyright law”, or “I am a teacher and work at a special school”, or “I am currently working as a salesperson, although I am a computer engineer”.

As experts say, the 30 to 40 seconds necessary for this brief presentation are enough to fit in one more element – a qualitative one that can make a real difference in the way the other person perceives you. For example, I can say something like: ‘I am a communications expert”, which is understood by many people, as experience shows, or add that ‘I specialize in verbal content, namely I find the right words to create powerful slogans and texts for my clients’ or, even better, ‘I help my clients enhance their reputation, promote their products and services and gain more authority by using the spoken word’.

The difference in outcome is overwhelming. In the first case, our audience associates us with a professional title, often generic and plain. In the second, they understand something more specific to the nature of our work, to what constitutes its daily routine. In the third, however, people associate our profession with the real benefit it confers, with our imprint on the world. Our professional status is “filled” with meaningful content, whatever it may be. We may be ‘the coffee maker who always brings the coffee on time’ or ‘the doctor who has performed most transplants on children’. Suddenly, we are not just a title, but a personality. In few words and minutes.

Thus, in addition to your resume and all sorts of presentations you regularly use in your job, please spend some time thinking about what it is you want others to know and remember about you. Identify it, make it as short and as clear as possible, and then make it “yours”. The next time you’re asked what you do, put on your best smile and present yourself, in just thirty seconds!

March 8, 2023

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