Nothing beats the feeling of striking gold with your audience, as I was lucky enough to do with my last post. So I’m continuing with the theme this time. Standby for the difficult second album.

Last time I dissected my dislike of answering “What do you do?” Turns out lots of you share my reticence. Steve Slisar’s comment helped me realise why:

“I think people ask ‘what do you do?’ too early in most conversations. It's like asking how much your house cost you when you've only just met someone. I think some people need to learn the art of conversation, perhaps that is what the problem is.”

What a terrific observation. When our audience don’t know us from Adam, it’s no wonder we feel uncomfortable answering what shall henceforth be known as the Dreaded Question.

So we craft and tweak and make it clear what’s in it for them and do our darndest to resonate and impress these strangers. But the answer could actually be to avoid asking the Dreaded Question altogether, at least until you’ve had a good chat with the person beforehand.

Imagine going to a networking event where you weren’t allowed to ask ‘what do you do?’ for the first ten minutes of each conversation. Bet that’d get you thinking. It would certainly challenge me.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business networking section.

After my panic had subsided a) about networking in the first place. Robert, Peter? Where are you?! And b) not being able to fall back on the Dreaded Question, I’d probably find out a lot more about who that person was. Here’s what I’d do in an attempt to build rapport:

- Make an observation of the surroundings, e.g. “This is a funky little room!” (hopefully I’d not be networking anywhere where I observe “This place makes a bit of my soul die.”).

- What did you think of the speaker? Have you come across him/her before?

- What a cool dress/accent/haircut – where’s it from?

Once we’re chatting, it’d be easy to nudge towards business. Perhaps starting with “What’s new in your industry?” followed by “Go on then. You tell me what you do and I'll do the same!”

How would you fare if the Dreaded Question was banned? What do you think is the best way to get a conversation partner nice and toasty? 

Let’s carry on the conversation below.

“ Imagine going to a networking event where you weren’t allowed to ask ‘what do you do?’ for the first ten minutes of each conversation. ”
 
Sam Leader

Sam Leader is a director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

  • Add a comment (33)
  •  
  •