What do you do for living?
I discovered that many people are very good at answering this question quickly and with confidence:
"I work for the government", said one chap. Further prompting revealed he worked in accounts, mainly reconciling expenses, a deeply dull activity, by his own admission. I am very familiar with this type of answer. I used to say "I work in TV", when my actual job was neither creative nor glamorous.
"I help companies grow!" said a woman in a suit. It sounds like someone just got their head brainwashed by a life coach, but whilst such an introduction may look impressive on paper, it sounded odd in a pub.
"Ooh, how exciting! And how do you do that?"
"I do that by helping them to set up infrastructure like IT systems and HR." Perhaps a more truthful answer would be “I help companies grow more manageably” but top marks for the bravado!
Other people I met were less "impressive" but no answer was more disappointing than ... my own:
"I do a few different things…" Boring!
"I run a couple of passion projects and do consulting to pay the bills." Shockingly uninspiring!
"I am a freelancer." Pass me a bottle of vodka and a revolver...
It does pay to come up with a pitch perfect answer to the "What do you do?" question, regardless whether you are trying to sell a your services or just to engage in a better conversation, whether you are defined by your job or not. If, like me, you don’t have an answer rolling off your tongue, challenge yourself to come up with an interesting and an effective punchline.
"I teach kids to love science" sounds a lot more positive and engaging to your conversation partner than "I am a science teacher", doesn’t it?
"I help entrepreneurs bring their ideas online" is a bit more promising than "I am web developer".
Of course, you also have to think about the context and your audience. "I am an investment banker" is certainly no longer sexy, but your introduction must be clear enough for my 87-year-old grandma to understand, so don’t over-engineer it.
Upon reflection, I’ve decided that my own pitch should be something like this:
"I write, I celebrate inspiring women and I help companies and entrepreneurs using my corporate finance background." There, much better.