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The dreadful question - what do you do?

If you dread introducing yourself to people you meet at events or meetings, you are definitely not alone. In fact, I have been in that league for a long time. Every time I met someone new, I was almost always hoping they wouldn’t ask me what I do. But they did. It made me feel weak in the knees. I hated answering that question. There isn’t just one thing I do. How could I say it without going on about it till the person decided to pretend their phone was ringing? And it never sounded impressive enough.

And what do you say when you still don’t have everything figured out? I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was really what I wanted to be known for. I wasn’t the best at what I did, but I did it anyway. I was still struggling after all these years and that made me uncomfortable. But that didn’t mean people would spare me from the question.

After much struggle, I learnt 4 things about making an introduction. One of them might just work for you too.

Reframe the question in your head

It doesn’t always have to be about your job title or where you work. I hate saying ‘I am the CEO of Minerva’. Honestly, it’s a self-proclaimed title. What does it really mean? Instead, I can say what I really do. I help people design powerful personal brands. I am the king-maker. The person who works behind-the-scenes to assist others in becoming better versions of themselves by connecting them to opportunities and people.

‘What do you do’ can mean a lot of things. It doesn’t have to be about your professional struggle. It can, instead, be about what you love doing or are passionate about. How do you spend your time? What problem do you help solve?

And more importantly, what do you want people to know you for? So here are a few answers you can now give:

I am working on a very interesting article these days. It’s on the future of digital marketing. I am looking for influencers in the industry. Do you know any? [More interesting than: I want to be a writer one day but I have got no clue how]

I am volunteering at an old people’s home. Do you know how many old homes have now opened up in Islamabad? There is a dire need for awareness. [More interesting than: I am jobless. I don’t do anything]

I am learning to create compelling visual design material at this design agency where I am currently interning. [More interesting than: I am an intern at ‘The Company You Haven’t Heard About’]

Develop a future narrative

Over the course of our lives, we constantly tell ourselves stories about who we are, what we can and cannot do, and this impacts how we feel about ourselves. Whether you are aware of it or not, it also reflects in how we talk to people about ourselves. But the fact is that we add to our story every single day. One day you are a student; the next day you are a graduate. One day you are jobless; the next day you have a job. And we end up doing things we have never thought about doing before.

Sometimes all you need is a better narrative. Communication specialist, Sarah Kathleen Peck, believes that if you have trouble speaking about yourself, you need a better narrative and it starts with visualisation. She writes, ‘One of the reasons it’s so difficult to map out a future narrative is partly because of the erroneous belief that you need to have one direct path and that you need to have it all figured out before you take the first step. This is both intimidating and immobilizing.'

She further writes, ‘Your present narrative, the one you used at the after-work party, the rambling that might have included, “We’re thinking about having kids, and I might work on an essay, but I don’t feel like a writer just yet,” can begin to shift. As you identify ways you can pull from your future narratives, you can use them in the present. This subtle change shifts your language to “We’re going to have kids in the next few years,” and “I am a writer; I’m working on several pieces and my dream is to write a book in the next couple of years.” This becomes a better story, and it also helps push you in the direction of your goals.

So think about what you want to be known for; what do you want to be in life. Go over the possibilities in your head and imagine yourself in multiple positions to understand which version of yourself you want to introduce to people.

I know, this is a tough one. But it works like a charm if you practice visualisation persistently.

Reply with a question

This doesn’t really mean you ignore their question altogether. Here’s an example.

Imagine I am at a book launch. My friend introduces me to the author of the book, who of course has to ask me the dreadful question, ‘What do you do, Sana?’

Introduction 1:

Me: I am a Chartered Accountant but currently I run a social enterprise in Islamabad by the name of Minerva.

Author (trying to sound interested): What sort of social enterprise? What does it do?

Me: We host and organise various events mainly focused on the youth; for learning and entrepreneurship.

Introduction 2:

Me: Have you ever felt like you could be a better version of yourself? Many people want to but don’t know where to start or what exactly could lead them to living a better life or career. I help people do just that. I assist them in designing personal brands for a better life and career.

Author: Tell me more!

Change ‘what you do’

Sometimes a little introspection and self-awareness helps find that one thing in your life you really love doing with your time. But if you can’t find anything about your job or your life in general that you can proudly tell people, maybe it is time to consider a shift in lifestyle, quitting your job, or switching your career. Maybe you need to find something better to do with your time that you can truly be excited about.

While I have tried all of these at some point during the last few years, I find reframing the question the best way to deal with the unnerving question. It always leads to an interesting conversation. If you want to know more about how I help design personal brands and kick-start careers, feel free to ask.

And don’t forget the key to making an impressive introduction is often to figure out what problem you solve and then ask your audience if they have ever experienced it. Once you get a response, say how you fix the problem. Engage your new friend. Get creative.

If you are a recent graduate and think you currently don’t offer a service, you can still make a witty or funny introduction that could at least help keep the conversation going. Here’s an example:

You know all these people with a lot of potential, looking for jobs these days?

I’m one of them. I just recently graduated from (continue with the rest of your introduction)…

At least that isn’t a boring introduction. Your turn now, leave your introductions in the comments below and let me know if it worked for you!

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