When I was just out of college, I got a job at a PR firm. At that time, every new person I met at any party or in any bar always started the conversation with the same question:
“What do you do?”
It’s the classic perfunctory question, and as such, it seems to require a perfunctory answer.
It dawned on me at this point that I’d been getting asked the “Perfunctory Question” – in some form or another – since I was sixteen.
Think about it.
In high school, at some point, everyone starts asking you the same question:
“Where are you going to college?”
So, rather than any exploration of who you are or what you love learning about, you learn how to provide satisfying stock answers.
After you finally make your college choice (or default to where you got accepted), you enter the next level of the Perfunctory Question:
“What’s your major?”
Now, you may be so far away from your college years that you don’t remember every college guy you met at every loud party lifting a plastic cup of keg beer to his mouth and asking you…
“So, what’s your major?”
But it happened, I promise.
At some point in college, after you’ve shared your major with everyone, you enter the next Perfunctory Question, which is,
“Where are you going to work?”
Or “Do you have a job yet?”
Which – again – launches you into easy-to-categorize ways of telling people that you are, in fact, okay, and that you are able to make this conversation safe and easy on them.
Then you enter the world of work.
And along with it, you enter into our final Perfunctory Question, which is:
“What do you do?”
This one will follow you forever.
So even though you know that, as a business owner, your income requires that you learn how to market, communicate and connect — you have learned – from years of habit – to dumb it down and make it perfunctory…
“I’m a therapist.”
“I’m a coach.”
“I’m a graphic designer.”
Most of us reduce our work to the most understandable, easiest-to-say category just so people will “get” us and get us fast. We’ve learned well.
And this is why, when you’re introduced to the idea of an elevator speech, you cringe.
After all, having a quick, easy, stock answer always got the job done. Why should you try to create any deep or meaningful response to that question?
Well, because now that you have a business, you have to market. And that means you have to connect a little deeper.
(And no, I’m not asking you to become like your friend Janice who changed her name to “River” and answers this question by telling people she’s a divine presence in the universe here only to provide light and love to all. Please do not do this.)
If you have a business and you want clients, you need to learn how to communicate clearly what you do for people so that you attract them and so that your Ideal Client wants to know more.
You have to break the ‘let’s just get this out and over with” Perfunctory Pattern that you’ve learned up until now.
1 – CONNECT with your answer.
The elevator speech formula is “I help X [Ideal client] get Y [Results you deliver.] Take the time to find the most elegantly simple wording of this formula so it works for you, so it’s something you WANT to say over and over again.
2 – PRACTICE your answer.
I know. I know. You’re an “in the moment” kind of person. Practicing your Elevator Speech? That’s so, you know, NOT you.
Okay, yes. But get over it.
When you have a structure and know the steps, you can be “in the moment” all you want. The structure provides the freedom. Every great improv musician started with a metronome at some point.
So, revel in looking like an idiot and walk around your house practicing your Elevator Speech.
3 – ASK a great question.
Rather than waiting for someone to ask you the Perfunctory Question so you can use your Elevator Speech, why not create your own list of three non-perfunctory questions that ultimately defines you as someone who knows the pain points of your clients?
Think about it. You have the opportunity to Uplevel the perfunctory conversation. What questions do you most want to ask people to determine whether or not you are the one to help them or give them a great resource?