If we were to meet at a business networking event or a strictly social experience, you might ask that standard opening question, “What do you do?”

And if I start to spew my “elevator speech” at you, it’s a good bet you’ll back away slowly. Or maybe quickly. And you’ll remember little or nothing of what I just told you. Because you felt bombarded. Or bored. Or both.

There has to be a better way to open a conversation. And there is.

In the past week, I’ve been through this exercise with a graphic designer, an interior decorator, two coaches and a salon owner. Like so many entrepreneurs, they’re all in the habit of answering “What do you do?” with their name and their label. Followed by a seemingly endless description of the many things they do to run their business.

And I’m encouraging a new habit. Here’s why.

Your label stops the conversation. Whether you say you’re a dentist, a business consultant or a tarot card reader, the moment I have a label for you, you’re pigeonholed.

Whatever opinions I might have about dentists, business consultants or tarot card readers, those views are now stuck all over you. If my past experience with your category is negative, you’re tainted with that unpleasantness.

Even if my impressions are neutral or positive, now I think I know who you are and what you do. And my desire to know more about you nosedives.

“I, I, I, me, me, me” won’t capture anyone’s interest. The more you make your message about your listener instead of yourself, the more they’ll want to hear. And if, instead, it’s a bunch of blather about you, your company and your process, you lose them. Fast.

Think of it as pulling the person in, attracting them, even seducing them in a way. Rather than pushing your sales pitch at them.

In my work with clients who don’t want to come off as pushy, I often mention one of my favorite metaphors. Doling out verbal nuggets to attract your prospect is like feeding a furry little woodland creature.

(If that makes you curious, you can read more in this post from awhile back: https://catherinejohns.com/giant-chipmunks/)

The more you talk about yourself and your biz, the more it sounds like selling. And listen, I’m not opposed to selling. We all have to do it if we want to stay in business or stay employed. But an introduction isn’t the time or place for that.

When somebody asks, “What do you do?” it’s an invitation to open a relationship. Not to close a deal.

So give them a nugget. That makes them want another nugget. But don’t try to explain everything there is to know about your business. I promise you they’re not ready to hear it.

The person who asks the questions controls the conversation. So say what you do, by all means. But keep your answer short and pithy. And follow it with a question that allows you to guide the conversation and take it deeper.

You’ll be rewarded with more interesting interactions. And networking that really does open relationships.

You can open a relationship with me, if we don’t already have one. By posting a comment about your answer to “What do you do?”