When Steve and I first started ACA I was sleeping on a mattress behind our run down office in Surry Hills. Now we employee a team, run out of a great space and are working on some of the largest projects in the world.
In those early days I would actively avoid the question 'so what do you do' for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I work in a niche that I presumed people wouldn't understand and secondly I was making less than minimum wage and couldn't relate to the job title CEO or Managing Director. However, I quickly realised that avoiding the question came across as weird- like I had something to hide.
After I learnt these simple tips for pitching to strangers it made me realise that it's something everyone should do- it can lead to new opportunities and validate some of your own ideas. It can also be fun and spark some interesting conversations.
So here are three tips when confronted with 'so what do you do' at a dinner party.
1. Tell a story don't give a job title.
The best way to explain what you do is to provide an example.
Don't say- "I'm the CEO of ACA- a company that provides a web-based platform for building automation and the internet of things".
Do say- ' I started ACA to solve problems in the enterprise space. Have you ever been in a meeting that took a while to get up and running with the technology? Well we provide an automation solution that turns on the projector before you get there so you don't have to spend time trying to get it working. This is just one example as there are many ways to automate your experience in a building."
Finding something in common is the key- for what I do at ACA I presume that most people have been in a meeting room or a lecture theatre- this is a good place to start explaining how automation can help. I also end in a way that allows them to ask a question if they are interested- if not we'll probably just leave it there and talk about the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
2. Focus on what they find interesting
By this stage you should be asking your own questions and learning about what they do. Use this to your advantage. For example if I find out the person works in marketing I might say "I imagine you or your team use a Content Management System for your homepage- Well our platform is essentially a CMS for the building- allowing you to schedule media to displays or locations as well as setup automatic actions based on people's location. Have you ever integrated the building into your marketing campaigns?".
If the person I work with works in IT I would discuss the platforms we use and how it works.
If the person has a business role I would be talking about the market and how we sell to our customers.
If the person has never had a job I would be relating to light switches and home entertainment systems.
3. Don't underestimate the power of loose connections
You were probably dragged along to that dinner party by your significant other but don't brush anyone off. People you don't know can open doors to a whole new network. You never know where a simple dinner conversation could lead. At the very least you are part of your own word-of-mouth marketing and practicing your 20 second pitch- which is important.
I can think of a number of leads and sales that I can trace back to small talk with a stranger at a party. Don't shy away from the question- embrace it next time someone asks you.