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3 Steps to Answer "So what do you do?"

By Kerryn Gamble

You’ve arrived at a networking event, checked in at the registration table and now turn your attention to the room. As you scan the crowd, someone approaches, greets you by name after a quick glance at your name tag and then asks THAT question… “So tell me, what do you do?” 

It’s a curious thing, the question we ask is not really the question we want answered. We’re more interested in the problem you solve, why we’d work with you, your approach to what you do, your uniqueness, your position and if you’re any good. As much as we’re consciously be on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate and build meaningful alliances, subconsciously our wiring for survival is also gauging the extent of WIIFM. 

Our response to this question is a litmus test for how well we articulate the value we provide to the organisations and individuals we work with. Unless we’ve put some thought into our response, we might be missing an opportunity to connect and communicate meaningfully with the person in front of us. 

Our response typically spans one of six areas reflecting our default thinking style: pleasure, pain, position, peculiarity, passion and purpose. These convey what we’re about. A response with a pleasure focus creates desire and happiness, a pain focused response adds value through removing frustration. 

Leading with position communicates authority, possibly prestige or established  history and communicates a safe choice. A focus on peculiarity captures attention, stimulates thinking and communicates innovation. 

The value of passion is through engaging emotion. A word on passion, most people can detect inauthenticity a mile off, so only lead with this if it’s genuine. For example if Im not passionate about golf you’re probably going to notice if I pretend to be, through lack of authentic stories, limited golfing-lingo and not building context that an avid golfer might connect with during conversation or in marketing copy. 

Leading with purpose, communicates meaning, possibility and creates connection with a cause bigger than an individual or organisation. Following are 3 steps to construct your response to this question:

  1. Get clear on the specific value you, your products or services deliver and your angle for communicating this. For example, Purpose.
  2. Assess the context - a networking event might provide 10 - 20 seconds to communicate your message, compared with sitting next to someone at a casual dinner for several hours versus a 10 minute media interview. The context guides how formal or casual your response needs to be, as well as an appropriate length. 
  3. Finally, play with the following formula: what you do (from above) + with whom + why (outcome)

Here’s an example leading with Passion: “I believe families who play together, stay together. I design backyard spaces for families to bond”. Here’s another leading with Pain. “Ever had a tradesperson not show up on time? We provide on-time Tradies to Melbourne metro suburbs so you can get on with your day.”

Is your focus more about creating happiness, building trust, solving problems, being different, making the world a better place or inspiring others? The clearer our message, the easier it is to market what we do and the value this contributes to others. What’s your value proposition based upon: Pleasure, pain, position, peculiarity, passion or purpose?

Kerryn's mission is building confidence capital in professional women, to address the leadership gender imbalance. Kerryn works with ambitious women to rewire their self-confidence for success on their terms. Kerryn speaks on self-leadership, overcoming self doubt, people pleasing and procrastination. Find out more at  Email via

Kerryn is Vice President of Professional Speakers Australia (VIC, SA, TAS), Founding Director of CORE Potential, creator of Results Roundtable, members of the Australian Institute of Training & Development and International Coach Guild.