It’s a question designed to strike fear into even the most hardened entrepreneur or veteran networker, the dreaded, “So, what do yo do?”.
On the face of it, it’s a simple enough question, and one which anyone worth their entrepreneurial salt shouldn’t struggle with, but struggle they do.
For the record, this inability to communicate the very basics is not restricted to those with an enterprising bent, it’s entrenched in our very DNA. Across all sectors in Scotland, so many folks find it really, really challenging to offer a succinct, interesting and easy-to-understand reply. And that’s a BIG problem – if you can’t explain what your business, your job or your organisation is all about then how can you expect anyone else to get it?
Seriously, it’s so bad for business (and you own self-esteem) to watch someone’s eyes glaze over as you bumble through your muddled spiel or stupefy them with incomprehensible jargon. Even worse is prefacing that spiel with a bit of apologetic mumbling about how the business, or your role within it, is really boring or a bit rubbish.
As someone who’s been in the business of confident communication for nearly a decade and at the helm of BBC radio programmes (a medium where succinct messaging is paramount) for a further 15, this stumbling incoherence has been an ongoing source of incredulity. But if that sounds harsh, let me temper my criticism with entrepreneurial empathy.
I know EXACTLY how hard Scots find it to bum themselves up. I too have had that stomach-lurching anxiety that people will think I’m bragging when I’m networking or delivering a pitch. I get it, I do, I know that we fear being seen as a show off. I understand that talking confidently and engagingly about business somehow implies that we are drawing attention to ourselves in an unseemly way – and that just isn’t done in this stifling “who does she think s/he is?” culture.
That’s all understood, but my advice? Get over it. Communicating confidently and clearly about what you do isn’t just common sense, it’s absolutely essential. After all, first impressions count and if you can’t catch and keep the attention of most of the people you speak to about biz, then you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice.
And another thing. Explaining exactly what your enterprise does and why it’s so good is NOT showing off (unless, of course, you’re an inveterate blowhard, in which case, gies peace), it’s just good PR. You can do that without exaggerating your business brilliance or making false claims, and anyway, the hard sell is so very passé. Authenticity is the business buzzword du jour, and while it’s overused and becoming a bit jaded, being genuine and true in all that you say makes communication so very much better.
Trust me on this, spending a bit of time clarifying EXACTLY what you say about your business makes all the difference. A well delivered description with a sprinkling of personality makes people sit up, listen and remember. It helps people make a connection with you and want to know more. And what’s not to like about that?
So come on folks, gather your courage and communicate with gusto and pride.
Mairi Damer is founder and Communicator-in-Chief of WORD UP Communications a Glasgow-based business which helps clients when they’re stuck for words.