Like you, I have absolutely no idea what takes place inside the Springsteen household.
But I’m guessing it goes something like this:
“Who wants to hear me play ‘Born to Run,’ right here, right now, live, in the living room? It’s considered one of the best rock songs ever written.
“And, in case you need reminding, I am a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; my show on Broadway sold out for 236 performances in a row; and strangers on the street literally stop their cars and get out, just to have a look at me.”
“Yeah, well, thanks dad, but we are ‘born to run’ to Starbucks so, um, see you later, I guess.”
World famous or not, it’s a pretty good bet that there is absolutely nothing you can do to impress your own children (other than peekaboo with a 9-month old, which never fails to amaze).
It’s kind of interesting, don’t you think?
To the world, he’s the one and only Bruce Springsteen. But to his own kids, he’s just some goofy old guy telling the same dumb jokes over and over again (oh wait, that might be me).
But, I suppose it’s not that big of a surprise – who your audience is matters just as much as the message itself.
When it comes to communication, one size definitely does not fit all. (Same with toupees, but I won’t bore you with my personal challenges.)
You need to look beneath the words themselves
“Tell me about your work,” is a pretty common question. I ask it of others quite frequently.
But even though the phrase may be identical, the audience and context in which it’s asked – and therefore its underlying intent – can vary a lot.
If, for example, I’m sitting across from someone that I’m thinking of hiring, “Tell me about your work,” means:
Give me details about your process, your credentials, previous clients you’ve helped and more, so that I can make an informed decision.
If I’m talking to somebody at a business networking meeting, “Tell me about your work,” means:
Give me about a paragraph’s worth of information. I want to understand and remember what you do, so I can tell other people about you.
If I’m chatting with somebody at a neighborhood barbecue, “Tell me about your work,” means:
I’m just looking to have a friendly conversation and get to know you a little bit better.
If I am in the process of being cuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser, “Tell me about your work,” means:
I don’t quite grasp the severity of what is happening.
The point is, one phrase can encompass many different underlying questions.
Your job, as communicator, is to pay attention to what’s really being asked and respond appropriately.
Don’t sell too soon
Most professionals, unfortunately, when asked this common question, default to the first scenario above, nearly every time:
No matter who is asking, or what the context, they go directly into “selling mode,” responding as if they are talking to a live prospect.
That’s fine, if that’s what’s happening.
But if it isn’t, if you’re speaking with someone who has just a passing (or zero) interest in your work, not only are you boring the other person, you are missing an opportunity to generate future word of mouth.
In that scenario, your job is to say something very short and very specific. Not to sell the other person, just to help them remember what you do. Period.
Here’s the bottom line.
Ninety-nine percent of the people you’ll interact with today are not in a position to hire you, today. And the vast majority of them never will be.
Which means that if you communicate with everyone you meet as if they are a prospect, you’re missing the bigger opportunity: The chance to plant a word of mouth seed that will blossom weeks, months or years down the road.
That’s a big miss, given that as a small professional service firm or solo, nearly all of your clients arrive in this way.
So try this instead. Stop looking at people as potential clients. Look at them as potential “word of mouthers” – people who can tell others about you should the opportunity arise.
Do that often enough and well enough, and even the cops putting you in the back of the car may start sending leads your way (watch your head).
- Have you ever been cuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser?
- How did you plead?
- How do you answer the “Tell me about your work” question when asked at a neighborhood barbecue?