I always start coaching with the scariest question “What do you do?” (which is similar to the interview question, “walk me through your resume”). It is a set-up question. Which, as simple as it is, throws us off. It makes us uncomfortable. But, if well-thought through, authentic and well-practiced, will be short and impactful. Many of us blow it. We either lead with our name, title and company name (boring!!!) or we drone on and on about our passions, mission and challenges. Lost our audience again!!!
When I do group coaching, we usually start with an initial round robin introducing ourselves by answering my first three questions:
- Who are you?
- Why did you pick this session?
- What do you want us to remember about you?
80% of us fall into the trap. The name, title and company name trap. No one drills down on what issue they are trying to shape the world around. They stick with high level generic language, dropping in overused words that don’t mean much. Like sustainability, strategy, and impact. Help! What do they really do? What do they really care about?
As groups warm up and become more open and vulnerable, we learn together, that telling a story with details and tangible analogies, are what make “pitches” memorable. So the answers we want to share shift to:
- Why do you care?
What are you putting your stake in the ground about?
A woman from one of the largest American conglomerates founded in the early 1800s said “Acceptance of biological products for agricultural use and genetically modified crops”. Glazing over? But then she tells the story of how she studied agronomy back in the day and has always loved being in the fields with her hands deep in the soil and now we could feel it, smell it, with her, her passion about agriculture and sustainable farming.
- How did you get here?
A personal vignette about your “ah ha” moment that sent you on this calling.
Another woman shares the story of holding on to a shoebox of used batteries for more than five years because she didn’t know what to do with them until she landed her dream job in marketing at a battery recycling company. She dug up the box from the back of her closet and brought it into work one day and said, “Finally, I have a place to recycle these and to help others do the same!”
- What difference are you making?
What is your purpose?
One guy said water. And then when prompted further, he drills down to water sheds more specifically. And prompted again, tells a story about when he was little and growing up in Philly he saw the main river with a thick layer of gook on the top and no live fish under that layer. He realised then he had to do something about the fresh water resource.
His LinkedIn profile successfully grabs our attention with:
“The demand for fresh water is expected to exceed supply by 40% in the next two decades - placing urgent pressure on businesses to rethink the way water is managed. Businesses around the world are setting ambitious water goals; I help them achieve those goals.”
- What tangible analogy could you use to make me remember you?
A university director came up with the soccer ball as her visual because she has always loved the sport but she also used the black and white blocks, and the stitching in between, to demonstrate her theme of collaboration and connecting the dots for diverse teams.
In Adam Leipzig’s Ted Talk he highlights five simple questions to discover your true purpose in just five minutes but, funnily enough, he links the answers to also being able to respond to my dreaded question above, “what do you do?”. His five questions are:
- Who are you?
- What do you love to do? What do you feel extremely qualified to teach other people?
- Who you do it for?
- What do those people want or need?
- How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them?
The 5thquestion is my favourite. We all need to be able to answer how our audience will transform as a result of what we share with them! As sustainability practitioners, that is our driving force.
Good luck with preparing and practicing your personal story, not pitch, to share at your next conference.
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Photo: Walk of Life