How to answer the dreaded question: “So tell me, what do you do?”

Like most writers, I’m a natural introvert (ignore what some of my friends will tell you). For me, the very phrase “working a room” has the same effect as:

catching your teeth on the opening of a canned drink

being trapped in a small room with a larger-than-average moth

insert your particular phobia or teeth-on-edge trigger here.

So last week I took myself off to a networking course at the London Chamber of Commerce.

It was hosted by Stephanie Peckham of Smarter Networking and I can heartily recommend her as an approachable, engaging trainer. I’m actually quite looking forward to my next networking event – progress indeed.

One of the things that Stephanie covered was: how to answer the dreaded question “So tell me, what do you do?”.

Now, even though I spend my days helping clients market their businesses, I’m not so great at articulating What’s So Great About Me (you see, I really am an introvert), so I found this particular aspect of the course very useful.

Stephanie dismissed the idea of the “elevator pitch” (funny how that phrase doesn’t have the same ring to it if you anglicise “elevator” to “lift”).

The idea, she said, isn’t to have a pin-your-target-to-the-wall-and-sell-yourself-to-them-in-60-seconds-or-less speech, but to get certain essential bits of information across during the conversation. The idea is to make sure the other person leaves the event having “got" what you're all about.

The secret, she said, is to have a very clear idea about who you are and what you can offer. To organise your thoughts, write down your responses to the following prompts.

I’m [your name]

I’m a . . .

I specialise in . . .

My approach is . . .

I add value by . . .

A quick story about what I do.

It’s a useful exercise and having done it I now feel much more confident about my ability to articulate what I do at my next networking event.

My responses are below. Try the exercise out yourself – and feel free to share your answers in the comments.

I’m Clare.

I’m a . . . writer and grammar guru.

I specialise in . . . I can turn my hand to just about any topic, but my particular interest is in financial services. I help my clients with anything involving the written word – speeches, websites, brochures, presentations, proposals, staff magazines, articles in the press, even emails.

My approach is . . . to help companies ditch their jargon and gobbledegook in favour of clear, accurate English. I also run writing courses to help business people spot the most common mistakes they make in their writing – and I show them easy ways to avoid or correct them. The courses are always fun and interactive, because I believe that with writing you only learn by trying things out.

I add value by . . . helping companies build stronger relationships with their employees, clients and industry peers. I do this by encouraging them to talk to people in language that’s clear, engaging, inspiring and – above all – human.

Quick story: Most people are expected to write as part of their job but many find it really stressful and time-consuming. Writing is what I do all day, so it’s easy for me. Every week some client calls me up, saying: “Help! I’ve been looking at this piece of text all day. I just can’t work out what to do with it but I know it would take you about five minutes to fix!”