How to answer the question 'So, what do you do?'

The largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is in full swing here in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With tens of thousands of performers promoting over 3,000 shows over a three week period, how can any one show possibly stand out from the competition?

As with many things, one of the best forms of promotion at this particular festival is word of mouth. But how do the performers and promoters get audiences along to their show in the first place?

Handing out flyers on Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile and various other hot spots around the city is the way chosen by the majority, and in fact this is where many festival goers flock to find out what’s on. But those same festival goers are then bombarded by hundreds of eager performers shoving flyers into their hands every few paces. So how do punters know which flyers to take and more importantly, which shows to go and see?

Back in 2008 I wrote, produced, performed and promoted a one woman show and I was out flyering (mostly in the rain!) every day of the three week festival. So I know a bit about the art of flyering. And there is an art to it. You have just a spilt second to connect with someone and get them to not only take your flyer, but actually look at it before it ends up with thousands of others in the bin or littering the pavement.

Here is the technique that I developed as I handed out thousands of flyers:

  • look the person in the eye
  • give them a friendly smile
  • put the flyer in their hand
  • greet them with a short phrase about the show

This all happens in a split second and the final point is the most challenging – how do performers explain their show in the miniscule time that they have to engage people in further conversation? Here are some of the short phrases I have heard used to describe shows in the last two weeks:

  • improvised musical comedy
  • interactive magic show for kids
  • 5 one act plays and a free croissant
  • award winning play of hope
  • one man’s amusing musings
  • brand new one woman show
  • a dark comedy to inspire and intrigue
  • modern dance at its best
  • Shakespeare on speed

I expect that not all of these phrases achieved their desired result. The short phrase needs to spark the interest of potential ticket purchasers and ideally engage them in further conversation in an effort to convince them to part with their money to see that particular show. Like any marketing, Fringe show promoters need to play about with it until they find the right words.

You may wonder why I am sharing this. Well, we are often asked the question ‘So, what do you do?’ Rather than launch into a long winded response, do you have a short snappy response that will encourage people to say ‘That sounds interesting, tell me more’ or ‘Wow, I need you!’? Remember that when you are asked the ‘What do you do?’ question, particularly in a business networking situation, people generally don’t want to know what you do, they want to know how you could make their life better!

Think about:

  • What problem do you (or your product) solve?
  • Who has the problem?
  • How do you help?

Rather than replying ‘I’m a web designer’ which doesn’t say anything about who you help and how you help them, you could  try something along the lines of ‘I create affordable websites for solopreneurs’. Or instead of saying ‘I’m a personal organiser’, try ‘I help busy working mums to spend more time with their kids.’

So, how will you answer next time you are asked the question ‘What do you do?’  

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

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