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Guest Post: How to help people “get” you

Posted by Colleen Wainwright on

Guest mixer and Marketing Mentor client Drury Bynum of Workerbee Creative came across a simple way to help explain what you do in a way that people get.

"Explain this to me like I’m a 4-year old, okay?"

This quote was from Denzel Washington in the movie, Philadelphia. I’m reminded of it every time I meet someone who is telling me what they do, but confusing me with jargon, important sounding titles, and too many details.

This happened at a recent networking event. We were put into groups and asked to develop a 90 second "commercial" that would explain what we did. At the end of all the presentations, with the exception of one person, I still had no idea what any of these people did. I knew one guy worked at a bank, one guy did something complicated in healthcare and one guy was a lawyer.

The person who explained her business well was a woman who managed a hotel. I’ll never forget her tag line, "We help put heads in beds." Granted, explaining what a hotel does is easier than talking about healthcare, but I wished Denzel had been at our table. "All right, now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old, okay?" Obviously, no one wants to be spoken to like a child, but the message is, "Can you simplify this so that I understand you?"

At this event, we were required to give some criticism after each presentation, which confirmed that I wasn’t the only one not getting it. But in our everyday lives, when this happens, we nod out heads, pretending we understand and say, "Well that’s very interesting." And then we move on, not knowing we may have just missed a great opportunity.

I think that there are three problems at play here:

1. We assume that others are familiar with our industry and therefore, our titles, acronyms and jargon.

2. We understand our business so well that we have forgotten what it’s like not to understand it.

3. We fear that "dumbing down" our descriptions might insult the listener or make our business seem simplistic and unimportant.

What is missing most often is consideration for the point of view of the other person. How can you provide them with a bridge towards understanding what you do?

Start with a simple metaphor. In my own business, I’m trying help companies market with online video. Instead of saying, “I help companies leverage thought leadership through social media,” I’ll say “I get companies to think of themselves as a TV channel, and their knowledge and expertise are their shows.”  Of course, I’m talking about the Internet and not TV, but the metaphor is universal and easy to grasp.

So here’s my advice: don’t assume everyone is familiar with your industry. Find a metaphor or a good story that illustrates the nature of what you do. If you make a connection with your description right off the bat, then you’ve started a conversation with a potential client. You can always fill in the details later. But if you puff up your description to sound impressive, then you may make no impression at all.

Have you heard any other memorable blurbs or taglines lately? Maybe even your own….

  • More in: Guest Mixers, Networking, Posts by Colleen

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