Seriously. Is this the best icebreaker question humanity can come up with? I have an idea. Let’s all start asking each other “What brand of dental floss do you use?” That question is equally relevant and equally conducive to business relationships as “what do you do?”
Don’t be surprised if I give you an evasive answer if you ask me what I do. Anyone who knows me, knows that talking about what I do is of very little interest to me unless there is a genuine business reason to have the conversation. Just this afternoon, I made a decision. The next time I go to a networking event, I’m going to play a game. I want to see if I can talk to as many people as possible without anyone finding out what I do (unless, of course, they already know).
“But Dave,” you say, “isn’t the whole point of business networking to tell people about what you do?” Not in my world. The point of networking is to build relationships, create goodwill, and build an army of raving fans (or, if you’re really good, cult followers). Raving fans are more than willing to listen to you talk about your business. They’re more than willing to tell their friends about you and talk you up on Facebook. But do you really think a cold stranger is going to do that? If we don’t know each other, I don’t expect you to care about me. So why exactly do you need to know what I do? What does that have to do with anything?
Have you ever perused a stack of business cards that you collected at an event, tossing a number of them in the garbage can because you had no memory of who the person was? That is an example of what happens when you fail to accomplish the objective of networking. You know you have gotten it right when you have no need to keep someone’s business card because you have their number in your phone and they have yours. Hint: if people don’t even remember you, they probably aren’t going to become your raving fans.
If I don’t know you, and we’ve just met, I don’t care what you do. If you have a job or a business that is innovative, distinctive, and interesting enough to create a stimulating conversation, then I’d love to hear about it. If, for example, you are building a new line of helium-filled blimps that promise to revolutionize air travel, then by all means, please tell me about what you do! Otherwise, let’s just talk about something else. Sorry, but if you want me to stay engaged in a conversation, you have to make it interesting. Telling me about how you save money for your consulting clients just isn’t going to do it for me. If you go on at length about how great your business is and why everyone should buy from you, I might even make a bathroom fake. Or as Michelle Gower might say, don’t even think about trying to hard-sell me.
So—if we remove the question “What do you do?” from the conversation, we are left with a bit of a problem. What question should we use to break the ice? Well, I don’t think this is too difficult to solve, given that the old question didn’t really work anyway. But I’ll start by throwing out one possibility. Just today, I attended a “Gratitude Lunch” hosted by Personal Growth Expert Leslie Flowers. Leslie asked each person in the room a simple question: “If you had $5 million right now, what would you do with it?” What would happen if we all asked each other questions like that at networking events?
Here are just a few other possibilities:“What is the top item on your bucket list?”
You have no more excuses. Let’s dispense with the “what do you do” for once and for all. Do you have any ideas for icebreaker questions? Leave them here in a comment!