I have asked my friend Emilia, an executive at an engineering firm, what she does for a living on no less than 10 occasions. I have asked my brother, who does something neat at Google, Inc., the very same question so many times he has taken to giving me a ‘you better not ask me again’ stare whenever we see each other. As for my brother-in-law, who runs a highly successful technology company, I should have given up after my first attempt.

Why? Because each time Emilia, my brother and my brother-in-law give me a description of their work, I understand exactly none of what they are saying.

While I consider myself a reasonably smart, well-educated person who can hold my own during confusing conversations, when these folks describe their work to me, it goes in one ear and out the other. From my vantage point, their description is fragmented and filled with acronyms and industry-specific terms that no layperson could comprehend, which leaves me confused and, at times, annoyed because I feel stupid. I would be quick to consider this my own shortcoming but for the fact that so many others share my experience.

[Related: These Powerful Women CEOs Know How to Put Technology in its Place]

Do you work in an industry, such as technology, manufacturing, engineering or others that require highly specialized, industry-specific skills and knowledge? If so, it is understandable that you may be so immersed in your industry that, like my friend and family members, you don’t recognize the need or perhaps don’t even realize that the way you are describing your work is lost on us lay folk.

Why does it matter?

You are missing a great opportunity to strengthen your professional brand, garner greater respect and acknowledgement and potentially open doors through an unlimited network of lay people.

If you give lay people – including those in your social networks and your not-industry-specific professional networks, and even the random person who strikes up conversation at the grocery store – a readily accessible explanation of the amazing work that you and your company do, and how it positively impacts their life, they will be compelled to share and excite their social and professional networks about you (and your company). Then, those networks will share it with their networks, and it grows from there. Embedded in these endless networks of people are your existing and prospective customers, clients, even your next career opportunity. Your company also benefits as its visibility is raised and its reputation is strengthened with you serving as its ambassador with lay audiences.

A few tips to help you develop a simple and compelling description of your work:

  1. Above all, your goal is to generally educate and excite lay people about your work. You want people to walk away so clear and intrigued by what you and your company do that they want to share it with others.
  2. Stay away from acronyms and industry-specific words and lingo. Use entirely lay language from start to finish.
  3. Don’t worry about the nuts and bolts of what you do. When someone asks you what you do, don’t take the question too literally. People are not especially interested in what you do on a day-to-day basis. We just want a general understanding, and to know why it’s important.
  4. Adhere to the 3Cs rule in your description: Clear, Concise and Compelling. Given the lite speed at which we can text, Tweet and use all other forms of social media, it is not surprising that expectations of brevity and swiftness have permeated our verbal communications as well. With our attention span limited and our time compromised, your listeners will only tolerate ‘soundbites’ (i.e., brief, compelling, simple, short sentences). Also, because the brain generally absorbs things in 3s, keep your description to just 3 compelling sentences.
  5. Begin by making it clear how your work is relevant to your listener. The bottom line is that all of us are most likely to pay attention and remember what someone tells us if it is abundantly clear how it directly relates to us in some way. If you can clearly convey the causal link (albeit, with some degrees of separation) between what you do and how it effects my life in some way, I will remember and share it.
  6. Ensure your script suits your personality and communication style. While it is important to use words that your listener is sure to understand, this doesn’t mean you need to be robotic in your delivery. Personalize your description, so it reflects your personality.
  7. Be authentic in your delivery. While you may feel you are being overly simplistic, or even patronizing in your lay description, your listener most likely doesn’t feel that way, so keep it to yourself. If your listener detects sarcasm in your voice, or embarrassment in your facial expressions or body language, they may think you don’t take your work seriously or don’t respect your company.
  8. Strike a confident pose. You have every reason to be proud of your career and hopefully, you feel a strong sense of pride about the company you work for as well. Let this shine through when sharing your work with others.

[Related: Define Your Personal Brand and Proceed With Confidence]


Dara Goldberg is the President Mindsets, Inc., founded to ensure that companies engaged in or poised to make a shift recognize the pivotal role that people’s mindsets play in enabling individuals & teams to perform & thrive to their maximum potential.