Before his days hosting Deal or No Deal, comic Howie Mandel practically built an entire stand up routine around asking his audience members the question “What do you do?” He’d play off their responses, which gave him great material to work with, in part because they stammered, gave incomplete answers (“I’m in purchasing”) or simply gave their titles (“I’m an assistant regional supervisor”). Howie had a field day with them. (“Purchasing-you mean SHOPPING?”)

Now that summer is here, it’s a time when lots of people are out in the neighborhood, at little league games, farmers markets, art festivals, or even the local pool. You’ll run into people you know, and probably meet a new set of neighbors, friends of friends, and other members of your community. We guarantee you’ll hear the same question that Howie Mandel asked his fans: What do you do? (WDYD?)

Be prepared with a great answer to WDYD. Talking about yourself and your work in an informal, no-pressure setting is a terrific way to practice your presentation skills. And you can make great business and personal connections with the people you meet at the park, just as you can when you go to more formal industry networking groups, where you’re primed to stand up and talk about yourself and your business.

EMS recently led a “Big Five” exercise with one of our clients, and had a lively group discussion focused on answering common questions about the organization, WDYD in particular. We noticed that the question invites a wide variety of responses, which may explain why some people struggle to articulate their answers. Some are tempted to go on and on, while others are very tentative and careful with their words.

The biggest surprise is that so many people find WDYD a hard question to answer. It really shouldn’t put anyone on the defensive. Instead, think of WDYD as an open invitation to talk about your skills, your business, your passion, and anything else that makes you unique.

Be ready with a short, medium and long answer for WDYD. Here are a few suggestions for how to frame your response:

Paint a picture, Pablo. Give some brief insights into your organization, your role, your industry or your background to get the listener’s interest.

Don’t get all technical, Tyler. Please avoid using jargon or terms that the average person doesn’t understand. We apologize to the detail-types who read this newsletter, but if you see someone’s eyes glazing over, you’re probably giving way too much information.

Don’t be too vague, Coleman. The once funny “I’m in plastics” response gives nowhere near enough information to someone who might need to make a professional connection with you or your company. Even something more descriptive like “I’m a lawyer” is only a starting point.

Sell it, Steverino! Share what’s exciting, important and relevant about what you do. Start with a POW! Statement (visit our website’s Glossary for more on that), and talk in a way that will make people want to listen. Remember, WDYD is a chance to sell, recruit, promote, and motivate.

If you don’t have a response ready for WDYD, start working on one. Practice verbalizing it in the car, at the dinner table or at your desk. Before long, you’ll be out looking for opportunities to deliver it.

Try this idea for a workgroup or offsite meeting: Take turns with your colleagues answering WDYD. Everyone gets to stand up and give a 1-2 minute response, after which they get feedback-positive and constructive-from the rest of the group. After you all have given an answer and received feedback, make a list of the key words and phrases which made the biggest impact, then go around the room again and give everyone another opportunity to respond.