Archive | October, 2014

Work In The Tech Industry? 7 Tips To Help You Describe It To A Lay Audience

3 Oct

I have asked my friend Emilia, a senior executive at a national technology consulting firm, what she does for a living on no less than 10 occasions, probably more. I have asked my brother, who has a great job at Google, Inc., the very same question so many times he has taken to giving me a ‘you better not ask me again’ stare every time we see each other. As for my brother-in-law, who I so adore and admire, I have stifled my natural curiosity and don’t dare ask him again what kind of work he does in his capacity as Founder and COO of a successful, fast-growing technology company.

Why? Because each time Emilia, my brother and my brother-in-law give me a description of their tech-y company, and the work they do there, I understand exactly none of what they are saying. The conversation generally goes like this:

“So, what type of work do you do?” 

“I am a [position name I have never heard of], & I [description that makes no sense to me].”


While I wouldn’t call myself brilliant, I am reasonably smart, highly educated and feel at home engaging in high-level, what some might call ‘heady’ conversations about almost anything. Yet, the blurb they give me about their work goes in one ear and out the other. From my vantage point, their description is fragmented and filled with acronyms and tech-y terms that no lay person would comprehend, which leaves me confused and, at times, even annoyed because I feel stupid. I would be quick to consider this my own shortcoming were it not for the fact that so many other non-technos share my experience.

Do you work in an industry that requires highly specialized, industry-specific skills and knowledge? If so, it is understandable that you may be so adept and immersed in your industry that, like my friend and family members, you also struggle to simplify, or in many cases don’t even realize that the way you are describing your work and your company is lost on us lay folk.

So, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter if you don’t effectively describe what you do, where you do it, why it’s important, etc., to your family, social networks, even the man in line behind you at the grocery store who strikes up conversation?

You are missing a great opportunity to strengthen your professional brand, garner greater respect and acknowledgement (which we all need, by the way) and potentially open doors through an unlimited network of lay people. If you, along with my friend and family members and countless others, gave lay folk like me a readily accessible explanation of the amazing work that you and your company do, and the way in which it positively impacts my life, I will not only feel good that I actually understand it, but I will likely be compelled to share and excite my social and professional networks about you (and your company). Not surprisingly, your company also benefits, having its visibility raised and its reputation strengthened because you are serving as such a fine ambassador for the company – part-educator, part-salesperson, part-advocate, part-loyal employee.

I’m referring here to the casual, on-the-fly conversations you have with your extended family members, social and professional networks, even the random stranger. With an easily understood and provocative spiel, those with whom you speak can then easily describe your company to their networks, who can then mention it to their networks, and so on. Without question, embedded within these endless networks of people are your existing and prospective customers, clients, even your next career move should you be interested.

Here are a few tips to help you develop a readily accessible and compelling description of your work:

  • Above all, your goal is to generally educate and excite the layperson about your work, and your company. You want the person to walk away so clear and intrigued by what you and your company do that they actually wantto share it with others.
  • Don’t worry about the nuts and bolts of what you do. When someone asks you what you do, don’t take their question too literally. With the exception of those you are closest to, and your peers in the industry, people are not especially interested in the specifics of what you do on a day-to-day basis. We really just want a general understanding.
  • Adhere to the 3Cs rule when composing your description: Clear, Concise and Compelling. Given the lite speed at which we can send and receive texts, Tweet, compose hashtags and engage in other forms of social media, and the fact that we can do most of these things simultaneously, it is not surprising that expectations of brevity and efficiency, and ready permission to multi-task, have permeated our verbal communications as well. With our attention span limited, our time compromised and our capacity to maintain interest all too fleeting, your listeners only want you to give them ‘soundbites’ (i.e., brief, compelling, simple, short sentences). Also, given the fact that the brain generally absorbs things in 3s, keeping it to 3 (or 4 if you absolutely must) sentences will increase the likelihood that your lay listener will not only understand but also remember what you say and be able to share it with others.
  • Begin by making it clear how your company and your work is relevant to your listener. The bottom line is that all of us are most likely to pay attention and actually remember what someone tells us if it is abundantly clear right off the bat how it directly relates to or, even better, benefits us. You may get my partial attention, and maybe I’ll even remember some of what you say if you tell me about the positive impact your company is having on the world at large. But, if you clearly convey what your company does that directly relates to my everyday life, I can almost guarantee you’ll capture my full attention, and I’ll remember it.

By way of example: I mean no offense to extermination companies, but it seems safe to say that if you simply tell me that you develop the technology that exterminators use to kill termites, bees, cockroaches and other yucky bugs, I would be hard-pressed to get excited. But, if you opened with a sentence that tells me, in a light-hearted manner, that you work for a company that enables me to go to sleep each night with assurance that my bed (and my whole house and neighborhood) is free of creepy, crawly things, you are going to get my ear, and I’ll probably repeat your simple, witty and factual description of your work.

  • 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 delivery so it reflects your personality. If you’re generally a light-spirited person who incorporates humor when speaking, do just that when explaining what you and your company do. There is no need to be bland or, even worse, downright boring when giving a simple explanation of what you do.
  • Be authentic in your delivery. While you may feel you are being overly simplistic, verging on patronizing in your description, don’t let it show. You need to be authentic. Your listener will understand that you are purposefully ‘dumbing it down’ for their benefit. If they detect 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.
  • 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 confidence and pride show through when sharing this information with others.

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know!