Business Networking: When NOT to Start with a Story

In my quest to be social, and not just on social media, I attended quite a few live business networking events this year. Conferences, conventions, and summits. Panels, presentations, and coffee dates.
My goal was to meet & greet, see & be seen as much as possible. I can only get so far in the bubble of my home office and my yoga pants & hoodie aren’t really a power suit.

When you’re not basking in the glow of the computer screen, the most difficult part of meeting someone new is often the first question you’re asked: So what do you do?

I heard the answer to this simple question butchered over & over again at events. Instead of answering the question, well-meaning attendees would launch into stories about what they used to do, what they wanted to do, or what they don’t do.
Very rarely did I hear someone say what they actually do.
Sure, we’re all in transition. We all feel a bit weird about declaring our work to the world. But that’s no excuse for needing a 3-minute story just to tell people how you spend 40+ hours of the week.

Know what you do, who you do it for, and why you do it. It should take 2 sentences to spit out at most. Rehearse it so that you can say it clearly & confidently.
When you use a story to explain what you do in this setting, you’re sending the message that you don’t know what you do and that it will probably be different tomorrow. Sure, that might be true but that doesn’t deliver “you want to get to know me!” message you’re going for.

Don’t be afraid to be loud & proud. Declare what you do. Answer the question!

When you’re finished, return the favor by asking your new friend.
Then what?!
I’ve found that being prepared with a follow up question to the obligatory so-what-do-you-do is the best way to confidently keep the conversation flowing. My question of choice has been “What’s next for you?” It gives people an easy way to talk about themselves, fills in some of the story, and presents you with possible follow-up opportunities.
Remember, stories will get you far. Just not when you use them in place of a confident, concise statement about your great work.

What tips do you have for meeting new business contacts?



Tara Gentile

Business Strategist at Tara Gentile
Tara Gentile is an author and business strategist who works with idea-driven entrepreneurs who want to do more with less. Her clients learn to lead themselves and their businesses based on what makes them most effective and compelling. Tara’s work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Design*Sponge, and in the New York Times bestselling book The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau. She’s a regular instructor on CreativeLive and speaks on entrepreneurship, money, and the New Economy all over the world.




  1. Wild Dove Marketing (@wilddovemktg) (@wilddovemktg)

    Just Spit It Out: When NOT to Start with a Story – via @HeathALL

  2. Fawn

    Having this prepared to send the right message is a gift to you and the world–you’re clear what you’re offering.

    I love the follow up question, Tara, I’ll definitely be incorporating that into my conversations.

  3. Renia Carsillo

    It’s pretty simple. Tell people how you help the world. That’s the best way to describe what we do that I’ve found. I tell people one of two things, depending on the event:

    1. “I help people make more money in less time.”


    2. “I help entrepreneurs become relaxed millionaires.”

    Those statements always get the all-important follow up question:
    “How do you do that.” where I get to tell them what I do.

    This tactic was probably the most important thing I learned from The Referral Institute and it’s done a lot over the past three years to help my business.

    Great thoughts Tara!

    • Tara Gentile

      Yes! This is a great follow up. Saying what you do doesn’t mean giving your title – it means what you are actually DOING.

      Love how you frame this around changing the world – since I believe we all have the power to do just that!

  4. Lisa

    My tip for meeting new people :
    When I meet someone new after I say Hi my name is….I normally let them talk about themselves….everyone loves to talk about themselves.

  5. LaTersa Blakely

    now this is some food for your thoughts. thanks for sharing these great tips, Tara! Look forward to reading more of your posts.

  6. Heather Allard

    I loved Danielle + Marie’s (at Selling Your Soul) idea of a “cocktail line” – just a short explanation of what you do.

    For instance, mine is “My name is Heather Allard and I run a website that helps mom entrepreneurs run a business, raise a family and rock both.”

    Thanks for another great post, Tara!

    • Ainslie Hunter

      Ohh Heather

      I like that – the cocktail line. I should try that,

      Tara, when I was at Blogworld New York I still wasn’t comfortable saying what I did onlne – I wasn’t ready. So when I knew the question was coming I would jump in first and ask the other person what they did first.

      Then in my reply I would say what I did and relate it to their experience.


      • Tara Gentile

        Oooh! That’s a great tip, Ainslie. Plus, that forces you to say hi to people before they can say hi to you.

        :: taps fingers together evily ::

        Perfect for closet introverts like myself!

  7. Karin

    You’re right – if you have to “justify” it with a background story, it sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself that you made the right decision. If *you’re* not convinced, why should anyone else be?

    My favorite tip for when you meet new people is to make sure you have plenty of up-to-date business cards on hand, and EASILY accessible! (who wants to stand there awkwardly while you rummage around in the bottom of your purse?) Once you explain what you do to a new friend, be prepared to hand ’em a business card with your website, so they can go see your stuff for themselves. And since I sew, I always try to make sure I’m carrying or wearing one of my products – that’s what gets me noticed!

  8. Laura White-Ritchie (@LWhiteRitchie)

    Just Spit It Out: When NOT to Start with a Story –

  9. Carla @ All of Me Now

    Love your follow-up question! And yes, I think it’s so important to own it when you say it. If you don’t own when you say it, then you won’t believe it, either.


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