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How to tell people what you do

Is it really that hard?

Yes….yes it is.  I’m sure you’ve had tons of times when asked this question and you didn’t know how to answer. Whether it was from family and friends, or what we’re going to focus on today, from prospective clients and partners. Last week on the Learn TouchDesigner HQ group coaching call, I was asked about building a personal brand. When I was thinking about how to approach this, a lot of it comes down to one key thing: telling people who you are and what you do. That’s it. If you can communicate that in a clear, effective, and compelling manner, you’ll be much more successful. This is especially true when you’re trying to get new clients. At least people you’ve worked with kind of already know you in some capacity, but when you meet someone new (or are trying to get a meeting), what do you say? Most people in our industry have so many talents, but you can’t list them all! Where do you start? Where do you stop? Let’s dive into my approach.

A single line

First things first. Make it short and sweet. I remember when people used to ask me what I do and I’d rattle off all kinds of shenanigans for a few minutes, thinking about all the cool projects I’ve done and where I’ve been and all the little skills I’ve learned. Oh boy, how brutally boring that must have been for the listener. Face it, no one really cares that much. People just want the short version. They want something they can remember and associate to you in their brain. Your introduction of who you are and what you do should be no more than 25 words, and even 25 words is a long. The key to keeping it short is that most of the time you might not be talking to a final decision maker. You need to give a short and easy to remember story that the person can then go and tell to their boss or colleagues to get an “OK” to hire you. The longer and more complicated your story, the worse job they’ll do remembering and trying to sell you to their team. The shorter and more compelling it is, not only will they be excited, but that excitement will show when they’re able to easily sell you to their team/management.

The double whammy

I call my approach the double whammy. Why? Because I break down your own introduction into 2 parts. The first part is the compelling bit, and the second part is your specialization bit.

Compelling bit

Like I said above, you need to give the person you’re introducing yourself to something exciting and compelling they can latch onto. Something that will actually make them want to talk to you or think about you for more than just 3 seconds. You need something that isn’t so technical or in the nitty gritty, it should be a big idea. Not just any idea, the big idea that keeps you motivated to work! Everyone’s got some kind of really abstract or out there notion or idea that brought them to this industry in the first place. Maybe it’s how excited you are to connect people and their environments. Maybe you love the possibilities of sensors used to augment human capabilities with robotics. Maybe it’s that you think the universe was made from a sound and that everything is vibrating at certain frequencies and you try to create environments to explore this (this idea needs a bit of shortening!!!). Maybe the future of all expression is through technology and you want to be a part of that. You get the idea. Whatever big and crazy idea or love that brought you here to this industry, this is the first thing you need to give someone in the shortest and sweetest possible way. Here’s some examples (not 100% perfect, more just starting points and examples):

I use technology to connect people to public spaces in intimate ways

I harness robotics to augment the human experience

I use cymatics to explore the nature of reality

Whatever you think of any of these little compelling tidbits I just came up, one thing you can’t deny is that they may have gotten you slightly excited, and in some cases maybe made you want to ask more questions (like what is cymatics?!). And that’s the goal, you want to appeal to someones curiosity and sense of adventure with the compelling bit.

Specialization bit

Ok so you’ve got someone on the hook now with some cool idea that you are deep into. What next? Specialization. At the end of the day, our field is new and crazy. There’s room for generalists, but I’d argue being a proper generalist is a type of specialization in our industry! Generalists aside, people want to hire the best people they can, and the best people are usually specialists. Specialists are also easier to hire in most cases because if there’s a job opening or skill gap, they just want to pay what they need to fill that role/skill. If you cost a lot because you know a ton of stuff in different fields, the client probably thinks that is cool, but won’t want to pay for that. The specialization bit also bridges your abstract and compelling idea to reality. You can’t lead with the compelling bit and then just let your feelings float off into the wind, because the person will say “ok that’s cool, but like how do I hire you and what exactly do you do?” This is what we answer with the specialization bit.

The more specialist you can get here, I think generally the better. I recommend giving the listener the 1-3 skills that we want to be hired for. I’d argue 1 skill is the best and then you can upsell your other skills later on in the conversation or in further meetings, then they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they find out you know way more stuff. But for some cases, maybe having a few interesting skills working together is part of your specialization. This is actually the harder part for most people because we usually want to highlight all of our skills. You really need to just pick 1-3 for now and really drive them home. So here’s some examples:

I specialize in bulletproof generative audio systems in Max MSP

I build real-world controls for digital systems using Arduinos

I combine robotic arm automation with TouchDesigner systems

What do you notice? Like I’ve been saying, keep it short and sweet. Don’t go rattling off every software you’ve ever opened. Pick your thing. The first two only used one skill but the third example combined two different skills (robotic arm automation and TouchDesigner development).

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Bring ’em together!

Now for the exciting part. You’ve got a pie-in-the-sky compelling idea and a real-as-it-gets skill. Just smash them together! I’ll smash the above examples together and just see how decent they are for how little work I put into them!

I use technology to connect people to public spaces in intimate ways by building real-world controls for digital systems using Arduinos

I harness robotics to augment the human experience and do so by combining robotic arm automation systems with TouchDesigner systems

I use cymatics to explore the nature of reality through my specialization in bulletproof generative audio systems in Max MSP

Not bad, right! They have punch, they’re short, easy to remember, interesting, abstract but also specific, and best of all the listener gets interested and the last thing they hear is the skill you’re trying to sell them. Job done! I will guarantee that if you’re trying to cold call or email people for meetings/gigs, and you delete the really long email you had prepared that was basically a written out CV and just use something like the above and say you’d like to meet for lunch or coffee to discuss the possibilities (attach your CV as an attachment if you really want…), you’ll probably get more hits.

Wrap up & What about Elburz?

So now you know how I approach introductions and the inevitable question of “so what do you do?” The answer is simpler than you think if you take some time and craft your own perfect answer. But talk is cheap, here’s are some of my one line intros I would use to explain what I do for your amusement:

I explore the endless possibilities of real-time systematized art & creation as one of the best TouchDesigner developers in the world.

I tame wild & unstable technology for artistic creation and I specialize in building bulletproof technical architectures

I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio and it sounds like you’re asking me to perform inception! It’s possible, but it’ll cost you…

In fairness, I’ve never used that last one, but I’ve thought about it a few times when clients give me crazy requests! Good luck!

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