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How Do You Talk About What You Do?

May 14, 2018 • Practice Leadership • Paul Potter

So, What do you do for a living?

We get asked this question all the time. If you answer only with ” I’m a physical or occupational therapist” you’ll be putting yourself in a box, a box that lead that can greatly affect the success of your practice.

Picture this,

You’re at your child’s soccer game or gymnastic practice; during a pause in the action the parent sitting next to you casually asks,

“So, What do you do for a living?”

How do you answer them?

Or how about this? You’re at a continuing education seminar; during break a therapist turns to you and says,

So, what do you do?

What’s your answer?

For most of my career, I struggled to come up with a clear, concise answer. Most the time I’d give a long, rambling answer that talked about the places I had worked, my certifications, my favorite patients…half way through I’d feel self-conscious and try to shift the conversation.


Who Are You and What Do You Do?

Let’s think about this for a second. You are so much more than your professional qualifications. The impact you have on patients’ lives is hard to describe.

But if you can’t who will?

If your answer to what do you do, sounds like your resume, you’ll bore people to tears.

Or worse yet, you meet someone who would really benefit from your services but they have a preconceived notion of what therapy is all about.You may or may not get to second base because of how your answer relates to their beliefs or previous experience with your professional box.

A primary reason why many therapists fail to build a thriving practice is that they struggle to articulate in a clear and concise way of sharing what solutions and benefits they offer. We don’t know how to have a natural conversation without sounding confusing or like everyone else.

WebPT founder Heidi Jannenga recently wrote an article on Why You Must Sell Yourself as a PT-Just Not the Way You Might Think. She ends her excellent piece with this poignant question:

“And how could a patient possibly know what to expect from you-or your practice- unless you know your value and how to sell it?”

Heidi emphasizes that the type of selling she’s talking is not trying to convince someone to buy from you. But getting to know your patients so you both can decide if you’re a good fit for each other.

How do you do that? Read on.


Ditch The Pitch

It’s important for us to be able to clearly communicate to people how we help people in a sentence or two. It can make the difference between a successful practice and a mediocre one.

I don’t mean an elevator speech or a Shark Tank sales pitch we see on television. Let me ask you a question.

Do you like hearing someone’s canned sales pitch?

Do you love giving a memorized 30-second sales pitch?

Most of us probably say no. So why do it?

The elevator pitch was created so that entrepreneurs could pitch an idea to investors in the hopes of receiving funding. Most therapists are trying to build professional relationships of trust with potential clients not raise money for a new product.

You’ll be relieved to know you may ditch the elevator pitch for personal, meaningful conversations with real people you contact every day.


Real Meaningful Conversations

Michael Porter in his book, Book Yourself Solid, describes the conversation like this,

“The dialogue is a dynamic, lively description of the people you help, what challenges they face, how you help them, and the results and benefits they get from your services.”

Think of it as a conversation between two people who care enough about what the other person has to say.

As for your side of the conversation, you’ll want to share a clear message in the language of your listener so they understand who you help, what you do and why you do it?

Like any good conversation it’s a creative dialogue not a monologue where one person dominates the conversation. You’ll want to ask a few good questions about them-their challenges, desires, and solutions they’ve tried.

Then keep your mouth closed and listen. I mean really listen.

We must talk with people not at them. We need to hear what values they are trying to communicate with us. Listening to their needs, fears and hopes will open the door for you to evaluate whether or not you can provide a service that delivers what they value.

You may or may not be able to do so, but at least you’ve truly understood what they were communicating to you.

I’ve created a short guide on How To Talk About What You Do To Gain Respect and Referrals that provides a five-part formula to explain what you do in a natural way.

How do you make others lives better?

When people evaluate a service they weigh its perceived value against the time, energy and cost required to get the perceived benefits. Sometimes it can be difficult to pin down what consumers truly value.

Some values are more inwardly focused, made up of mostly the consumers’ desire for less pain, less anxiety or even something like personal transformation. Other outwardly focused values help people navigate through the world they live in. Saving time and money, or connecting with a recognized authority may be very important to the person you’re talking to.

I wrote a blog post on how to Give Your Patient What They Really Want if you’re interested in learning ways to deliver what your patients really want.

It’s almost impossible to know what might be important to the people you talk to unless you have meaningful conversations with them.

The first and most important responsibility of any healer is to make the right diagnosis. Without the right diagnosis, any subsequent treatment will be ineffective.

Our first task as healers is to know prospective patients as best we can. We must understand their ups and downs, pleasures and sorrows, beliefs and values and what may have brought them to this point in their lives.

It’s easy to justify keeping a “professional distance” to deal only with patients’ mechanical or medical problems. When we approach our work as healers in this way, it’s really about making our lives better not theirs.

What I’m asking for is a little bit of humility and perspective.

So we’ve come full circle, back to our original question.


“So, how do you talk about what you do?”

I’d like hearing how. You can tell me below or email me at [email protected]

I’ve created a short guide on How To Talk About What You Do To Gain Respect and Referrals that provides a five-part formula to explain what you do in a natural way.

Paul Potter

For over 30 years Paul Potter has owned and managed a private physical therapy practice specializing in manual orthopedic rehabilitation and medical fitness programs for special populations. He hosts the Functional Freedom Podcast where he interviews current thought leaders on practice issues and strategies to facilitate the professional effectiveness of therapists. A few factoids about...

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Paul Potter

Commented • May 21, 2018

Here's an example I received from Kris, a pediatric OT. “So what do you do?” “You know how kids who have special needs struggle with everyday things? (pause) Well, I help make their lives a little easier…and usually their parents, too!” …It took me a LONG time to come up with that. It used to be: “I own a pediatric occupational and physical therapy clinic and we work with children who have special needs to improve their quality-of-life.” GAHHH! (And this is the improved version from even earlier days where I tried to insert the “how we do that” into the elevator pitch.) Now, I don’t even mention the OT or the PT unless that first bit hooks the listener. If it doesn’t, then they don’t particularly care, and I don’t want to waste their time, or my breath. Because pediatric therapy is its own animal, and it DOES take a lot of words–sentences–a conversation, usually–to explain it enough for someone to get the flavor of it. Thank you for your post, Paul. I’ve followed you for a while. Kris Dickinson, MS, OTR/L

Paul Potter

Commented • May 21, 2018

Hey Phil, thanks for contributing. If you have the time, please share your answer to "So, what do you do?" I HELP___(ideals clients)___ WITH _(the problem you solve)__, BY__(what makes you different)__ SO THAT __(ideals clients)__ MAY EXPERIENCE___(results, benefits)____. Thanks, Paul

Phil Gainan

Commented • May 20, 2018

Very true, the better we can articulate how we help people, the more success we will have. I have noticed, when someone asks the what do you do, or what can you do for "blank condition" the answer better be precise, compelling, as most people will only give just a few seconds of their attention, and will shut down. If they lose interest than this was a lost opportunity to market skills.

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