1: When someone asks Esther Choi what she does for a living, she responds with a one-word answer. “Storytelling,” she says.
She’s setting the hook. Raising her audience’s curiosity and desire to know more. “A fishing hook helps you capture fish,” Esther writes in Let the Story Do the Work. “A conversational hook helps you capture the attention and imagination of other people.” A good hook typically involves an element of conflict, contrast, or contradiction. All make us curious. We want to know more.
Esther’s hook here is an example of a contradiction: “Specifically, I am contradicting my audience’s expectation. Inherent in the question “What do you do?” is the expectation that it will lead to information about what you do for a living, professionally—not what you do as a hobby or other pursuit.”
“After the pause, I usually hear things like: “Storytelling, huh? What does that mean?” or “So you write novels or children’s books?” she writes in Let the Story Do the Work.
Next, Esther shares a bit more: “I do storytelling—storytelling for business.”
Then she pauses again. “Having the discipline to stop talking is as important as speaking—too many of us ramble or ‘listen with our mouths’ and fail to give our audience the space they need to react and respond,” she writes.
Her response leaves them with even more questions. “They typically follow up with things like “Tell me more” or “How does it work?” or “Whom do you work with?” she writes.
Now Esther clarifies even further, offering information they likely expected much earlier: “I work with very quantitative and analytical-minded clients like research engineers, data scientists, and investment managers. I help them weave stories that make sense of the data they deal with and present their ideas to a broad range of audiences, because stories are a much more memorable way to forge deeper and meaningful connections.”
2: The above interaction is an example of what Esther calls “a pre-crafted conversation,” essentially a script we create in advance by anticipating how our listeners will respond to our hooks and pauses.
Doing so makes us better networkers. And adds a bit of fun to meeting someone for the first time.
When one of her clients tells people he is in “real estate,” the typical reaction is: “Oh, you’re a real estate broker.” So, when someone asks him, “What do you do?” he now responds: “I’m a real estate treasure hunter.” He’s “setting a hook” by contradicting his audience’s expectations.
3: Esther gives us a three-step process to create our own “hook.”
First, create a vivid image “I stand between people and prisons.” (Criminal defense lawyer), “I protect audiences from boring speakers.” (Speechwriter), and “I catch terrorists with spreadsheets.” (Risk-management consultant)
Then, use a concrete object and/or action-oriented verb “I build financial roadmaps.” (Financial planner), “I’m a digital revenue generator.” (Website designer), “I unpack brains.” (Corporate strategist)
Finally, pair words or ideas that don’t usually go together “I’m a habit destroyer.” (Leadership or life coach), “I’m an idea architect.” (Social innovator), “I help keep the Internet free.” (Online marketer)
Reflection: How do I usually respond to the “What do you do?” question?
Action: Experiment with Esther’s three-step process above to create something more compelling.