When you’re at the proverbial cocktail party, and someone asks you what you do, do you have an answer? As a professional in a field known by virtually no one (knowledge management), I can tell you that one of the situations I used to fear most was getting the dreaded “what do you do?” question. It sounds so innocent, doesn’t it? And yet it used to set my mental cogs into a twisting, mostly downward, spiral. I had no idea how to answer that question (a) briefly [in case the person isn’t really that interested], (b) coherently [so that I don’t sound like I’m making it up], and (c) substantively [so that I actually answer the person’s question and explain what I do]. But about a year ago, I finally came up with my elevator speech — a way of describing what I do briefly, coherently, and substantively. This is quite a point of pride for me not only because it took me so long to figure out, but also because I’ve found that my speech actually works! Each time I share it to respond to the “what do you do?” question, I’ve been greeted in return with genuine understanding, and even an interest in hearing more. So, what is this 30-second pitch I’ve developed? Well, here you go — I explain that: “What I do is parallel to what Google did for the web. All the websites it searches already existed and were already out there available to be viewed, but suddenly with Google people were able to find those websites much more easily.” One of the reasons I like the comparison for the layperson of knowledge management to Google is that it leverages the distinction between access to content and the content itself that, prior to Google, most people simply did not get, but which Google has since made infamous. Certainly one part of knowledge management is content development and aggregation, but that part is typically easier to explain. The aspect that always tripped me up in the past was how to express the access part of knowledge management. I could say I design, build, and launch a tool that searches; a tool that files email; a new portal; a practice toolkit; a tool that tags documents; a more streamlined process to create documents; etc etc… but listing out projects is hardly the right response at that party to the person asking what you do. So I’m pleased to say that I now have an elevator speech. But I’m always interested in hearing how others describe what they do to those completely outside the legal industry. So if you have an elevator speech too, please comment here and share it with me.

  • cat herder OR herd cats

  • I have to be honest – for the life of me, I could not figure out from your elevator speech exactly what you do. I thought maybe you helped people with SEO or worked for another search engine company – those were my first thoughts. I had to Google you and when I saw your LinkedIn profile that you do something in knowledge management. Maybe you need include something like that in the speech.

  • I have to agree with Carolyn on this……

  • I assumed that Ayelette had already introduced herself as "Hi, I'm Ayelette, from Knowledge Management.". When she was asked "What is it that you do?"

  • Ha! Yes, this speech is after the initial "I'm a lawyer but I don't practice anymore. I now work as part of my law firm's Knowledge Management department." After I see that look of <> on the face of the person I'm talking to, I usually say something like "If you've never heard of knowledge management, that's ok; I hadn't either before I went into the field. In a nutshell, what I do is…." and then go into describing how my layer of work is the access layer, similar to how Google is the access layer between a person and the information that person is looking for. Prior to Google, people assumed that if content existed, you'd be able to find it. It's only after Google that people have a concept of there being a way to improve access.

  • I didn't realize that those caret brackets would blank out the text I'd put in between them. The above comment is supposed to say: After I see that look of "oh no… I don't want to look stupid, but I have no idea what knowledge management is…" on the face of the person I'm talking to…