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What do you do for a living?What do you do for a living?

It comes up all the time. Whether getting your hair cut, talking to your banker, or just chatting with a new neighbor over the back fence, the same question pops up. “So, what do you do for a living?” If you’re a flight instructor or work at a flight school, what do you tell them? Nobody wants to hear a six-minute TED talk, but a one-word grunt doesn’t do the trick either. What do you say?

Sales gurus tell us that we should all have an elevator speech memorized and available for immediate recall. That’s a little quickie spiel that captures what you do in the 30 seconds it takes to go up a couple of floors. They also tell us not to answer with your job title and leave it at that; this is a real opportunity to capture the essence of what you do and draw your audience into a further discussion.

Here’s an example. If you were a bone doctor, and somebody asked what you did for a living, you could say, “I’m an orthopedic surgeon.” OK, but what is it that you really do? Instead, how about saying something like, “I make it possible for people who have been severely injured and can’t move to walk again and regain normal function. I’m an orthopedic surgeon.” Which answer do you think provides more information and gives a deeper insight into the doc’s real job? More importantly, which answer is more memorable?

Sure, those of us in the flying business aren’t surgeons, but most of us have jobs that are fascinating to many people and yet we often fail to communicate effectively with our friends and neighbors. When asked what you do for a living, how about answering with something like, “I help people realize their lifetime dream of learning to fly airplanes. I’m a flight instructor. Have you ever wanted to learn to fly?” Or maybe something like, “I manage a career-oriented flight school that provides people the opportunity to change their lives by becoming airline pilots. What do you do?”

Whether we realize it or not, everybody associated with the flight training world is an ambassador. We all represent our industry every day. In a sense, we’re all salespeople or evangelists, promoting general aviation to all who will listen. Research shows us that a huge number of Americans have actively considered learning to fly, either for business or pleasure reasons. Many just don’t know how to get started or whom to ask, and often find a weekend trip to the local flight school to be intimidating, unsatisfying, and unproductive.

As a group, we don’t sell our industry very well. Developing an engaging elevator speech to share with others won’t turn the industry around overnight, but it might be a good first step. It’s something we can all do easily. To steal an idea from that great aviator, Confucious, “The flight of a thousand miles begins with the first preflight.” Starting a conversation that leads to that first preflight for somebody can be as easy as creating that elevator speech. Like that surgeon, we’re in the life-changing business, and it’s time we recognized that fact and told the world.

William Woodbury is a pilot, flight instructor, marketing communications professional, and freelance writer who lives in California.

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