Every day holds potential for your small business. You never know when you’ll come face-to-face with a potential new client, investor or just the person who can have a catalytic effect on the growth of your business. Are you ready for such a chance encounter? Do you know what to say when someone asks, “What do you do?” And can you say it well?

Opportunity can pass you by if you don’t have a compelling response to this common question. Being prepared is key. But rather than the canned elevator speech that’s the hallmark of sales pros and advocated for just about everyone else, we’re suggesting a conversational approach – one that engages your listeners in a dialog that has them wanting to know more.

How to talk to potential customers? These guidelines can help you prepare for your next chance encounter.

1. Make your message simple.

People are busy. Attention spans are limited. You have about 10 seconds to make a first impression and no more than a minute or two to capture your listener’s attention. Keep your reply to the what-do-you-do question short, simple and easy to relate to.

2. Captivate.

Captivate your audience with an intriguing statement that offers just enough information to pique their curiosity without telling all. For example, a physical therapist might say, “My job is to help people get back on their feet.” An insurance agent’s reply could be: “I help protect what matters most to people.” A tax attorney could say: “My clients depend on me to save their businesses money.”

These statements are likely to prompt the response, “what do you mean?” or “tell me more” – the perfect start to a more in-depth conversation.

Or, you can ask a question and then relate it to what you do. This can be particularly effective if your work is technical or difficult to explain. Let’s say your firm engineers driver assistance systems for automobile manufacturers. Pretty technical stuff. Some people may not even know what a driver assistance system is. Rather than try to explain what you do, start with a question such as, “Do you ever get sleepy behind the wheel of your car?” You’ll likely get a lively response, maybe even some personal stories. Now you’re on common ground and have the perfect hook for further conversation: “Well, I make software that detects when a driver gets drowsy in order to help prevent accidents.”

3. Inform but don’t overwhelm.

Once you have your listeners’ attention, ease into your subject. Have ready a compelling way to describe your work, the results you create for your customers and what sets you apart from everyone else in your industry. But keep it high level and easy to understand. Going into the intricacies of how your product or service works at this point is too much information too soon. It will likely turn your audience off. Details can come later.

4. Listen.

Remember, this is a dialog. Share the talking time. Don’t just tell. Engage, and listen to what your audience has to say. That will greatly improve your chance of being remembered and liked. And it’s the only way you’ll be able to speak to the unique interests and concerns of the person before you.

The conversational approach requires advanced preparation. You’ll want to script out your side of the conversation, at least the leading parts. Then test it out in a mock conversation with a few people who can offer constructive feedback. Refine your message accordingly.

Once you have your script in your back pocket, you can tailor it to the circumstances and relax and enjoy the conversation. Your listener probably will, too.