Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Elevator Speeches Part I - Buck the Trend

The other day I was asked for some advice on how to create an Elevator Speech.

Elevator Speeches have been all the rage for the last 10 years or so, with our growing focus on networking, our shrinking availability of time, and our desire to pitch who we are and what we do in a quick, effective format - as if we only had the time between a few floors on a elevator (natch) to do so.

More recently I've seen the trend for a standard "I'm John Doe, I own a hot dog stand, and I make the best dog in town for the lowest price" Elevator Speech disappear, thank goodness. These pre-packaged sound-bytes are everything that is wrong with networking today.

I prefer to buck the trend, and create an Elevator Conversation. It consists of five parts:

1. The 1st Question
After exchanging names, you're asked "What do you do?" That's your cue - you're on the spot, and the person asking probably doesn't care much beyond whether or not you are a potential target for business.

2. The Twisted Reply
No, nothing out of Stephen King, unless you're a budding horror-movie director. You put a twist on what you do, by using lesser known terminology, and stating the benefit to the listener.

Examples: "I'm a motivational speaker" could become "I send people to the future".
Instead of "I'm a plumber", you say "I keep pipes flowing". Instead of "I sell insurance", consider "I clean up after accidents". (Additional Note: These examples are general - each of you has something unique to say based on who you are and how you do what you do - find what's right for you and your personality. Thanks for inspiring the clarification Lisa B.)

3. The 2nd Question
Instead of continuing on with a commercial for yourself, ask the other person a question - one that is either related to what you can offer them: "How would knowing your future help you?", "Do you know where you keep your plunger?", or by asking the 1st question "What do you do" in order to get them talking about them.

Both ways will get the other person talking, which leads directly to #4.

4. Put on those Listening Ears
Your kindergarten teacher's advice is still spot-on. Once the other person is talking, listen intently, and tune in to cues they provide about their business/family/personal needs. In many cases, your Twisted Reply will get them asking more questions about what you do. Keep your answers short and directed at their interests, not yours.

5. Make a Date
The business world and the dating world aren't that far apart. Once your conversation has finished, or at least timed out, ask for a continuance. Either ask for a few more minutes right then (if you're truly on an elevator, and they're headed to their office), or within a day or two.

You and they will both know after the Elevator Conversation whether you want to see each other again.

You may be a great speaker, writer, or salesperson, but it doesn't mean you want to speak for a full 30-90 seconds about you. Bucking the trend will gain their attention, at the same time. It's fairly easy to spot a canned Elevator Speech, and drift off within seconds, thinking about your destination vs. who is speaking to you.

Let the Elevator Conversation begin!

Tomorrow, Pt. 2 - Elevator Speeches for an Audience.


  1. Rich, I've heard this suggestion before, about getting creative in how you describe "what you do," but I wonder if that works in the real world the way it sounds on paper.

    I'm old school; I don't want to play games with people or try to trick them into asking more questions, but I agree that the typical intro can be rather boring. So I'm asking you... does this actually work? Do people really get intrigued and want to know more when you say "I send people to the future?" Or do they find it manipulative and just want to get to the point?

  2. Delivery is key - for me and others I've watched take this approach with a smile, yes. If it's said with the intonation of a telemarketer, no.

    The setting is key as well - in a networking environment we are inundated with sameness - variety creates attention.

    As with any formula of this type, it must be crafted to fit you and your personality - if one doesn't believe they should say something creative, or that it hurts their credibility, it will - less for what it said, more for HOW its said.

  3. I'd like to add one more thing. In addition to "Listening Ears", "Seeing Eyes" would be welcomed.

    In other words, full attention on the person, not looking over the shoulder to see who else is there.

    I'm looking forward to Part 2, Rich!

  4. Tough to have one without the other, effectively, certainly! Thanks for the addition Marianna!



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