The Anti-Elevator Speech

When someone asks you what you do, do you freeze up or start stammering? You need a concise, memorable response prepared for all the times when you’re asked about your work. This is sometimes called your “elevator speech.” Why? Imagine stepping into an elevator with your biggest prospect. She turns to you and asks, “So, what exactly do you do?” You have 30 seconds—the time it takes for the elevator to get to her destination on the 25th floor—to describe yourself in such a way that she immediately understands why you are the solution to her problems.

Unfortunately, most people see their elevator speech as an opportunity to tell their life story and rattle off a laundry list of services they provide to their clients. All this does is serve to notify the victim, er, the listener that this person is more interested in talking about himself than about what he can do for his clients. Instead, create an anti-elevator speech that focuses on results instead of activity. Three alternatives I recommend include Elevator Q&A, Elevator Ping Pong, and Elevator Story-Telling.

Elevator Q&A
Paul and Sarah Edwards, the authors of a number of books about home-based businesses, describe a useful formula for developing your 15- to 30-second introduction. The template they use is this:“You know how [describe typical clients’ problem]? Well, I [solve problem] by [doing this].” For example, “You know how frustrating it is when you have to make a strategic decision without all the information you need? Well, my company helps you make better decisions by providing you with insight on your competitors.” Or, “You know how hard it is to care for elderly parents when you don’t live nearby? Well, I coordinate local care for my clients’ loved ones throughout the Puget Sound area, and consider each one to be part of my family.”

Elevator Ping Pong
Instead of developing a speech, remember that you just want to get a conversation going. So, when someone asks you what you do, give an answer that invites further interaction. A business researcher might say “I keep my clients from making big mistakes” or “I help my clients look brilliant”.  (I learned this approach from a man who sold automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and would tell people that he was in the human jumper-cable business. If that doesn’t invite at least a “what?” from the listener, nothing will…) Think of a way to describe yourself that is intriguing, thought-provoking, or even startling.

Elevator Story-Telling
We humans are innate storytellers. An effective way of describing yourself so that you are memorable is to tell your listener a story in just three sentences. The first sentence describes the client’s situation; the second sentence tells what your client got; the last sentence says what your clients were able to do next. An example from my own experience is, “A product director was considering a move into the organic personal care market. I provided an overview of the market, with the key issues summarized. My client decided to focus on organic baby care products, an area in which they had a clear advantage.”

Keep the following in mind as you work on your personalized version of the answer to, “So, what do you do?”
•    Avoid industry jargon or buzzwords such as “solutions.” Word of mouth travels a lot farther if people outside your field understand and can describe to others what you do.
•    Keep it short. They’re asking you for a reason to use your services, not your life story or a laundry list of services.
•    Make yourself recession-proof. What are your clients’ critical needs—things they view as essential, not just nice to have? (Don’t know? Conduct some reality-check interviews and find out!)
•    Focus on benefits that provide clear added value. Talk about services that your clients can’t or won’t do for themselves and that solve a problem or help them achieve their goals.
•    Make sure you can deliver your introduction with enthusiasm. If you’re excited about your business, others will be as well.

Practice your 15-second introduction with everyone you encounter and watch their responses. If you get a blank stare, well, you just learned one way not to describe yourself. Keep at it until you’ve found a few intros that feel genuine, you can say with passion, and that the other person understands. Everyone can be part of your word-of-mouth network if you learn how to effectively convey why people love your product or services so much.

2 thoughts on “The Anti-Elevator Speech

  1. Love this! And, as always, consider your audience. Sometimes I can say almost the exact same thing to one person and they “get” immediately what I can do for them. Then two days later in a different environment, I may misjudge the background of someone, or assume they’re part of a certain ecosystem and I can get that blank stare. I think learning to adapt quickly to the stare is part of the challenge. By the way, a favorite ending tag line for a colleague of mine who was a financial planner was… “so, if you’re going to be a bag lady, make it a Gucci!” Very memorable 10 years later.

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