–from the desk of Bill Koch, Director/Workforce Development at SSV
What is meant by an “elevator speech” is preparing a short story of who you are, what you do, and how you can help the person you are talking to in the time it takes an elevator to go from the first floor to the top floor, or approximately 1 to 3 minutes. I will tell you the what, why, where, when, whom, and how of preparing that “elevator speech.”
What exactly is an “elevator speech”?
I believe the name was actually coined from the idea that we sometimes meet the important people in our lives in elevators. The odd situation we encounter in most elevators is that nobody speaks to or looks at anyone else, and yet we have a captive audience for that short period of time. Very few people are ready to interact in case someone does speak. The idea of an “elevator speech” is to have a prepared presentation that grabs attention and says a lot in a few words. What are you going to be saying? By telling your core message, you will be marketing yourself and/or your business, but in a way that rather than putting people off will make them want to know more about you and your business.
Why prepare an “elevator speech”?
I continually mentioned the importance of preparation, in fact one of my favorite sayings is people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan, and it is no different for an “elevator speech.” Actually, it is imperative to work on this two to three minute presentation until it is perfectly crafted. This is the one kind of speech that I do suggest memorizing. Make it such a part of you that if someone woke you up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night, and asked you what you do, you would smoothly and without hesitation tell them your “elevator speech.” This speech will serve as your introduction to others, so it has to be good!
Where and when do I use this “elevator speech”?
Of course, if you meet someone who shows interest in the elevator, you can be literal and use it there. But usually it comes in handy when you attend an event, a conference, a convention, or some other type of meeting with networking opportunities. You will notice that one of the first questions people ask is, “And, what do you do?” “Oh, I’m a lawyer … or an accountant … or a consultant … or an artist…” It doesn’t matter because they will often say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and immediately label you in their mind with all of the stereotypes they perceive those occupations carry with them. However, if you turn your message around and start with an answer like, “I work with small businesses that are grappling with computer problems,” right away — especially if they own a small business — their ears will perk up and they will want to know more. The reason I suggest working on this speech and memorizing it is that our natural reaction to the question, “What do you do?” is to answer with a label. Then, we continue to describe the process we go through instead of sharing the benefits they will get from working with us. Rather than thinking of ourselves as “solution providers” we picture ourselves as doing our occupation.
To whom do I present my “elevator speech”?
The more often you give your short speech, the better it will become. You will have so much fun experiencing the unique reactions to what you are saying, you will easily be able to add enthusiasm and energy to the telling. I suggest taking advantage of a wide variety of gatherings and networking events. And, don’t worry, if your “elevator speech” isn’t smooth, easy, or natural in the beginning. If you stick with it, you will find that it gets better and better, and before long, you will be getting a surprising amount of business — or, at least a number of contacts who want your business card and to stay in touch. You will also be remembered.
How do I craft my elevator speech? What are the ingredients?
To start your “elevator speech” determine your niche market, what problem(s) do they have that you can help solve and what solution is the outcome? What makes you unique? What short story illustrates a successful outcome that you have produced?
My name is Bill Koch, I help veterans get jobs! I work with a non-profit organization in Huntsville that was formed to help veterans it’s called “Still Serving Veterans”. We originally were formed to help severely disabled veterans but have since morphed into an organization that helps any veteran from any era. We have two case managers one for VA benefits and me. I do workforce development which entails helping veterans with resumes, job search strategies, interview skills as well as connecting the veterans to employers. We are a local organization but we help veterans from all over the country. In fact, I have clients as far away as Hawaii. Last year I was able to help 71 veterans get jobs with an average salary of over $50K.
So as you can see an elevator speech is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition. The name “elevator speech” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.
A variation of the “elevator speech” is the sound bite.
It is a very short introduction of yourself used in situations where you are meeting a lot of people and probably not spending a great deal of time with any one of them. Events specifically designed for networking were made for the Sound Bite, which lasts about 15-30 seconds and may or may not be the prelude to a lengthier conversation. The trick is to make your Sound Bite so intriguing that people will want to spend more time talking with you. The Sound Bite also might be incorporated into an initial phone conversation with a prospective new member of your network.
At its most basic level, the Sound Bite’s structure is:
Hi, my name is____________ I’m in the _______________ field, and I’m looking to__________________.
The last blank would be filled in with your current career aspiration, whether it is to stay within your field and move up or move into a different career.
A college student or new graduate might add the following to the basic structure.
Hi, my name is _________. I will be graduating/I just graduated from__________________with a degree in _________________. I’m looking to______________________.
You can stick with the sound bite’s basic structure and see where it takes you. It may not take you far, however, because it lacks two things: a “hook” and a request for action.
Beware of a Sound Bite/Elevator Speech that inspires the thought “so what?” in the listener, as the above examples might.
If, however, you add an element of intrigue – a hook – by incorporating your Unique Selling Proposition, the ensuing conversation now has considerable potential. Let’s look, for example, at how a conversation might go that starts with an intriguing Sound Bite:
Networker#1: Hi, my name is Carmen Southwick. I make dreams come true.
Networker #2: How do you do that?
Networker#1: I’m a wedding planner. I plan dream weddings for couples. I’ve been working for myself, but I’d like to get in with one of the big resorts that hosts weddings.
Let’s look at another example:
Networker#1: Hi, my name is Betty Joiner. I’m responsible for this country’s future.
Networker#2: This I’ve got to hear about.
Networker #1: I’m a teacher! I love shaping the minds of the next generation, but I’m also interested in getting into corporate training.
The concern, of course, with the intriguing sound bite is that you’ll sound corny or hokey. And, in fact, chances are you will. I’ll admit that when I first researched these sound bites/elevator speeches, I found them very corny. But they work by hooking your conversation partner into finding out more about you.
You just have to decide whether or not you’re comfortable with incorporating an intriguing line into your Sound Bite. If not, go for a more basic Sound Bite/Elevator Speech. One way to test the effectiveness is to try both approaches out on members of your inner circle.
Even the intriguing Sound Bites/Elevator Speeches above lack an important element – a request for action. Here are some action items that can be appended in various situations:
At a career fair: “I’d like to take your business card, as well as leave my networking card and resume. Would it be possible for me to get a spot on your company’s interview schedule?
In a networking situation: “What advice do you have for me? Can you suggest any employers I should be contacting?”
Cold-calling an employer: “When can we set up a meeting to discuss how I can help your company?”
Telephone or e-mail situations: “May I send you my resume?” (For in-person situations, you should always have resumes handy.)
The Elevator Speech is the longer version of your Sound Bite and can be used in networking situations in which you have more time to talk about yourself, such as when you are visiting in the office of a prospective member of your network or having lunch with a contact. It can be a great job-interview response to “tell me about yourself” or “why should I hire you?”
It’s also an effective response when you’re conducting an informational interview and the interviewee turns the tables and starts asking questions about you. The Commercial can piggyback on top of the Sound Bite; you start out with the Sound Bite, and your conversation partner asks you to tell more about yourself, so you segue into the Commercial. This introduction is typically one to three minutes long and contains more about your background, qualifications, and skills than the Sound Bite does.