Preparing Your Elevator Speech

So, what’s an elevator speech, and how do you get one?

What Is It?

An elevator speech is a short (15-30 second, 150 word) sound bite that succinctly and memorably introduces you. It spotlights your uniqueness. It focuses on the benefits you provide. And it is delivered effortlessly.

Elevator speeches are intended to prepare you for very brief, chance encounters in an elevator. But elevator speeches are not just for elevators! You should use it whenever you want to introduce yourself to a new contact. That could be in the supermarket, waiting in line at an ATM or when you get your morning latte.

So, who better than you to describe with passion, precision and persuasiveness what you do? A great elevator speech makes a lasting first impression, showcases your professionalism and allows you to position yourself.

And if you want to network successfully, you need an elevator speech!

How to Prepare an Elevator Speech, or What’s My Line?

Now for a short course in preparing your elevator speech, or unique selling proposition.

First, and most important, think in terms of the benefits your clients or customers derive from your services.

Trust me, no one is going to be riveted if you say:
“Hi, my name is Stanley Manly, and I’m a public relations executive with twenty years of experience.”

“Hi, I’m Sally Hopeful, and I’m an executive recruiter.
Two big yawns.

What’s In It for Me?

Do you recall that old radio station, WII-FM: What’s In It For Me?!

If you remember that people are always more interested in how you can help them, you’re on the right track. Keep that top of mind when composing your speech.

Here’s how to improve the two examples mentioned above:
“Hi, my name is Stanley Manly, and I help inventors tell the world about their inventions.”
“Hi, I’m Sally Hopeful. I partner with companies that need to find talented people to help their business growth and become more profitable.”

Now, you’ve got my attention!

Let’s use my elevator speech before and after as an example:

Here’s my before version (and I wondered why people looked at me with a frozen smile!):
“Hi, I’m Dale Kurow, and I’m a career and executive coach. I hold a Master’s Degree in Career Counseling and have been trained by a master level corporate coach. (Who cares!) I’ve been an HR director for a multinational cosmetic company, run a PR agency and taught college-level business courses. (So what!) I believe that coaching can be the catalyst to change your life. (Are you asleep yet?)

See how that was all about me, me, me?

Now for the revised version:
“Hi, I’m Dale Kurow, and I help people become more successful at their work. For example, I’ve helped a client change jobs with a 40% salary increase, I’ve helped a client develop the skills to deal with a difficult boss, and I’ve helped a manager devise new ways to keep her staff motivated.”

Here’s a few more examples:

I know an Avon representative who says:
“I help women look beautiful.”

Or a business coach that says:
“I help you get more clients than you know what to do with.”

And here’s my favorite, one that is used by an IRS agent:
“I’m a government fund-raiser.”

Action Steps

So, here’s what you need to do to craft your elevator speech.
First, write down the “deliverables” – the services or features that you provide. Then, think in terms of the benefits that your clients or employer could derive from these services. You could use several successful client outcomes, as I did.

Once you’ve got that written, create an opening sentence that will grab the listener’s attention, as our Avon representative did above. The best openers leave the listener wanting more information. And you do not have to include your title, especially if you think it has a negative connotation (an IRS agent, for example).

Finally, your elevator speech must roll off your tongue with ease. Practice your speech in front of the mirror and with friends. Record it on your answering machine, and listen to it. Do you sound confident? Sincere? Is it engaging? Tweak accordingly. Then, take it on the road!

Suggested Reading

Make Your Contacts Count

by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon

Presents practical and easy-to-incorporate ways of networking with confidence. Features include a networking self-assessment test and the top 20 networking turn-offs and how to avoid them.

The Fine Art of Small Talk

by Debra Fine

Even salespeople have recommended this book. The topics are relevant and useful. Here’s a sampling of what Fine covers: conversation icebreaker questions and topics, how to prevent awkward silences and exit lines for retreating gracefully.

What Happens After Your 90 Days Probation Period?

Entire books have been written about the importance of the first 90 days in a new job. Those first 3 months are the critical make or break time – the “probationary” period – when the employer decides if you’re worth retaining and if you’re performing up to par.

Knowing that all eyes are upon you, you give it your best effort, work your tail off, and aim for impressing the boss. The three months pass and you’ve made it!

You’ve done a good job, set the bar high, and given the mindsets of most employers, they will be asking even more of you.

Then what? How can you sustain that pace, that level of commitment and performance beyond the first 90 days?

How do you manage to take on new projects, with the same resources, and still do a good job?

Here are tips that I’ve gleaned from my own corporate experience and during the last ten years I’ve spent coaching senior level executives:

  • Learn to under promise and over deliver. No one can keep up a 24/7 schedule without burnout. Look at your workload realistically and determine what you can do in a day or a week that still affords you some down time. If you’ve achieved small, but key wins in your first weeks, explore how those wins can be duplicated to address similar issues.
  • Who are the most important stakeholders? Who do you need to satisfy first, i.e. who holds the power in your department, or in the organization? Influential people are your direct boss/or client, or high profile contributors whose voice is valued in the organization. Projects for those stakeholders get moved to the top of the list. If you determine your priorities using that filter you can’t go wrong. In addition, kudos you earn from that population will go a long way in strengthening your reputation.
  • Negotiate the deadline while adding value. Offer the client/boss an additional, valuable project piece that doesn’t require much additional effort. By taking that approach, you may impress the client/boss with your ability to see the bigger picture while giving yourself some breathing room. All with little additional work.
  • Gather third party endorsements and continue to build peer/client relationships. There’s nothing like your boss hearing how wonderful you are directly from a satisfied user or client. Once you’ve started to build peer relationships, you can ask for and start gathering e-mails and comments about your good work. I’m not suggesting you ask anyone to immediately send a complimentary e-mail to your boss. However, collect those remarks and e-mails for future use. These endorsements provide real world, powerful examples of your contributions and represent valuable leverage you can use during your performance appraisal.
  • Setting objectives with your boss. Your boss probably hired you hoping you’d make an immediate contribution. Perhaps little was said about long-term objectives when you came on board. Further, many companies have a 90-day probationary period, which may preclude your boss from having long-range planning discussions during that time. They want to see what you can deliver and the impact you will have. After your initial 3 months, you need to have the objective-setting discussion with your boss. You’ve had 3 months to experience the culture, working style and expectations of your company and you will now be in a better position to help frame a goal-setting discussion with your boss.

Answer these questions before the discussion: what do you see as the long-term needs of your user group/function? How might these needs be addressed given what you’ve learned so far? Can you succinctly outline the issues and suggest solutions? What solutions would have the most impact, and create the most goodwill, for your boss first, and then, for you? And finally, what additional resources could you request in order to handle your new responsibilities? If you go into a goal-setting meeting with answers to the above questions, your boss will be impressed with the scope of your thinking and the thought you’ve put into the process. Even if s/he doesn’t agree with all of your proposed solutions, you’ll have progressed a long way towards being in control of your destiny.

After the first 90 days, use your knowledge of how the organization operates combined with the needs of the key players to develop a work plan. A plan that allows you to function by giving your best, but not necessarily your all.