Developing an Elevator Speech

“What you do for a living?” Chances are you’ve answered this question dozens of times, and you most likely offered the same bits of information to each inquirer. That is essentially the foundation of an “elevator speech.”

The term refers to a quick and to-the-point speech (i.e., given in the time it takes to ride an elevator)  that showcases your abilities and passion for what you do in a way that presents the listener(s) an opportunity to be benefitted from. This can mean planting the idea that you are a perfect candidate for a certain job position, or explaining a new project proposal you’ve come up with, or a plan for collaboration with other organizations, etc. The speech should also be given with clear and realistic goals in mind (like getting a second—longer—meeting).

The speech can be used in many situations, such as, at conferences where you know you’ll be meeting a lot of new people and potential clients, or in those moments where you just so happen to run into an executive at the office that you’d normally never get to see.

Many say an elevator speech is as critical as a business card. When you think about it, these comments often lead up to the business card exchange. If the speech is strong, so, too, is the impression you leave and the likelihood of forming a working relationship.

One major difference between your pitch and your business card is that the speech is not one-size-fits-all. Of course, the basic components remain the same, but it’s always vital to consider your audience and do your best to make what you’re saying relevant specifically for them. For example, you might talk to someone in the non-profit sector about developing grant-funded programs, whereas you might discuss opportunities to fund grants with someone in the business sector. Show folks you’ve done your homework.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what an elevator speech is and how it can be used, we should be ready to develop a great speech. When you find the time to give it some thought, keep in mind the following dos and don’ts of elevator speech giving:

  • DO: Explain how you or your organization can benefit the person you’re addressing.
  • DON’T: Offer your job description and spout off a few of your responsibilities and leave it at that.
  • DO: Share unique work-related accomplishments you take pride in (e.g. the increased number of people registered for your monthly e-newsletter as a result of social media outreach efforts)
  • DON’T: Brag or mention that you were awarded Employee of the Month twice this year.
  • DO: Think like an advertiser and keep them interested and compelled to learn more about whatever it is that you tell them.
  • DON’T: While you’re trying not to sell yourself short, remember there is a line. Most people are bothered by what they perceive to be too much confidence.
  • DO: Try to be as comfortable and as natural as possible. You’re just starting a conversation.
  • DON’T: Leave the wrong impression that you are too desperate, too pushy, too weak, too this or that, etc.
  • DO: Be polite. Take note of and respond appropriately to body language and non-verbal cues.
  • DON’T: Be disrespectful or ignore the signs of disinterest others might display.

Don’t let this task intimidate you. After all, you’re the expert on what you do. All that’s really required is a little practice and fine-tuning to be sure you’re highlighting the most pertinent information your listener needs to come away with.

For additional guidance, visit the incredibly helpful Harvard Business School Pitch Builder website. Other resources you may find of use include this slideshow of advice from Business Week and this article from Monster.com.

And, for more networking tips, please visit our post on Building New Professional Relationships.

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