The Foolishness of the Elevator Speech


For years, marketing people, management consultants and networking experts held forth on what the perfect elevator speech should say.  You know the elevator speech. It got its name on the premise that if you meet someone in an elevator and they ask you what you do, you are able to give a powerful blurb about yourself in the time it takes to reach the ground floor.

Many consultants pushed people to be “creative” with their elevator speech and at the same time had them load it up with benefits to the listener. That’s a lot of information in one or two initial sentences.

Most elevator speeches go something like this, “Hi, my name is Ray Brown and I help my clients find inner peace by underwriting for them the best damn business insurance program in the country.” Or… “Hi, I’m Susie Brown and I’m called the Duchess of Devotion because my personal mission is to help each employee get 100% of the benefits they earned and deserve.”

Most elevator speeches are used at networking functions.  I meet someone and make the mistake of saying, “Hi, what do you do?” then they unleash this fabricated salvo of words at me that sounds like they lifted a segment from a Tony Robbins seminar. It’s never conversational and always thrown at you as if it were a hand grenade.  “Hi, I’m Bill Smith and I help my clients protect the ROI on their investments by executing a 9 step program that looks under every rock for traps.”

A Better Elevator Speech

Here’s the problem with all these elevator speeches. They are canned, they are not in people-speak and they are awkward. It’s someone talking at you, not with you.   Here’s a better format:

“Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Bill Smith.”

“Hi Bill. My name is Jack Rossin.”

Then we might chat about why we are at the networking function, and often from something he says I’ll ask “Oh, what do you do Bill?”  And Bill says something like “I’m an accountant.”  And I ask “Big firm, small?” After Bill answers I might ask if there is an area he specializes in, how his business is these days, etc. If he works for individuals I might ask how all these do-it yourself tax programs have helped or hurt his business. I’m demonstrating that I’m actively listening to what he just said, not waiting for my turn to speak.

Then he’s probably going to ask me what I do and I say “I’m a presentation trainer. I help people become more confident with business communications.”  He’ll then ask me a few questions about my business.  The closest I ever get to “selling” is when I tell about the coolest part of my business — watching how awful presenters become OK presenters after a few hours work. (Please note.  I’m honest. I’ve never had a bad presenter become a great presenter overnight, but I’ve seen all of them move in the right direction.)

Then he might offer me his business card, I do the same, we shake hands and move on. I may make a note on his card to follow up if I think there is business or referrals there.

Get rid of your canned elevator speech. Live in the moment. Answer the questions asked without too much rambling, ask more questions of the other guy then he or she asked of you. Be interested and interesting. Have a real conversation. Smile. Listen. Have fun, exchange cards.  If something comes of it, great. If not, keep working the room. You gotta throw a lot of pasta against the wall before something sticks.


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