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Elevator Pitch - Does Your Elevator Speech Bore People ?

Updated on March 18, 2013
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If your elevator pitch doesn't lead to a question, don't bother giving it.


Whoever coined the phrase “elevator pitch,” also known as an "elevator talk" or “elevator speech,” was brilliant. The idea is that you meet someone while getting onto an elevator on a high floor. You engage each other in conversation, and you are asked the question, “What do you do?” You have a minute or so before the car reaches the first floor, so what you say in response has to be compelling and leave the other person wanting to know more. Have you ever heard someone say that they don’t memorize what they’re going to say because they don’t want it to sound canned? Nonsense! Jot this down: the more you memorize something you want to say, the less canned it will sound. The words are firmly embedded in your head, freeing you to act natural and answer questions. Your elevator talk should not be a simple recitation of your business card.

One of the problems with an elevator pitch is that everybody has one or is working on one. They have become so common in business that we start to block them out. Have you ever been to a networking event? Of course you have. What did it sound like? That’s right, a bunch of people giving each other elevator talks that go nowhere. Consider this: an elevator talk needs to lead to a question, from the listener to you. If your elevator talk does not result in a question, it’s not worth giving the talk. Let’s look at a few examples, all of which answer the question, “What do you do?” and all of which result in a question:

Bad: “I sell old auto parts.”

Better: “I prevent people who work on old cars from going insane.”

Bad: “I’m a financial planner.”

Better: “I pick up where economists leave off.”

Bad: “I’m an intellectual property lawyer.”

Better: “I help people to capitalize on what they produce.”

Bad: “I’m an accountant.”

Better: “I run numbers and make people happy with the results.” Yes, humor can be an excellent part of your elevator talk.

Bad: “I’m an insurance broker.”

Better: “I make the future less scary.”

You get the idea. The objective of an elevator talk is to say something interesting that makes the other person want to ask questions. Have you ever heard the conventional wisdom that elevator talks should summarize what you do in two or three sentences? Sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong. Imagine an insurance agent telling a listener that he “helps people preserve their assets, avoid calamity, and secure their future by making the future more predictable; and uses various products to accomplish those goals.” Yada, yada, yada. Yakitty, yakitty, yak. He lost the listener at the word assets . It makes you want to pry open the elevator doors and jump off. Instead, how about a simple and punchy phrase with the sole objective to solicit a question from the listener ? Then, you will be answering the listener’s questions, and people who ask questions usually listen to the answers.

You should write (or rewrite) you elevator talk with the goal of getting a question. Consider a few examples, and then try to fashion one for your business. Try to add an element of humor. What you’re doing is changing your elevator speech from a quick summary to a conversation starter. Oh yes, be prepared to answer the question “what does that mean?” If you get that question, your elevator talk in on its way to success.

All of the following are responses to the question “so what do you do?” Put the first personal pronoun “I” or “we” in front of each answer.

· Real estate agent: “__help make dreams reality.”

· Exercise equipment sales: “__ help adults to become kids in a playground.”

· Car dealer: “__get people to where they want to go in style.”

· Business coach: “__ get business owners in shape for the big game.”

· Disaster cleanup company: “__make hurricanes look like they never happened.”

· Estates and trusts lawyer: “__arrange long term trips for people’s assets.”

· Personal injury lawyer: “__help people get through mayhem.”

Practice your new, shortened elevator talk with your spouse, your friends and colleagues, and even your kids. Don’t forget to talk to the mirror. Soon, elevators will become your favorite form of transportation.

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