October 20, 2011

Elevator Speeches

I want to take some time to discuss elevator speeches (a.k.a. elevator pitches, 30-second resume, etc.) and their importance as a young professional.  First, lets talk about why it's called an elevator speech.  Because, let's be honest, the elevator is probably the most awkward place to have a conversation with a complete stranger.  I would argue that 99% of elevator speeches never happen in elevators at all.  So, what gives?

Well the way I've best heard it explained is as follows: You bump into a business executive in the lobby of your office building.  You say hello and mention that you have this project idea you want to discuss.  They are a busy person, so they tell you that you have until the elevator gets to their floor, and then they need to get to a meeting.  Ready ... Set ... Go!

So, let's take a closer look at what an elevator speech is and how it can be used outside of this example.  Usha Krishnan Sliva describes an elevator speech as a statement that clearly illustrates who you are, what you do, and makes the person you're talking to interested in hearing more.  Usha highlights that this speech need not be given only to the top executive in the elevator.  Rather, this speech can be delivered when meeting any new person - at a conference, during a networking meeting, at a local bar, and so much more.

With this, it becomes apparent that not one elevator speech will get all the jobs done.  You wouldn't want to go to a first grade career day and talk to the 6 year-olds  about TPS reports, Fortune 500 companies, or SAP software solutions.  Also, you don't want to stutter over your words when someone at a networking event asks you to explain what it is that you do.  So to be successful in both of these situations, you should make sure that you Practice, Practice, Practice!  Practice so much that you can give your speech without thought and adapt to your current audience instantaneously.

Now, I'm sure you are on the edge of your seat with excitement about all the great people you're going to meet and give your "speech" to, but you ask, "Jason, what exactly should I say?"  Well, great question.  Each person's speech should be different and reflect not only what you do, but also your personality.  Heather Huhman highlights that elevator speeches should generally have these components:
  • Who you are - your name and position
  • What you are seeking - job, client, network contact
  • What you can offer - you need to be of value to your audience
  • Request action - explain your expectation moving forward

Finally, your speech should be short - under a minute for sure, and within 30 seconds if you can.  Any longer than that, you start to seem self-centered and lose your audience's interest.  Like I mentioned above, your goal is to get to the end of your pitch and have your audience interested in hearing more.

I've found some examples of elevator speeches, but its hard to find great examples that will fit you.  You are different than everyone else.  You have different job roles, different experiences, and a different personality.  Examples may help, but you should focus on your own way of delivering a speech.

Well, there you have it ... Get out there and work on your speeches.  If you ever find me standing in an elevator next to you, feel free to give me your speech.  I'll be sure to give you mine right back.  (I just hope we have a tall building ...)