Three steps to an effective elevator speech

By Greg Dardis/Consulting

Have you ever left a social function with the nagging suspicion that, despite a roomful of smart and successful business people, you failed to exchange the type of information that could enhance your careers?

That perhaps you possessed ideas and experiences that would be vitally useful to each other but had instead talked about the weather, the Hawkeyes and your latest vacations?

There is an art to networking. Too often, the fear of seeming overbearing or the lack of better conversation starters results in idle conversation and, ultimately, a waste of valuable time. We’ve all been there. But there are simple ways to make the most of those opportunities.

The primary reason we network is to forge relationships that will lead to new business: a new client, a promotion, a step up the ladder. The surest way to achieve that is to prepare an effective elevator speech.

As the term suggests, an elevator speech is the introductory message you can deliver in the span of time from when you step into an elevator and when you exit. The idea is that an elevator ride may well present the chance to brush elbows with the CEO. You don’t want to waste those 20 seconds being tongue-tied and staring awkwardly as the light switches from floor to floor. And it’s not just the top dog who matters, a short elevator ride may allow you to impress a manager, a director or an influential member of another  department. In short, it can get you noticed.

Here’s the structure: An elevator speech consists of an informative opening statement, three elaborations and an invitation for follow-up. For instance, I’m often asked about my business. “What does Dardis Communications do?”

  • First, provide a short and compelling statement. Don’t use many words, but chose ones that will intrigue. “We’re an executive training and development company. We teach people how to communicate effectively in various situations.” I’ve made a claim that begs to be backed up. Hopefully the listener is thinking, “Oh? Tell me more.”
  • Second, elaborate on your opening statement by sharing three specific examples. We call these examples headlines; the major news, consumable in a quick read. “Specifically, we offer 15 different workshops on communications skills. We specialize in presentation skills, professional image and consultative selling,” I’ll begin. Time for two more and a chance to drill down in a bit more detail. “We offer group programs, as well as one-on-one personal coaching sessions to meet our clients’ needs.” And lastly, some information about the nature of our instruction. “Our programs are extremely interactive, entertaining and, most importantly, they’re results-oriented.”
  • Third, pose an invitation for further conversation. The trick with this final step is to be specific enough that a follow-up visit will happen. The “sometime” in “We should get together sometime,” usually means never. At the same time, strive to be accommodating and low pressure. A simple way to achieve this tone is to offer up a couple of options so your new contact can choose the easier one. “I’d enjoy telling you more about us and learning more about what you do. What’s a good time to catch you for coffee or breakfast next week?” If she’s locked into a particularly busy month, coming to her office during a short break may be most feasible. Or perhaps she drives right by a coffee shop and has one meeting-free morning next week.

A vague elevator speech is easy to forget. Be detailed but not dense; finding that balance is the key.

This three-pronged structure will take you far. If you’re riding the elevator, so to speak, with a familiar colleague, the question may be, “What are you working on right now?”  Use this same approach and share three noteworthy headlines.

Yet the question often remains “What do you do?” I’m surprised how many mid-career professionals – folks who could perform their jobs in their sleep – are stumped by this simple inquiry.

They’ve been asked a million times but never sat down and thoughtfully crafted a response. They scratch their heads and scribble notes when I pose the question in my programs.

Think broadly about how to apply the elevator speech; try it out at a neighborhood party or a family reunion. You never know who could refer or advance you. And you don’t want to drive home kicking yourself over the way you muddled through an answer.

A little preparation goes a long way. Here’s your chance to knock it out of the ballpark.