5 Tips to Perfect Your “Elevator Speech”

Don Simon explains why it’s important to have a quick version of your business model and philosophy handy, and how to make it sound better.

We’ve all heard the expression, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” In the business world, one of the most important things a person can do, whether they are trying to land a job or a client, is learn how to speak about themselves or their business to others. Being able to sum up unique aspects of yourself or your business in a way that excites others should be a basic skill. So, how do you put your best foot forward in a quick and efficient manner? Answer: The Elevator Speech.

An elevator speech is a brief summary used to quickly define a person, product, service or organization to a prospective employer or client. The term “elevator speech” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver this summary in the approximate time of a typical elevator ride, i.e., thirty seconds to two minutes. It should say a lot in just a few words. Think of it as a valuable marketing tool that draws in the listener by first grabbing their attention and then leaving them wanting more.

“With the rise of texts and 140-character tweets, peoples’ attention spans are shorter than ever,” says John Addessi (@JCCCKSBDC), a business consultant with the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College. “You must be able to nearly-instantly convey whom and how you help.”

Addessi cautions, however, that short messages like elevator speeches require a lot of preparation. “‘I’m a plumber’ is short and sweet,” he says, “but it doesn’t define your business as much as ‘I specialize in tankless water heaters to keep your family water temps up and your utility bills down.’ Once you get it defined and re-fined, the elevator speech can drive your entire marketing message, budget, and medium.”

Begin preparing your elevator speech as if you would any other formal speech. Have a basic structure in mind. Not every elevator speech fits every situation. Accordingly, you should have several variations of your speech at the ready depending on the situation. Consider having one for networking, another for interviewing, a different speech for career fairs and still another one for casual social encounters.

Here are some suggestions for crafting your perfect pitch:

1. Introduce yourself. Answer the questions who, what, where, when, and how. Be creative and think about it from the listener’s perspective. What might they want to hear about?

2. Deliver your key message. What special strength do you offer? How are you different from the competition? Tell your special story in a few words to set yourself apart and communicate your value to the listener.

3. Use emotion by making the speech energetic and passionate. Think about what makes you excited about your career or business. A smile shows friendliness and enthusiasm. A firm voice expresses confidence. Always maintain eye contact with the listener.

4. Talk about how you could benefit an employer or a client. Focus on how you can benefit the listener and help them solve their problems. Communicate the value you can provide in a few sentences. Think about how you can save a potential employer or client time and money, expand their markets, etc.

5. Use a “hook” to make it memorable and take the next step. A hook is a statement or question that piques the listener’s interest. It gives them something memorable. After you’re done, hand out a business card or some other take-away. Try to exchange email addresses, phone numbers, links or offer up your social media profile, if appropriate.

Here’s an example:

“Hi! Nice to meet you! My name is Alison Smith, founder of Virtual Communications, Inc. I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees in marketing from Big University. After graduation, I worked at Large Marketing Firm for three years. I started my business five years ago. We help clients with their Internet marketing and promotion needs through Web development, website promotion and helping them incorporate social media into their overall marketing plan. Working with people and helping them solve their marketing and promotion problems is what I do best. Tell me about your company’s current online presence?”

You should know your speech well enough to express your key points without it sounding memorized. It shouldn’t sound canned, but definitely do not wing it! Be prepared to explain, support or defend any part of your elevator speech and make revisions when necessary.

“It’s essential I have an elevator speech do,” says Julie Cortés (@KCCopyDiva), a freelance copywriter. “I do a lot of networking…it’s how I get business, but the services I offer aren’t so easily understood.”

Cortés says having a definite structure helps convey her message effectively. “The first part of my elevator speech involves a quick description of my line of work,” she notes. “The other part explains how they can benefit from my services. In order to get my message across quickly and concisely, it’s important for those two components to be well thought out and well rehearsed.”

Elevator speeches are as essential as business cards. You need to be able to say who you are, what you do, what you are interested in doing and how you can be a resource to your listeners. If you don’t have an elevator speech, people won’t know what you really do. Good luck!

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