Lobbying for a Better Elevator Speech

I was going to title this post “Take Your Elevator Speech to the Penthouse,” but my editor strongly recommended a rethink.  Now we both get what we want.

After an especially rousing networking event last week, I was elevator-speeched out.  There are only so many people I can meet and try to remember before they all blend together.  Full disclosure: I’m not great at remembering people to begin with.  But that makes me a good judge of strong elevator speeches, or introductory statements, because I’m a tough customer.

The best elevator speeches are memorable and intriguing.

For starters, the term “elevator speech” isn’t terribly accurate.  Or, at least, it doesn’t describe what I want to discuss.  I’m talking about the 30 second personal bio people give at networking events, career fairs, or anytime they’re trying to gently sell themselves.  Sure, this can happen in an elevator.  I object to using the work “speech.”  If there’s an oral equivalent of the word “blurb,” I’d like to know.  For now, let’s call these Elevator Blurbs.

About 10 of the people I met last week stand out.  After internalizing our dialog, I found a few similarities in their blurbs:

  1. They never led with supporting evidence.
  2. Their personal passion was evident.
  3. They were excited to talk to me, personally.
  4. Their blurbs were intriguing.
  5. Something about their blurb or delivery was memorable.
  6. They were short.

Not surprisingly, those blurbs that didn’t stand out were similar in the opposite regard:

  1. They led with supporting evidence.
  2. There was no passion.
  3. I was not made to feel special.
  4. Nothing about their story led me to want more.
  5. Nothing was unique.
  6. They rambled.

Leading vs. Supporting Evidence
When networking, interviewing, writing a resume, and even dating, it’s important to know the difference between leading and supporting evidence.  Leading evidence is what the audience really wants to know, supporting evidence is what makes it so.  One obvious example to this is scholastic success.  Resumes will list GPA, awards, relevant coursework, even complete transcripts, though it’s all supporting evidence.  What does all that support?  That the applicant is hard-working and intelligent, I suppose.  Hopefully.

The same applies for elevator blurbs.  They should only contain a minimal amount of biographical information.  If you only have 30 seconds with a VP you need to introduce yourself to and impress, do they necessarily need to know what you majored in?  Nope.  That’s supporting evidence; save it for later.  If you’re at a career fair introducing yourself to a corporate recruiter, do they need to know that you’re the third of four children?

It’s a good exercise to write out the 4 or 5 most compelling leading snippets about you so you know what to focus on.  It may not be the company you work for, your alma mater, or your current job title.  It may be the fact that you built your own RFP model that’s being used at 15 different Fortune 500 companies right now.  Or you’re the youngest Program Manager in company history.

Passion is Underrated
Passion can be demonstrated in a thousand little ways, and it doesn’t even have to be about the given topic.  If I’m interviewing a candidate and see that they’re passionate about something in their personal life, I assume they’ll bring the same passion to the table when they work for me.  Even if they have a blog about classic RPGs, that’s okay.  And at a professional networking event, it doesn’t have to pertain to work.  I met a woman at a conference last spring who is an avid freestyle quad skater.  (That’s roller skating to us laypeople.)  Her passion was so contagious that we talked for twenty minutes before we both realized we were late to an event.  Needless to say, I still remember her name and look for it on attendance lists.

Aren’t You Excited to Meet Me?
I’m no different from the next guy, and that’s why you can win me over by making me feel special.  It always flatters me to hear, “I’m glad I got the chance to connect before the event is over,” or “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”  This is a very easy tactic to use, even if you’re slightly stretching the truth.  It’s worth it.

It’s Okay to Flirt a Little
Just like dating, you have to lead people to want more.  Nobody will just give you their undivided attention for more than, oh, seven seconds.  You have to earn it.  They goal of every elevator blurb is nothing more than an ensuing conversation, just as the goal of a resume is to get an in-person interview.  Nothing more.  If you can make your 30 second spiel fun and interesting, the listener will assume a longer conversation will be just as enjoyable.

Be Original
First, know your surroundings.  What can you assume everyone else is saying?  Do not be like everyone else.  If you work in a financial services firm, don’t expect the CFO to think you’re special because you just passed your Series 7 on the first try.  If she asks you what you do in your free time, don’t tell her you like to read and play with your kids.  I’m falling asleep just thinking about it.  Almost everyone has an interesting hobby they can dress up a little.  Play guitar?  You write rock songs.  (You didn’t say you perform or sell your songs, did you?)  If you literally don’t have any hobbies, then you can be the only person in the entire company without any interesting hobbies.  Now that’s unique.

You can also be original in your delivery.  No, I don’t mean channeling Bobcat Goldthwait.  A very memorable elevator blurb was given to me at a career fair by someone who said, “Hi.  My name is Jim Smith and I want to work for your company.”  He came straight out and said it.  It wasn’t until later that we got into where he went to school and the other supporting evidence.  I met someone last week who called herself a triple-major science nerd.  Memorable!

Be Succinct
Just like this post.  (Ha!)  There are a few reasons to be succinct.  (1) Too much supporting evidence detracts from the message.  (2) Attention spans are much shorter than you think, even if it appears you’re being heard.  (3) It’s easier to perfect a short speech.  Figure out  your top points, get them into no more than three sentences, and practice.

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