Charles Sterck, CPA / Tax Principal in the RINA San Francisco office.
Charles R. SterckCPA /Principalview bio

Meditation on an Elevator Speech

Elevator speech offered by a business woman


Every businessperson has been told that they need an elevator speech for themselves and their business. Great! But, what exactly is an elevator speech and how does it fit into the conversation?

What is an elevator speech?

The simple answer is that an elevator speech is a brief, powerful statement about what you and your company can do for the person you're talking to. The idea is that you can concoct a meaningful introduction that you could give to someone you met in an elevator while you both ride to the ground floor.

Of course, an elevator speech doesn’t necessarily have to be the length of a one-floor elevator ride. Depending on the circumstance, whether it is at a business lunch or a chance meeting in an airport terminal, or even in that elevator, your speech may vary in length.

In fact, you may need several elevator speeches for different occasions.  What they will all have in common is that will be a clear, succinct statement about your business that will make the other person interested enough to continue contact with you "in the elevator" and then have you follow up at some later time. 

An elevator speech is a short statement of who you are, what you do for your customers, and how your goods or services can offer value to those customers or clients. 

Let the Speech Fit the Situation

In many social or informal business situations, if you take more than three sentences to introduce yourself, you’re likely to look self-absorbed. In more formal situations, say if you have to introduce yourself at a business round table, a minute might not look out of place.

It also depends on the medium you’re using. If you’re making a cold call on the phone, your elevator speech needs to be shorter than if you’re talking face to face with someone who is happy to listen. And, while elevator speeches are meant to be spoken, you might be able to reduce your speech to a phrase that you can put on your business card or office stationery.

In general, however, you want an elevator speech that is no more than a few sentences long and will make people want to know more. 

Elevator Speeches Aren’t Sales Pitches

When you make an elevator speech, the point is not to ask your prospect if they would like to do business with you.  If you make a direct sales pitch, they can end the conversation and your business relationship immediately. The person you're "selling" can too easily say:

‘Sorry, but we use Acme to do that...’

How many cold calls have you received (or made) that go something like:

‘Hi there. I’m just calling to see who provides your cleaning services.’
‘Why would you need to know that?’
‘Because I represent SuperScrubber Office Cleaning and we’re expanding into this state and...’
‘Sorry. Not interested.’

You can’t win a new client in 15 seconds. So don’t try. 

They're Not a Simple Description

Similarly, your elevator speech cannot be a bald statement of what you do. That can also be the beginning and end of the conversation.

You can’t merely say:

‘Hi, I’m Tom and I’m a civil engineer.’ Or, 
‘Hi, I’m Mabel and I’m a trainer.’

The most polite response to that is, ‘Good for you.’

Similar conversation stoppers are:

‘My company writes software.’ Or,
‘We manufacture office chairs.’

The prospect is unlikely to spontaneously answer, ‘That’s a coincidence. We use software. Perhaps you could sell us some.’ Or, ‘Why, we haven’t many chairs in our office. Perhaps you could scoot a few over.’

You might think that that approach could be improved by adding some promotional claims:

‘We’ve been writing great software for twenty-five years.’
‘We’re the most successful chair manufacturer in five states.’

But your prospect is likely to shrink from the salesy words.

Here's What's You Do Do: Sell a Solution

The key to producing a good elevator speech is to remember a basic marketing principle: don’t sell the product, sell the benefit to the customer.  With this in mind, you might recast the speeches above as:

‘We write low-cost software that gives management real-time updates of all operational and financial data.’ Or,
We manufacture business chairs that cut down on fatigue and reduce occupational health and safety claims.’

You’ve given them a hint of how your product can help their business. Then let them take the bait.

So, the thrust of your elevator speech is not so much about who you are, as about what you can do for people.  

The elevator speech is not a request for them to do business with you. Rather, you want them to feel as if they will benefit from doing business with you.   You deliver your elevator speech and the conversation continues. You don't offer them the opportunity to say, ‘No thanks.’

Get Them To Talk

The next step is that either they ask you questions, or you ask them questions. Remember that people generally prefer to talk about themselves!

The longer you talk to someone, and the more questions you ask, the more chance you have of finding out if they need something that you can sell.

Ready to Draft Your Elevator Speech?

Now that you've mediated about your elevator speech, you've decided you're ready to start writing! Terrific!

Let us help! Read "Creating an Important Elevator Speech".


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