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November, 2005

Words That Elevate
the Mini-Storage Industry

By Craig Harrison

From the July, 2001 edition of the
Mini Storage Messenger

As facility managers you have ample opportunities to promote your business in your daily interactions. Developing a powerful ‘elevator speech’ is one way to effectively showcase your facility and the services you provide. Through these introductory remarks you can emphasize the benefits you offer and the solutions you deliver to your customers. Elevator speeches also help you project a professional image, establish trust and convey confidence in your facility and its operation.

What is an Elevator Speech?

Elevator speeches are mini-speeches that you can deliver in the average time spent with a stranger in an elevator…sixteen seconds. Ironically, elevator speeches are best delivered outside of elevators, and they're best delivered conversationally, so they're not perceived as speeches.  Nevertheless, these ‘sixteen second sound bites’ are ideal tools for word-of-mouth marketing whenever you meet a stranger who asks what you do or where you work. Elevator speeches can be delivered at networking events, conferences and conventions, on sidewalks and in hallways. They even work on escalators!

Elevator speeches explain your occupation in terms that will show listeners what your services and products can do for them. Here's an example William Hamilton shared with me when I interviewed him about how he promotes his self-storage business to strangers:

"We're a hotel for your stuff!  We're Price Self Storage.  When you store with us we give you back your space: under your bed, in your closet, on your balcony and in your garage.  Aren't you ready to park your car in the garage again?"

This elevator speech is designed to be thought provoking and informative, eliciting a response from my listener. Delivered conversationally, it is purposely short, to invite dialog.

What Makes Elevator Speeches Effective?

In a society in which we have been trained to process information in short sound bites, elevator speeches succinctly communicate the basics to people about how our services and products can help them. The best ones convey our information in style. They communicate facts while showcasing our professionalism, playing up our uniqueness.  They're memorable too. Here's what manager Lynne Kreizenbeck tells strangers who ask about Cave Creek Road@Greenway Parkway Self Storage:

"I'm the general manager of a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art storage facility here in the Phoenix area.  Our flex-space technology lets us design customized units to fit your needs.  We can convert larges spaces to smaller ones, and vice versa. Why pay for more than you need?   Our accessibility lets you get in and out, and our security keeps others out."

The Anatomy of an Elevator Speech

The brilliance of elevator speeches is their simplicity. Concise in their description of your occupation, they are designed to speak to your listeners' needs. When you tell people what you do (otherwise known as the features you offer), they must translate them into what those features can do for them—in other words, how will they benefit from them.

Elevator speeches are created and delivered with your listeners in mind, showcasing the benefits you offer (as underlined below):

"We own and manage four dozen self-storage facilities throughout the Pacific Northwest.  We're those rows of garages that you can put your stuff in to put it out of sight and out of mind. We're locally owned and managed, offer many sizes of spaces to fit your needs, and even provide you with your own disc lock, so you'll never lock yourself out.  Come visit our facility and let us help you with packing instructions and other useful strategies for solving your storage needs. I'm Mary Briggs, president of Kevin Howard Real Estate of Portland."

Here's another example, courtesy of William Hamilton:

"As Southern California's only drive-in facility you can store your boat or RV, and even park it yourself, anytime.  Because it's indoors we can protect your property from dust, UV rays and excessive heat. Best of all, we help you comply with your neighborhood or condo association's good neighbor policies when you store with us. I'm William Hamilton. Let us know how we can help you."

Each elevator speech emphasizes the following:

  • A description of the company and the services/products offered
  • A discussion of features and/or benefits
  • The name of the person or company being discussed

In the following elevator speech a catchy rhyme initially attracts our attention, as does the fact that the pitch leads with a benefit:

"We offer superior protection for your wine collection. We're Marin Wine Vaults of San Rafael. Our multi-million dollar facility is known as the Taj Mahal for wines.  We're seismically fortified and humidity controlled. Every vault is alarmed and we even have on-site natural gas-powered backup generators in case of rolling brown-outs. We are the '100 points' place to store your wine."

The aforementioned elevator speech also scores points for using lingo that wine connoisseurs recognize: 100 Points is a rating system for fine wines.

The Power of Questions

It's recommended you include questions in your elevator speech, as an invitation to your listener to respond. Your questions yield valuable information you can use to help them. Some questions may be answered "yes" or "no."  These may determine whether your listener has ever used self-storage before or if they expect theirs to be an "in once/out once" type of use.  Notice how Stan Colona utilizes a question at the end of his pitch:

"We're XPS Services, a commercial real estate company serving the needs of self-storage properties.  With 22 years of collective experience we manage properties for self-storage clients, and offer a call center to offload essential services for self-storage facilities. I'm Stan Colona and this is my partner Brad Boyd. What services can we off-load from your day-to-day operations?"

When you ask open-ended questions you learn more:

  • How might you be using our space?
  • What sorts of items would you like to store?
  • What special needs do your items require?

Building Your Elevator Speech

As you develop your elevator speech, identify two or three benefits you offer. Also, focus on any unique selling propositions. What do you offer that others don't? Location? Security? Storage options? Skilled staff? Special grounds? As you mull over what you offer potential customers, replay past interactions with customers. What appealed to them? How can you push their buttons in ways that makes their life easier, solves their problems or increases their productivity?

When creating your elevator speech, write it down using conversational language. Usually shorter sentences work best. You should include:

  • Salutation
  • Introduction of company name
  • What you do
  • What it does for others
  • What's unique or special about it
  • Then ask a question to engage your listener

Now experiment with the order of your responses to see which way it sounds best. Perhaps the company name will work best as the last element and telling what’s unique about it has more impact when it's the opening line. In other words, your script order may end up as 1-5-3-4-2-6. Scripting your elevator speech gives you practice focusing on what you wish to say. Through repetition, you will become fluent in expressing the sentiment of your elevator speech, even if it comes out a little differently each time.

We Deliver Too!

One of the keys to effective elevator speeches is how they're delivered. When they are recited like the reading of a script, they fall on deaf ears. Delivered conversationally, they appear more natural. Nobody likes to be read to or treated to a recitation. Your goal is to engender a discussion, not just issue a commercial message.

Those skills you learned in speech class are still in effect. Good eye contact helps you connect and convey your sincerity. A smile makes you accessible and demonstrates your friendliness. Although your goal is to deliver your initial message in sixteen seconds, you shouldn't rush your words.

Elevator speeches are ultimately spoken, not read. While you write yours conversationally, what looks good in print may not sound conversational or natural.  Once you've identified the order of yours, practice it with friends, family members and even yourself! Call your work or home message center and leave your elevator speech on your machine. Play it back and analyze where you sound confident and where you lack poise; which words flow off you tongue and which get stuck in your throat? Can you simplify it so it is both easy to speak and easy to understand? For your final exam, deliver yours in an elevator!

Push the Right Buttons

As you craft your elevator speech, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Listeners are naturally drawn to alliteration. A teacher of etiquette tells explains in her elevator speech how "manners make money" and "politeness produces profits."  Alliteration is pleasing to the ear and memorable too.

  • Tantalize or intrigue your listener with your opening line for immediate attention. Your elevator speech can ask a question or make a provocative statement to engage your listener.

  • A nutritionist asks, "Would you like to eat less and enjoy it more?" (Not only is this a question but it's one with a benefit in it!)

  • A self-storage owner asks a riddle: "When is less more? When less clutter leads to more floor space. Store with us and rediscover your floor space."

  • Humor makes listeners more receptive to your message. The IRS agent who introduces himself as a "government fundraiser" is suddenly more likeable and accessible too.

  • Visual pictures vividly impact listeners. A management consultant described her occupation as follows: "I keep your company out of Dilbert's comic strip. I'm Alyson Abrams and I'm a management consultant specializing in change.” Immediately people tap into a set of shared understandings about Dilbert and the modern work world.

  • Your elevator speech should be both an extension and an expression of who you are: your style, your self-image, your sense of humor. If you are shy and quiet, don't create an elevator speech that's over the top. If your sense of humor is dry, showcase it, rather than project an image that isn't truly yours.

  • Don't succumb to pressure to tell your listener information you can give them through a business card, brochure, embossed pen or postcard.

  • See your elevator speech as an opportunity to begin a new professional relationship.

  • Convey stability, professionalism and a customer service orientation with your elevator speech. Your questioning and listening skills may ultimately be more important than the actual words of your elevator speech.

In your elevator speech you can showcase your facility and its benefits for businesses and individuals. Develop multiple versions to showcase the services and products you provide, and ways they help the public solve their problems, serve their needs and create new possibilities too. Stay upbeat, confident and personable and you'll push all the right buttons with your elevator speech!

Craig Harrison is a speaker, trainer and consultant who helps professionals express their sales and service excellence!


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