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Sixteen Seconds to Success:
How Your 'Elevator' Speech
Opens the Doors of Membership to Strangers!

By Craig Harrison

Published in the August 1999 edition of The Toastmaster Magazine.

Note to readers: Elevator speeches can help members of any association or group reach out to non-members and convey their excitement about their group. Although this piece was geared toward members of Toastmaster speaking clubs the wisdom applies to many groups, organizations and associations.

Perhaps the most critical skill that members can develop for club building, as well as for their own professional and personal advancement: their sixteen second 'elevator' speech!

Sixteen seconds is the average time one spends riding in an elevator. It's also all the time you need to tell an uninitiated Toastmaster about the wonders of membership. Within Sixteen seconds you can explain what Toastmasters is, what it has done for you, and by extension, what it can do for them, and invite your conversational partner to visit. It's that simple, and oh, so effective.

Brochures and flyers help. Newsletters and web sites are useful. But nothing is more powerful than the word of mouth salesmanship of a member telling a prospective member about the benefits of Toastmasters.

Your enthusiasm is contagious, your own presentation skills are an endorsement, and your accessibility establishes a stronger bond than any handout, web site or toll-free phone number.

Imagine yourself alone in an elevator when it stops on the second floor. A stranger enters and you smile. You're wearing your Toastmasters pin, and the stranger compliments you on it. That's your opening:

"I received this pin from Toastmasters, the public speaking organization."

"Oh, public speaking·that scares me more than death!" they reply.

"That's how I once felt. In fact, that's why I joined Toastmasters. They've helped me improve my ability to think, listen and speak on my feet, and in a supportive environment too. It's actually fun! Guests are always welcome and there's no pressure to speak. Won't you come visit? Here's our club's card."

Congratulations. You've just given your first elevator speech. You smiled, gave good eye contact, and were personable, all skills you learned in your club. You also shared your success with others. And we know from experience that success is contagious. Lastly, you've planted the seed with this stranger, offering them your visual aid — in this case a club business card. In closing you've left the door open for them to follow suit into your club.

The beauty of elevator speeches is that they can be given anywhere you have sixteen seconds and a stranger: at conferences and conventions, on sidewalks, in hallways, at parties or on public transit. I've even delivered one on an escalator!

Elevator speeches are not only valuable for membership building, but for professional and social networking as well. My elevator speech for my home club comes out a little differently each time, but that's actually more effective since it sounds more natural and off-the-cuff.

Suppose someone sees me hurrying along on the sidewalk and comments on my sense of urgency.

"Oh, I'm headed to my weekly Toastmasters meeting!
It's where professionals meet to improve our communication skills in a fun-filled format. We practice giving prepared speeches, speak extemporaneously and sharpen our evaluation skills too. Come visit next week as my guest and experience the magic. Here's our flyer."

Walk your talk! Use short interchanges to introduce others to your Toastmasters club. You'll be amazed how many people have heard of us, been curious, or are even looking for the impetus to finally visit a club. You're that spark. You're going up and they can too.

As Toastmasters we pride ourselves on time management. We are skilled at giving speeches of 5-7 minutes, fluent at presenting evaluations of 2-3 minutes, and adept at speaking extemporaneously for 1-2 minutes. Yet in the real world, sometimes all you get is sixteen seconds to capture someone's attention and get your message across. As skilled Toastmasters sixteen seconds is all the time you need to deliver your 'elevator' speech.

I encourage you to practice yours with fellow club members, friends and even on your own answering machine and in front of a mirror, where you can study how you sound and look. Soon you'll master this "short form" of oral communication.

When you push the right buttons with your elevator speech your club's membership will be going up, in as few as sixteen seconds!

Craig Harrison DTM, a member of Lakeview Toastmasters (#2767-57),
is a professional speaker and corporate trainer based in Berkeley, California.
He can be reached at (510) 547-0664 or via e-mail: Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com.

(Note: Craig presented a workshop on this very topic at Toastmasters International's 68th annual convention in Chicago, IL on August 21, 1999.)

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