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December, 2001 edition of The PATCA newsletter
Elevating Your Consulting Practice
With Your Elevator Speech

by Craig Harrison

Every consultant should have an elevator speech in his or her communication toolkit.  An elevator speech is a mini-speech you can deliver in the time it takes to ride an elevator with a stranger.  Think of it as your sixteen-second success.

An Elevator speech is a short introductory paragraph you deliver verbally.  Yours can be a succinct description of who you are, what you do, perhaps how you do it, but most importantly, what your skill, product or service does for others.  It's that simple.  No long speeches, excruciatingly boring details or recitations of facts, figures or accomplishments.  Your elevator speech is a short and sweet introduction that showcases your professionalism, with a dash of personality thrown in for good measure.

When people ask you what you do you can tell them you are a consultant or you can tell them more. Elevator speeches are designed to tell them in such a way that listeners immediately understand how you can help them.  Your elevator speech can also help you stand out from the crowd.  The best elevator speeches intrigue enough to get you asked more questions, and are memorable too. 

Here are several examples:

"I harness the forces of Mother Nature and put them to work for you. I'm Arnold Karman; I'm an architectural consultant with a civil engineering background, specializing in building bridges, roads and other thoroughfares. I help you get where you're going safely and expediently!"

"I crunch bits and bytes for breakfast. I'm a software engineer who designs applications that don't go snap, crackle or pop. I'm Tony "the Tiger" Pignoli, a consultant with fifteen years experience as a software engineer and an insatiable appetite for new projects.  What projects are on your plate at present?"

Each of these consultants delivers their elevator speech conversationally. They smile, give good eye contact, and are genuine in their delivery.  They are friendly, smile, pause between sentences and then listen authentically to responses their listeners then pose.  Their elevator speech is delivered a little differently each time, and that's fine.  The information is the same but it's less a recital then an ad-libbing done repeatedly.

Here is another elevator speech.  Notice how this speech uses alliteration to capture the listener's attention.  

"Hello.  I teach people how manners make money and politeness produces profit. 
I teach etiquette to executives.  I'm Carolyn Millet from Louisiana, and it's my pleasure to meet you."

Carolyn also emphasizes the benefits of her service. This always piques listeners' interest. Listeners are naturally interested in that which makes them money, saves them money, saves time, expands markets or just makes people feel better. These are all benefits. Determine what the benefits of your product, service or skills are, and emphasize those in your elevator speech. Here's another example. See if you can identify the benefits:

"Hi. I connect people to computers.  I'm Ellie Swiss, a GUI designer. I create simple, effective user interfaces that make it easier for people to do their jobs intuitively and graphically.  Simplified interfaces increase throughput, make use elegant and inviting, and reduce stress levels.  Don't you just hate cumbersome interfaces?"

Try to make your elevator speech an extension of your personality, and expression of you.  If you're fun and upbeat, your elevator speech should reflect this.  If not, don't try to be what you aren't.  Let your sense of humor, your wit, warmth or personal style come through.  Here's how one programmer fought the stereotype for his field with an effective elevator speech:

"Hi.  I'm one of the few, the proud, the last remaining COBOL programmers.  I'm Steve Zbriskie.   If you have old code or COBOL in embedded systems I am available to help you solve Y2K, conversion and migration issues.  Call me at 1-800-NOCRASH or send e-mail to solutions@nocrash.com.  I'll make sure your code is up to code!"

Notice how Steve's opening line captured our attention and made us laugh.  That's memorable, and signals that Steve has a sense of humor about what he does. 

Sometimes a dash of mystery helps you stand out from the crowd.  Consider the IRS agent who became reluctant to divulge his occupation.  Listeners either displayed a fear or loathing of the IRS, and by extension, him.  Here's his elevator speech, given in response to questions about his occupation:

"Me?  I'm a government fundraiser.  Our group raises needed funds for the various other departments within the government.  I'm Richard Charles, but few call me Rich.  (Here he pauses and smiles.) And what do you do? Raise it or spend it?"

Many people end their elevator speech with a question to draw in their listener and better understand their needs.  Whether out of curiosity, a desire to qualify them as business prospects, or just to avoid doing all the talking, questions induce dialog, and thus further the conversation.  Depending on your objective, you may ask open-ended questions to gather information, or ask 'Yes-No' questions to gain agreement or gauge fit.

Closed-ended questions are ones that can be answered directly, with a yes or no.  Many elevator speeches are designed to ask questions that generate agreement in the form of a "yes." For instance, Nancy Black, a nutritionist, ends her elevator speech by asking people "would you like to eat less and enjoy it more?"   This question almost always garners an affirmative response.  Other examples of closed-ended questions:

  • Have you used consultants before?
  • Is this your first time here?
  • Are you computer literate?

Open-ended questions, on the other hand, allow your listener to elaborate more.  That's where we learn how we can best be of service to our listeners. When we ask open-ended questions and listen closely we can quickly determine whether a fit exists.  Since, as consultants, we can solve many problems, there may be a variety of ways we can serve these people once we understand their situations, dilemmas and challenges. 

Some sample open-ended questions:

  • What problems keep you awake at night?
  • If you had a magic wand that could make any one problem disappear
    what would it be
  • How would you describe your biggest short-term challenge?
  • Can you explain your philosophy on outside consultants?
  • How is your firm handling the post 9-11 market?

You can craft your own.  Questions beginning with "Describe... or "How...?" or "What...?" usually engender a descriptive answer, where as questions beginning with "Do/Did...?" or "Is/Are...?" or Can/Could...?" will usually yield a Yes-No response.

Some basic points to remember about your elevator speech:

1. It is intended to open doors, not close sales.  Deliver yours with the intent to form a new relationship.

2. Elevator speeches play best outside of elevators: in hallways, on sidewalks, at conferences and conventions, or whenever you meet a stranger. 

3. The most important part of your elevator speech is the response you get.  Listen closely to what your listener says.  Observe how they react to your elevator speech.  Are they confused? Do they gloss over? Do they smile and engage you based on yours? Tweaking may be in order.

4.  Script yours out in conversational English.  Make yours easy to deliver.  Is it an accurate reflection of you and your personality?

5. Practice yours with friends, family and your voice answering machine.  Where do you sound credible? Where do you waiver? Are you upbeat?  Does it flow from your tongue? If not, retool it.

6. Using humor, mystery or play on words can draw listeners in.  Consider making yours thematic.  A meeting planner, Julie Miller King, tells prospects "I may be a King but I treat you like Royalty!"  Her response has been favorable!

7. Speak the language of benefits for maximum effect.

Remember, when you push the right buttons with your elevator speech your practice will be on the rise.

Craig Harrison was PATCA's guest speaker in November, 2001.  He is a professional speaker, corporate trainer and communication consultant who makes communication, customer service and leadership fun and easy for his clients. 


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