An elevator speech is supposed to be the description of your services that you would give to a prospective client who is held captive in a descending elevator for thirty seconds. I have never tried it on an elevator and don’t know anyone who has.
Assuming for the moment that you can rendezvous with a client for such a ride, that the elevator is empty enough that you aren’t looking at the back of the client’s head, a mere inch in front of your own, and that the client is in a particularly generous mood—all of which pretty much exclude this from occurring in New York City—it would be useful to have something ready to say. And, yes, there are other situations when a concise description of what you do is helpful to have on call.
Let’s look at one elevator speech to see what we can learn from it. I have changed it slightly from the words I was given to protect the innocent, but it is essentially the same:
We use proven group psychological techniques to reconfigure and improve the way people communicate, associate and collaborate to ensure dedication to change.
This example shows what is wrong with many elevator speeches. It tells how the firm does its work (. . . proven group psychological techniques . . .) when it should only tell what the firm does and how the client benefits from it.
The client won’t be interested in how you do your work until she is considering hiring you. It is abstract to the level of incomprehensibility. Each word, one suspects, was carefully chosen because of some nuance of meaning not shared with us. Being abstract and filled with long words that are hard to absorb it is unmemorable. As the client steps across the threshold of the elevator, she purges it from her mind.
And I hate all the “-ates.” They annoy me.
Surely, that isn’t what an elevator speech is supposed to be.
Instead, it should be:
Benefits Focused: Until the prospective client grasps how she will benefit from your service, she won’t be interested in how you do your work. Imagine an endodontist in an elevator describing the superior features of his approach to root canal work, when your teeth are in good shape. Chances are you wouldn’t have much interest.
Concrete: It must use words that conjure up physical objects.
Easily Understood: It should use short, common words, as much as possible. So, for example, we might be able to replace communicate with talk and replace collaborate and associate with work together.
Memorable: Words describing simple actions are memorable, because they create a little video in our mind’s eye.
Professional: This is not the place to be cute.
We help people embrace the need for change, whether it be for a new technology, for a turnaround, for a new strategy or for some other cause. Then we help these same people bring the needed change about, whether working in teams or as individuals. For example, we helped a luxury hotel chain turn around a reputation for poor service by helping its staff members change the way they responded to guests’ requests for help.
Do you understand what this firm does now? If so, I will let you off the elevator and you can go home.