The idea of an “elevator speech” or “pitch” is that you have something concise at the ready when someone, in an elevator, asks, “What are you up to these days?” Your time is limited! The floors are ticking by! WHAT WILL YOU SAY?!
An elevator speech gives you a way to respond that’s better than “Uh, not much, just busy.” But most elevator speeches fall short in a few key ways.
First, elevator speeches are prepared ahead of time, so they often have the quality of something written and never spoken. People are coached to get as much valuable information into as short a time as possible, and it starts to have the overstuffed feeling of a mission statement. “This new initiative is boldly connecting people and resources to solve the pressing challenges of our time!”
Lots of words that pack a punch, not a lot of room for genuine connection with the other person.
This leads to another point: many people have a negative reaction to the idea of giving a “speech.” The word itself implies that we have to perform. An elevator speech combines three things that can be difficult: constrained time, the surprise element, plus the fact of the “speech” itself. Yikes!
Finally, I don’t know about you, but when I say hi to someone in the elevator, I’m not issuing an invitation for them to deliver a speech or a pitch, (even a short one). I’d love to hear an update, and perhaps have a chance to ask a question or even offer my own thoughts.
What if we reframe this whole idea from an elevator speech to an elevator chat? What can you offer that engages and intrigues the other person, rather than making them your captive audience of one?
I suggest starting with a phrase like “One project I’ve been working on that’s exciting is—“ or “Oh, let me tell you about the cool challenge we’re wrestling with.” Find the words that reflect something you would really say, that let you highlight something going on with your work. Stay positive, quick, and upbeat, and remember the most important thing is to actually connect with the other person.
Let’s start to think of the encounter in the elevator as the beginning of a conversation, rather than an impromptu command performance. Whew! Doesn’t that feel better?