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How to Perfect the Elevator Speech

November 2017- by Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP®, Apex Systems Contributor and an internationally recognized author, lecturer and trainer

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Who are you?

That is a BIG question. I’m a project manager. I’m a husband. I’m a dad. I’m a dog owner. I’m a bread baker. I’m…

A blog writer for Apex Systems.

And every single one of those descriptions would stink as an opener to an elevator speech. While an elevator speech is all about who you are, it’s also all about what you bring to the table for anyone who’s listening. It’s really not about you. It’s about them.

There are plenty of guides on how to craft an effective elevator speech, but the key is to remember that although it is ALL about you, it’s not about you. It’s about your audience and what they need to hear. It’s about your ability to engage them in a context you share, and ensure that they and you share common goals and common ground.

Given that your average elevator speech is supposed to be about 25-30 seconds, that’s a pretty tall order.

A Few Scenarios

You walk into the office and stride toward the elevator. It’s your…

Boss’s boss

What does she care about? What would make her genuinely pleased to know you’re part of her organization? Which of these statements would start the conversation off right after she says, I’m the very important person you thought I was. I don’t believe we’ve met.

Which statement would likely make the other party want to continue the conversation?

  • I’m Erica, and I work out of my Tampa office mostly. I do a lot with your customer programs.
  • I’m Erica, and I love this place. It’s amazing. If I never run into you again, you need to know what a great culture you’ve created.
  • I’m Erica, and I got my degree from MIT, and I have a plan for solving world hunger.

Newest team member, late for a meeting

  • I’m Cate, and I’ll be your new boss on the Acme project.
  • I’m Cate, and I’m looking forward to finding out what you’re capable of.
  • I’m Cate, and you have the most amazing year ahead of you.

Client who’s frustrated by everything your organization is doing

  • I’m Pat, and I’m so sorry about what’s happened.
  • I’m Pat, and I’d love to know how you’d like the world to look different six months from now.
  • I’m Pat, and it’s an honor to meet you. I’m going to make everything right.

The second, third, and second bullets above are far and away the better openers to an elevator speech. The key is understanding why.

ERICA

First, Erica is putting herself in the boss’ shoes. What does a boss want? What do they expect? They want employees to appreciate the fact that they have a job. They want employees to tell them they’re effective managers. But the challenge is doing it without sounding like you’re sucking up. Erica can get away with her comments if she’s being honest. If she really believes that the organization provides near-infinite possibilities, this little tidbit of honesty will allow her boss’s boss to explore those insights and engage Erica from whatever position she chooses. Most importantly, it opens a dialogue. It creates an opportunity to engage the boss in anything she actually cares about. And the boss gets to make the call as to whether or not the conversation could or should continue.

Whether the boss opts to continue the conversation or not, the door is open.

CATE

If you’re a new team member meeting your boss for the first time, the last thing you need to be reminded of is that she’s the boss. While none of these options are disastrous, it’s not helpful to remind others of their subordinate position. This applies to both of the first two bullets on Cate’s response. They clearly shout a superior-to-subordinate relationship. The third, however, offers affirmation. It opens the door for a conversation about what good is coming in the year ahead. It reasserts what the new team member may have hoped all along—the job is a good one.

PAT

Pat is in a horrible position. The here and now is untenable. The client is unhappy. They have an ax to grind. They’re upset. This elevator speech feels like it may be about simple survival. But it’s not! Pat has one option here that takes him out of the here and now and moves into the future. The second option in this set creates a future state of being. It’s where everyone, including the customer, would like to be. If the here and now is not a happy place, a good elevator speech will move us along to somewhere else.

The Commonalities

Note what these approaches have in common: they open doors for future discussion. They create an environment where we are all in a common place or share a common context. No one is going to begin and end a relationship successfully in 30 seconds. Our best hope should be to create an environment where the conversation can and may continue. Because of these approaches, we have a sense that all parties in the communications event are respected and approached from a positive perspective.

These approaches also assume that all parties want the relationship to ultimately succeed. The few words, chosen wisely, assume positive intent. The phrases are not stock answers we can universally apply. They are a mirror of the relationships we ultimately would like to have. That’s the perfect elevator speech. It’s an invitation to a much better tomorrow.

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Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP®, is an Apex Systems Contributor and an internationally recognized author, lecturer and trainer. He is the author of seven texts in project management, and serves as the U.S. Correspondent to the UK Project Management magazine, Project Manager Today. He produced the Audio PMP Prep: Conversations on Passing the PMP® Exam with Bruce Falk (just released for PMBOK Guide 6th Edition). And he’s hosting Seminars at Sea, sailing from Baltimore October 2018. He welcomes your feedback at carl@carlpritchard.com. Follow him on Twitter at @carlpritchard and @pmpprep

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