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The Elevator Speech That You Whisper

There are people who believe that a great elevator speech needs to be delivered with enthusiasm. They would like everybody on the elevator to hear it and be moved. That is why many rehearse their elevator speech to deliver with passion an exciting answer to the question, “What do you do?”

In truth, the stirring performance that you rehearse for a traditional elevator speech might impress your spouse, and it might earn a ribbon at a Toastmasters meeting; yet, a compelling elevator speech – one that compels strangers to ask for your business card – is best whispered.

the traditional elevator speech
Here are good examples of the traditional elevator speech:
• Jeff says, “I work with people who want to accumulate wealth by investing in undervalued stocks.”
• Brenda says, “I help couples to furnish and decorate their new homes in a style that’s all their own.”
• Jeanette says, “I work with growing companies that need to find talented people so that they can continue growing and become more successful.”

Each of these elevator speech examples calls for impassioned delivery – with a smile, with zest. Because of that, Brenda could go on with examples of the exciting work she does as an interior designer and decorator.

The enthusiasm that makes a traditional elevator speech effective also requires self control to keep it brief. This is not the only challenge with a traditional elevator speech.

the question-answer trap
There are several basic problems with the traditional elevator speech. The first is to answer the question “What do you do?” succinctly. Like Brenda, many would like much longer than 30 seconds to describe themselves and their work.

The main problem, though, is that most people just don’t want to hear others talk about themselves – especially if it sounds rehearsed. That is why most people seldom ask, “What do you do?” That’s also why many who develop a stimulating elevator speech seldom get to use it. There is a simple solution to these problems.

Don’t talk about yourself.
A Compelling Elevator Speech differs from a traditional elevator speech in one critical way: It’s not about you at all.

formula for a compelling elevator speech
A compelling elevator speech communicates:
• Who you are (name with or without title or organization).
• Three problems you solve described emotionally (e.g. fear, frustration, aggravation, worry).
• That you solve such problems (positioning you as a rescuer).
• A hook question (e.g. “Is that important to you?”)

example of a compelling elevator speech
Jeannette would be wiser to say something like this: “You know, a lot of companies in this area are having quite a tough time finding good people to hire. Then, it can be frustrating to keep a good team together. Of course, letting people go can cause lost sleep, too. As a certified Human Resources Consultant, I help to make life easier for senior managers. Can you relate to that?” For greater impact, she should lower her voice as if she’s sharing something confidential.

why whisper
A compelling elevator speech is best delivered in hushed tones for two reasons:
1. You should whisper because a truly compelling elevator speech focuses on the problems you solve for people – described empathetically in emotional terns. It’s not polite to talk out loud about your clients’ head scratching or nail biting. Emotional empathy positions you as respectful and credible. Whispering shows that.
2. People pay more attention when you whisper – especially in contrast, when they expect you to announce grandly what you do and talk about yourself.

sample elevator speech
There are thousands of people toiling away on their elevator speech right now. They’re trying hard to describe their work briefly so that people will understand what sets them apart. They’re earnestly rehearsing in front of mirrors. They’re anxiously waiting for somebody to ask that trigger question, “What do you do?” As an elevator speech coach, I take away that pressure. Would that be meaningful to you?

If you want strangers to ask for your business card after 30 seconds, and you can accept that a compelling elevator speech is not about you, then use this formula – and say it with a whisper.

– Glenn Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.

About the Author: Glenn Harrington is the Principal Consultant of Articulate Consultants Inc. Since 1996.

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