Six rules for elevator speeches that will help you get to the top

Be ready with your elevator speech when the opportunity arises. Flickr photo. Some rights reserved by robinsonsmay

In her “Message guide: A tool every small business can use” post, Jeanne Yocum mentioned elevator speeches.  The term ‘elevator speech’ seems to be a variant of ‘elevator pitch,’ which conventional wisdom suggests originated with technology-based start-up entrepreneurs who wanted to be ready in case they had a chance elevator encounter with a venture capitalist.  Since I’ve helped entrepreneurs in the corner of a garage and business leaders in the corner office to develop this essential 30 to 60 seconds of pre-planned conversation, today I’m suggesting six rules for compelling pitches that can help you take your business to the top.

Rule 1: Be realistic. The purpose of an elevator speech is to spark interest, not to close a deal.  Just as you would not expect to drive a nail with a screwdriver, don’t expect the pitch to do more than is reasonable. We have all heard stories of new customers or investors signing up after a chance meeting in the airport, but these outcomes are highly unusual.  Instead, strive to make your pitch so tantalizing that the recipient will hardly be able to wait to learn more.

Rule 2: Do your homework. You can’t hope to compel interest unless you have a general understanding of your audiences.  For example, bankers, equity investors, and granting agencies each invest in businesses, but they have very different priorities. Bankers are concerned with the assets you own to assure repayment with interest. Investors are willing to put money at risk in exchange for the opportunity for significant ROI if you succeed. Grant makers may support your company with the hope that you will generate jobs for the community as you grow. To develop this type of knowledge, conduct research in advance.

Rule 3: Take an incremental approach. Build a generic pitch for your most likely or most important audience. Now is the time to put your message guide to work. Often it helps to have others involved to contribute different perspectives from within your company. In any case, be sure to include the relevant benefits your business offers. It may be useful to imagine that someone asked you the question, “Why should I be interested in listening to you?”

After you are comfortable with the starter pitch, identify the elements that will be of interest to all versus ones of particular interest to particular recipients.  This will enable you to build up the core while strengthening your ability to customize on the fly.

Rule 4: Listen and respond. When an opportunity to use your elevator speech arises, make it part of a conversation by fine-tuning your pitch for the immediate recipient(s). This requires you to be listening and observing while pitching (good habits in any case).

When possible, learn something about a recipient before you speak substantively.  This can be as simple as reviewing the attendee list at a networking meeting or asking about the person’s interests when you meet.

During the conversation, stay alert for signs of interest or lack thereof.  If he/she looks perplexed or bored, ask a question or make other adjustments to recoup the situation. Use what you learn to make the generic pitch stronger.

Rule 5: Share. Pass along the elevator speech to others in your company who may be able to use it. Encourage them to make it their own by applying rules 1 through 4 and by letting different personalities, speech patterns and perspectives shine through. Discourage memorization and automatic recitation. Consider sharing a set of brief talking points to promote desirable usage.

Rule 6: Evolve. No elevator speech is ever final.  In addition to changes based on how your business grows and evolves, you will want to make adjustments for external factors.

These rules seem obvious, but in the midst of an owner’s passion for his/her business they are easily overlooked. With that in mind, they make a useful checklist.

Do you have others have tips, rules or tricks that have worked for you and your business? Please share!

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