Why Elevator Speeches Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

Felicia Slattery

Why Elevator Speeches Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

“So, What Do YOU Do?”

As a professional speaker and communication consultant, I have been asked for years by nervous entrepreneurs and professionals headed to networking meetings and live events about the best way to put together an “elevator speech.”

And for years I have been telling those same people why they should not have one.

So we’re all clear on the meaning, here is a common definition of an “elevator speech” as it appears on Wikipedia,

“An elevator pitch summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition. The name "elevator pitch" reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.”

What’s the first thing you notice about that definition? Well, that it’s not a “speech” at all. It’s called a “pitch.” And the idea is that the person you’re delivering it to will be in a position to buy your product or service right then and there – or at least get enough information to make a decision soon after or want to know more.

Let’s look at a few reasons why you do not want an elevator speech – and the better alternative. First here’s why you do not want an elevator pitch:

  1. You have no idea if the person you’re talking to is in your niche or target market if you haven’t spoken to them yet.
  2. Creating a speech involves knowing your audience—a GROUP of people -  and understanding them in order to provide value through your words. Talking to one person could be considered an audience in the technical definition of the term, but delivering a “speech” of any kind to one person is odd at best and either rude, insulting, or obnoxious at worst.
  3. You’re at a networking function with the express purpose of connecting with others (and if you’re there to sell something on the spot you might as well stay home; people will smell that desperation a mile away and steer clear of you). Regurgitating a memorized canned spiel is not connecting; in fact it’s the opposite.
  4. Your main goal should be to find out if you know someone or something that could be helpful to those you meet. Being helpful is the first step in being memorable. Speaking “at” someone does not accomplish you being helpful in any way.

So the problem remains… if you want to connect with people and have them know what you do and vice versa, what do you say? Here are a few tips:

  1. Listen. Be the first person in the conversation to be interested instead of trying to be interesting. You be the interested party in the other person, finding out more about them first. 
  2. Once you know more about the other person, you can then tailor your “what do you do” response to who that person is.  Then continue the conversation by asking them even more questions about who they are in reference to what you can do for them in a way that is not selling your services, but possibly by sharing an example or even providing simple suggestions, help, or ideas on the spot. Yes for free.
  3. Remember above all you are connecting with another human being. Not a prospect. Not a hot lead. Not another face in the crowd. The person you’re talking to is a human being and deserves your full respect and attention. Find out their name and use it. Be with them in that moment instead of casually searching the room for your next hot prospect.