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Posted: June 28, 2013

Best of CoBiz: How to avoid giving your elevator speech

You don't want your networking to be over before it begins

John Heckers

Julie Hansen has given you some great tips in the last couple of weeks on how to craft a great "elevator speech." Follow them if you are in a position where you must give one for a clear and concise speech. If, however, you are looking for a job and doing a great deal of networking, I want to tell you how to avoid the dreaded elevator speech altogether, and why.

Here are a couple of "whys" on avoiding the elevator speech when job hunting.

1). They're boring. Following Julie's tips help some, but, I've got to tell you, my eyes glaze over with the elevator speeches of most people. At a standard networking event, I'll hear upwards of 100 elevator speeches that all sound pretty similar.

2). They don't stand out. At about number 10 elevator speech for the evening, I can't remember who wants what or what anyone does, and I've got a pretty good memory. Yes, I jot things down on the back of business cards. Yes, I follow up. But, realistically, you've just wasted your breath on telling people about yourself in elevator speech format.

3). They give too much information. No matter how many times Julie or I tell you to keep it short, if you're job hunting you're going to go into your whole career history. I will fall asleep at about your third big old hairy accomplishment, and I don't have narcolepsy. On nights where I have insomnia, I just have to think about elevator speeches and I'm out like a light.

An elevator speech should have:

a). Your name, stated slowly and distinctly.
b). Your last position with title and company. (DON'T tell me you were a "senior technical executive, or the like. What does THAT mean?)
c). ONE and only one major duty or accomplishment.
d). The one or two things (no more) that you're looking for. And please don't say stupid things like "I'm industry agnostic" or the like. Be specific as to what you want.

4). An elevator speech gives people a chance, then and there, to screen you out or brush you off. Do you really want your networking to be over before it starts?

Here's a trick to keep you from having to give your elevator speech very often.

1). Go up to someone and speak first. Don't wait for people to come to you.

2). Introduce yourself with your name and ask, "So what brings you to the Jeffery Dahlmer Memorial BBQ this evening?" Listen to the answer.

3). If they're a vendor and you have no need for what they're selling, be polite, but move on as rapidly as possible. Sometimes vendors can have good leads, but not often, especially if they're just out there networking for the first few times. Older vendors, however, may well know a person or three. But vendors are not your best bet. And I've never had anyone helped by an insurance salesperson (except to obtain insurance) or a financial planner (except to financially plan).

4). Offer help. Jot essential information on the back of the person's business card (ask for one if you don't have one at this point) and say, "I think I might have an idea or two to help you. Could we grab some coffee this week?" Few people will say no. Thank the person and move on. See? No elevator speech on your part.

Why coffee? Well, you cannot build on trust you don't have. And networking events are quite noisy. Get the person to a place where you can exchange real information, and you'll probably get leads.

What kind of help can you give? Plenty. But it doesn't necessarily have to be leads. You can let people know about a networking event that is great. You can offer them advice. You can connect them to a couple of your very helpful networking contacts. And, of course, after you've heard more about the person, you might know of a job lead or two.

You will still need an elevator speech that is well-honed, very short and to the point. Attention spans are shrinking, so keep it as short as possible. You'll sometimes be in situations where everyone goes around and gives an elevator speech. But avoid doing so as much as possible. They're outdated and not terribly useful most of the time.

John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

I had my monthly Structured Networking Event(R) last evening and I gave some really firm instructions about not giving me the life's story. As always, I heard a great many life stories going back and forth in the elevator speeches. More talking doesn't mean that you're more likely to be heard. Thanks Julie and Liz for your kind comments! By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 01 10
Thanks John and you make some good points. Sometimes the way to stand out is NOT to do what everyone else is doing. In the speed-dating sort of networking environment you described, it would be refreshing to have someone focused on how they could help you. Trust is not established in 30 seconds, but that would make for a good start. Look forward to hearing your suggestions on the coffee meeting! By Julie Hansen on 2012 01 10
Good stuff John. I think we are on the same mission to put an end to boring commercials. 30 seconds is a long time to listen to someone who has not taken the time to be concise, compelling and interesting. 15 seconds is the new 30 second commercial. Liz Wendling By liz wendling on 2012 01 10
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