Thursday, October 27, 2011

Elevator Speeches

I grew up in New York City high rises. Outside of a handful of neighbors, I hardly ever talked to anyone when I was riding the elevator. Now everyone asks me: “What is your elevator speech?”

Read On:
I first heard the term “elevator speech” a few years ago when I attended an organized speed networking event. It was explained to me that I needed to be able to describe to someone what I did professionally in thirty to sixty seconds, the length of an average elevator ride. When I researched the origins of the term, I traced it back to a 2007 article written by executive coach Aileen Pincus, The Perfect (Elevator )Pitch. “One of the most important things for a businessperson is to deliver a quick, succinct summation of what their company makes or does that excites others. The “Elevator Pitch” should be a fundamental skill.”

I have lost count how many times I have delivered my “elevator speech” at networking events, conferences, over the phone to people with whom I am connecting via LinkedIn, etc. All I know is I now sound like a fast talking politician. Today I am not going to bore you with my elevator speech, but this much I do know. Not once has anyone ever asked me a follow-up question after I delivered my stump speech. I always use the phrase “assist food manufacturers strategically” in the hope that someone would inquire what that entails, but nothing ever follows. Consequently I have asked myself do people really care. Has the term, what is your elevator speech become another business cliché? Do people really care, but it would take too many nanoseconds to understand the depth of one’s professional achievement. This leads me to wonder what is next? How can we further fine tune our elevator speeches? Maybe an elevator ride is too long. How about limiting everything to the ultimate sound byte, 140 characters or less?

Do you have a business tweet?


  1. I first heard the term "elevator speech" from Philip Crosby. His story was that he wanted to get the attention of Hal Geneen, the CEO of ITT at the time, to have Quality report to the President in same way as Sales and Finance. He prepared an elevator speech and waited in the lobby of his NYC building till Mr. Geneen walked in to go to his office on the 76th floor. Phil figured it would take about 60 seconds to get there and he would have his captured attention. As his story goes, Mr. Geneen called him an hour later and promoted him to VP of Quality for all of ITT! And the rest is history.

  2. I grew up in a NYC apartment complex and always talked to those with whom I shared an elevator. Also, elevator speech or pitch was/is a Hollywood phrase, designed to capture the attention of a studio head/producer toward an idea for a movie. And rather than it be defined by time -- 30 to 60 seconds -- it was defined by the number of words -- 3-to-5, i.e., "Carlton the Doorman meets Zeus" or "Canine Dear Abby".

  3. Great story, Teri! Now, Jim: an elevator speech should prompt a question or reaction. If it isn't, then it needs to be tweaked. ES is one of the hardest things to get right. I have had dozens for my company, and yet still struggle sometimes capturing the essence within a few sentences. As marketers and salespeople, we all want to EXPOUND!

  4. My first encounter with elevator speech was 2000 and came from venture capital companies wanting to cull through numerous call sand applicants. In my college days it was called USP or Unique Selling Proposition. Today is is headed toward being a QR code on a business card or subject line in a email.

  5. Jimmy,

    I agree with Thomas, in that the purpose of an elevator speech is to provoke a question. Perhaps an illustration of assist food manufacturers strategically" will do this.

    Since the purpose of an elevator speech is to engage in dialog, which often depends upon reading the other person's body language, I don't think it can be captured in 140 characters...twitter is the wrong media for this message.


  6. Jim, your post got me to thinking about elevator pitches and the ones I've heard or that we've discussed using in the past. The problem with most EPs, to me, is that they often sound scripted and self-focused vs. client-focused and authentic. I did a quick Google search on "what's wrong with an elevator pitch," and I found a couple of good posts that I thought I would share:

    I particularly like the one from The Atlantic. Enjoy.

  7. Interesting feedback. Thank you.

  8. i often get one question when i deliver my elevator speech. it is, "huh"?!

    i am not kidding. this IS a question, tho, and allows me to further explain....

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  10. Thomas and Robert said the elevator speech should provoke a question. I believe an elevator speeech should end with a question and provoke an answer. Here are a few examples:
    - How might I help you and your company with some of the things I do?
    - Here's my card. I'd like to learn more about what you do. Are you available for coffee tomorrow at 8:00 am?
    - Is there something I said that might be of interest to your company?
    - How much would your profitability or efficiency improve if you were using one or more of the products/services I offer?
    The ones above may not be the best questions, but the best way to provoke an answer or even a better question, is to ask a question.