Ditch Your Elevator Speech

by Marcia Hoeck

I’ve always had an intense dislike for elevator speeches. I’ve fought the idea tooth and nail. They never came naturally to me and they never sounded natural coming from anyone else, either. Many times, I’ve seen them repel rather than attract.

So I’ve taken a page from Lois Kelly’s book, Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing, and now use a conversational marketing approach instead.

Jump-start conversations
In her book, Kelly describes how traditional marketing and communications don’t really help people talk. They inform, promote, direct, and describe, but they don’t help jump-start conversations that get people to say (and I love this phrase Lois uses to test if a subject is conversational),

“Gee, that’s interesting, tell me more.”

Has anyone ever said that to you after you’ve given them your elevator speech? If so, you can skip the rest of this article. But chances are your elevator speech makes people’s eyes glaze over, just like most everyone else’s does.

Make meaning
Surveys say people don’t trust companies, and the only way to gain back trust is to communicate in new ways, according to Kelly. In addition to traditional marketing and communications, we need to create conversational marketing approaches, and have something interesting to talk about. One way to do this is with meaning making — which helps make sense of an idea and shows people how it relates to what they already know. When they don’t see meaning, people tend to become skeptical and indifferent.

There are steps you can take towards making meaning and uncovering talk-worthy ideas. Here’s how to apply this to replacing your elevator speech.

Talk to the five-year-old
It’s been proven that meaning can most effectively be conveyed by tapping into the five-year-old in your client through stories and conversations. Here’s how Kelly suggests we get that five-year-old to really “hear” our messages:

The five-year-old likes to argue and reason, and uses words like “because”:
You need to explain “why” and “why not.”

The five-year-old uses five to eight words in a sentence:
You need to keep it brief, and use short sentences.

The five-year-old is interested in cause and effect:
You need to explain, “If we do this, then this will happen,
if we don’t do this, that will happen.”

The five-year-old understands and uses comparative terms:
You need to use analogies to help him understand.

The five-year-old enjoys creating and telling stories:
You need to tell stories. Storytelling is one of the best ways
to help people understand, retain, and repeat ideas.

The five-year-old likes to use swear words:
You need to use disruptive ideas and language to get attention.
(Notice the word “disruptive” — I’m not suggesting you swear at people instead of using an elevator speech. But you might need to shake them up to get their attention.)

Connecting with the five-year-old and making meaning when introducing yourself and your business just might help you start conversations — instead of talking at people — giving you the courage to ditch your elevator speech for good.

What stories can you tell? What disruptive ideas can you use? Jump-start the conversation by engaging your audience and capturing their interest.

Illustration courtesy of Jason Bacher

Quick Tips
1.When meeting people for the first time, what can you explain about your business in “why” and “why not” terms? What cause and effect statements could you make about your business? What analogies can you use? What stories can you tell? What disruptive ideas can you use? Think these through ahead of time so you generally know what directions you can talk about. One caveat: no memorizing!

2. To make sure your language is basic enough, try it out on your own five-year-old, or borrow someone else’s. If you do this step, you’ll find memorizing a speech really isn’t an option, anyway.

Dig Deeper
Get ahold of Lois Kelly’s Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing

Take a look at Marty Maxwell Lane’s article Be Selfish. Make Your Presentation Work for You.

Learn tips from Marcia Hoeck on how to strengthen your business.

15 thoughts on “Ditch Your Elevator Speech

  1. Pingback: Graphic Design and Marketing Blog | Katy Dwyer Design

  2. Danita Reynolds - Creative Brain Extraordinaire


    This is exactly how I network. It’s taken a lot of trial and error but I finally came up with this same formula and it works great. There has been multiple times I’ve walked away with a new client and I know it’s because of my approach to them.

    When introducing myself I say “Hi, I’m Danita, Creative Brain Extraordinaire.” The disruptive title really makes people want to know more about what I do.

    I’ve also found it makes a difference in being compelling and confident at what you do.

    Thanks for the validation that I’m not the only one doing this.

  3. Marcia Hoeck

    John, glad you are learning new tricks!

    Danita, way to go – I love it! Sparking conversations is SO much better than reciting and initiating the eye-glaze-over, don’t you think? Thanks for sharing your approach.

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  5. Cynthia Fowler

    Another approach is to talk to the preteenager in clients. Appealing to their “what’s in it for me” perspective on life. Having just spent a day with a lovable, eye-rolling 11-year-old, I know I have to keep it simple and all about his self-interest. No long stories or explanations. He wants honesty and directness. I think that works with clients every time.

  6. E

    I LOVE this article. I’m about to graduate a graphic design program that will remain nameless, and one of the final classes is a class that I like to call “Life Skills” but it is really an unrealistic class. Having had a previous career prior to switching into graphic design, I have found absolutely no use in the classic elevator speech. But this class I am in PREACHES it to high heaven. I keep suggesting alternate methods to the classic speech but am largely ignored by the instructor. I will now forward this article to her for insight. Thank you!

  7. Marcia Hoeck

    Hey, E, I know what you’re up against in that class — I keep beating up the elevator speech, but it’s like trying to kill a national monument sometimes. People are incredulous that I’d even want to try! “Why, what in the world would you do without one?” they ask me, as if it’s the ONLY alternative. Good luck with your instructor, and always remember — sometimes we have to agree to disagree. Thanks for weighing in.

  8. Marcia Hoeck

    Hi Stacey,
    Yes! It is outdated, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why it just won’t go ahead and die a dignified death, already. Eye rolls are good, though, and if we all give the old elevator speech a good eye roll every once in awhile, it may help to hasten its demise. Thanks for doing your part!

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