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You've probably heard the phrase "elevator speech" bandied about. If you're new to the term, it is not a presentation with a lot of ups and downs in it. Rather, an "elevator speech" is a concise, punchy, planned description that overviews the value provided by a person or organization. It takes no more than twenty seconds (the time you might spend in an elevator with a stranger) and provides the answer to the listener, "what's in it for me?" or "what's in it for my organization?"

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Take the floor with confidence

A good elevator speech could be used to describe your job, what your department, division or company provides, the value of a conference you recently attended, or even a creative concept you're trying to pitch. As you create an elevator speech that you can convincingly say without pausing, faltering, or stumbling (in other words: practice, practice, practice), consider the following elements.

Start by grabbing their attention

Want to create a yawn? Tell them your title or your job duties. No one cares if you're the Chief Litigation Office Director (CLOD) or Manager of Records On Neurology (MORON) or Director of Office Finance and Information Services (DOOFIS). Really, they don't. Give them something they can get excited about: "I reduce your workload" would get their attention, or "I help groups like yours increase income by 40%" or "I help organizations like yours to improve productivity by 35%." Of course, the attention grabber works best if it's true and you can answer the challenge to, "prove it."

Who is it for?

Let people know up front to whom your product or offering is targeted. You don't want them to be listening from the perspective of a senior level executive if the product is for line workers. And you don't want them thinking that the product is for patients if it's really for doctors. Be very clear about who your target consumer is without getting into age, race, and social security number (unless it's relevant to the product. Example: Geritol for people aged 55 or older). Focus on what makes a great customer for you: decision makers, gatekeepers, or purchasers. Name those people in concrete terms with which your listener can identify.

What's their pain?

A great elevator speech is tailored to the listener. Before you start telling them about what YOU do, it might be useful to know what their problem is that you can address. Or to know what they do so that you can anticipate (through your knowledge of your customers) how you can make their life easier or their organizations work smoother or more profitable. Do they need new products? Are their receivables 90 days past due? Do they want to know what they have in inventory? Is the cost of goods too high? What's the problem you can solve for them?

What's your solution?

So now that you know your listener's problem, how can you solve it? What category of service, product or offering do you deliver that will make their "pain" go away? Remember to keep it general here. Whether or not it's a 256 or 512 megaslug chipset is likely not important to your listener at this point. What it is should be the focus rather than how it works. Start with the broad description of the product or service. Is it a drug for rheumatoid arthritis? Is it a three-day vacation package to Hawaii? Is it a customer relationship management software program?

What are the benefits of your offering?

This is where people can get fatally mixed up and lose the listener. Focus on the benefits to the listener, NOT the features of the offering. When you're buying an automotive sound system, most people don't care whether there are 12 speakers, three-and-a-half tweeters, and a large woofer named "Spot" in the trunk. That won't convince most people to spend the money on the Mark Levinson audio package. But if you tell them that, "it's the same clarity as sitting in the fifth row center of a concert hall," or "the sound is as real as having the announcer in the passenger seat," or "the most true-to-life sound you'll get in a car," then you have a better chance of convincing them to spend money on it.

Give them a metaphor to hang onto

Most listeners don't know as much about your offering as you do, so give them some way of making a connection between the unknown (your product/service) and the known (something they're familiar with). You might try to make a link between a successful organization in another category such as: "we're the Lexus of toothbrushes," or "Just like the American Red Cross helps people in an emergency, our data recovery service will have you running again in 8 hours or less." You can also create a link to something people do know about: "we provide your customers with iPasses for the toll booth that is your accounting department in order to make billing and payment fast, easy, and automatic so you don't have to think about it.

Differentiate yourself

Don't forget to let people know why what you do is better than the competition. Remember, it's differentiate or die (to quote the title of a book by Jack Trout). Let them know what advantage your product/service offers or what problem you've solved that gives you a leg up on the competition. Examples include, "unlike our competitor"s complicated system, our product has an intuitive user interface," or "we charge you only if we find cost savings for you," or "unlike our competitors, our product has 30% less fat yet still is more preferred in taste tests."

Qualify yourself

You know that you're the most qualified person in the world to deliver for your listener. But they may not know you from a bicycle courier. So let them know why they should trust you to provide the product/service. Do you have clients you can use to demonstrate your credentials, "we've worked with IBM, BMW, DKNY and UPS?" Have you been favorably reviewed in the press: "The Wall Street Journal called our product 'the most user-friendly nose whistle ever.'" Do you have certification or have you met industry-recognized standards like "ISO 9002" or a Ph.D. or M.D. or CSP?

So start writing!

To help you get started, you may want to use the format below, adopted from Geoffrey Moore' book "Crossing the Chasm." The template, below, walks you through one way to phrase your "elevator speech."

  • Attention Grabber
  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of problem or opportunity)
  • The (product name) is a (product category)
  • That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
  • Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)
  • Think of it this way (metaphor for your product/service)
  • You can trust the product because (qualifications)

Beta testing is good!

As you start to write this, remember that you probably won't get it on the first try, and it will take some time to refine it. And remember to test it early and often. Check with friends and neighbors to see if they understand what you're talking about, then check with customers you know and yes, you may even want to run it past some stranger on an elevator. •

Next: 188 Strategies to Catalyzing Innovation

©2004 Jonathan Vehar. All rights reserved.