Your Elevator Speech

By Scott Westerman
Listen to an audio version of this message.

“If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.”  ~Dennis Roth

What’s your elevator speech? If you had 60 seconds to describe who you are and where you are going, could you do it?

Leah Grant writes for and has heard hundreds of them. “Your elevator speech.” says, “is a verbal business card or billboard. In order for it to be effective, it must be compelling. You want it to draw in the prospect, yet leave them wanting to know more.”

In it’s most distilled form, an elevator speech is a sentence or two. Here’s mine.

“I’m Scott Westerman, the MSU Alumni Guy. I help Spartans everywhere get from wherever they are in their lives right now to wherever they want to be.”

What makes a great elevator speech? Here are some of the components.

  • Your name – That’s your personal brand’s logo, so make sure you include it.
  • Where you work – Right here is also a good place to talk about your target market (mine is the worldwide, Spartan Nation). Don’t worry if you are talking to someone who isn’t necessarily a direct prospect. Everyone has a network and we all like to refer smart people to friends in need.
  • A benefit statement – How do you add value? The how is always more important than the what.

Should you mention your product? Only if it helps support the benefit statement.

What do you say if the listener says, “tell me more”? Put together a reflexive paragraph that gives them a bit more detail.

“MSUAA is the primary resource for our half million alumni around the world. When you move to a new community, we help you connect and get settled. Wherever you work, we probably know a Spartan in the chain of command who can help you grow in your career. If you’re at a life crossroads, our alumni career services can help you bracket your passion, strengthen your personal brand and chart a new direction. And if you need help with just about anything, just about anywhere, we can link you up with one of our 500,000 Spartans out there who have walked your path and can help you get to where you want to go.”

That’s the meat of the message. I usually deliver it in language that target’s the listener’s interests. Having a few key words in your mind that describe your value proposition can help with this. We use “Community, Connections, Careers and Class” to trigger our talking points.

The best elevator speeches are iterative. They have been honed, through trial and error, over time and evolve with your experience and skill set. Here’s Leah’s:

“I partner with new financial planners who want to blow their numbers out of the water.”

Notice the strong verb. We all want to blow our numbers out of the water and she has put a verbal stake in the ground saying she has the skill, experience and confidence to help us do it.

Here are some things to avoid:

  • Don’t put your title in your elevator speech. Nobody cares that I am “Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations and Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association”. If pressed, I characterize myself as the “Head Servant”.
  • Don’t talk price. Sales 101 teaches that you never talk money until you’ve built the relationship.
  • Don’t get too deep into features. The goal of most elevator speeches is to build enough interest to get a chance for more face time with a qualified prospect.

Elevator speeches are as unique as is the speaker. So make yours a reflection of who you are. Eric Tsai works in the rarefied world of strategic web design. He has a ton of experience in hooking us ADD types who assess a site’s value prop in a nano second. Eric recommends framing your elevator speech as a question. “It should sound like something that happens in the real world that’s tangible, external, measurable and specific.” Here’s how he frame’s EBAY’s elevator pitch.

“You know how some people have stuff they want to get rid off but don’t want to give it all away for free? Well I offer a website that allows them to auction anything off to the highest bidder.”

Most importantly, tailor your message for your audience. When I’m talking with my 87 year old father about technology, I use different words than I use with my friend Henry Balanon, who lives at it’s center every day.

A good elevator speech can sow the seeds of a great relationship. Create one that describes the essence of who you are. Test it. Improve it based on feedback. And customize it’s nuances for your listener. It can have a far reaching impact on your ability to serve and the rewards that go right along with it.