Former Web editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings, Mike Green, and I co-facilitated a 4-hour media training workshop. Only the workshop lasted 5 hours because we had such a fantastic group of participants, no one wanted to leave, and we didn’t allot ourselves enough time.
What’s an elevator speech?
The first subject we talked about is an elevator speech, also known as an elevator pitch.
You have 20-30 seconds in an elevator with someone you’ve never met before. He’s nicely dressed. He could be a reporter, TV producer, or possible funder (if you work for a nonprofit, for example). How do you get his attention in that little time?
The answer is the elevator speech: a short, snappy, impressive, interesting snippet about who you are or what you do.
The idea isn’t to pack in as much information as possible and talk a mile a minute but to grab the person’s interest so she’ll want to exchange contact information or hold the door open to ask you a question. If she asks a question indicating further interest, you’ve done it right.
Mike Green had everyone write first drafts of their elevator speeches on index cards. One side only. The lines on the card are exactly the amount of time you have to give it.
Some guidelines about this “speech” that the group came up with after reading and critiquing the elevator speeches:
1) Do not use clichés or tired language
2) Make it catchy and interesting
3) Make it clear and understandable
4) Do not use your company’s jargon or mission statement, instead tell the listener something familiar that they can immediately relate to
Here’s a hypothetical example. Instead of saying: “I’m the education and outreach director for an organization that has 20 different funders and works to study bird population viability in Oregon by hosting school children from around the state” (this speech loses the listener in the first few words and by the time you’ve gotten to anything interesting, the doors of the elevator have closed), you could say: “I work for an organization that gets children outside into nature. You’ve heard of nature deficit disorder? We fight that by connecting school kids with real scientists to teach the kids about songbirds.”
“So when do you use an elevator speech?”
I don’t know about you but I don’t find myself in elevators very often (there aren’t many high rises in the small town where I live and I usually take the stairs). When I am in an elevator I’m usually too shy to talk to the person standing next to me beyond a cursory, “Which floor?”
But I do often find myself having to explain my work, my business, or one of my books to someone.
And even more often I find myself talking to an editor or a producer or someone whose attention I really need to grab.
If you cold call someone from the media, you have about 30 seconds to make your elevator speech (be it about your company, your idea for a show/article/radio segment).
The speech will change depending on what you’re explaining and who you’re talking to. Hopefully you’re convinced by now that a good elevator speech is tremendously useful.
See you at the penthouse.
Published: August 30, 2009
Last update: January 23, 2020