The buzzword for conducting business effectively in the new millennium may very well prove to be “networking.” In turn, the key element of a networking interaction is the elevator pitch or elevator speech as some would call it. We used them as children… “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine!”
Well, perhaps not quite the same but at its essence, it’s an opportunity to show your stuff and to learn about the other person. Assuming they follow the rules, of course.
The basic premise is to imagine you are sharing an elevator ride with a person who could be influential in advancing your business or career. You have the duration of the elevator ride to impress upon this individual why they should buy into your cause or at least agree to talk to you some more about it.
How long should my elevator pitch be? Good question! Answer… it depends. Not much of an answer at first glance, but it really depends on the norms or the culture for location or venue of the networking session. Presenting your 30-minute curriculum vitae wouldn’t likely go over very well in a round-robin style of group introduction where the expectation is 30 seconds, not 30 minutes.
Many referral-networking breakfast/luncheon groups based on the BNI (Business Networking International) model limit their members to 30-second elevator pitches. The more members, the longer the activity takes, but at least it gives everyone an opportunity to speak.
A while back I organized a series of Power Networking Breakfasts. It was speed networking at its best, very much like a speed dating concept. Participants were allowed two minutes and thirty seconds to deliver their pitch. Time limits were rigidly followed with Toastmaster’s style speech timing lights, green, amber and red and a bell to signal the speaker to stop their pitch, then on to the next pitcher. The promotional material advised the participant to come prepared with a two-minute elevator pitch and to be prepared to answer a question or two about their pitch.
It was amazing to find that many of the participants faced challenges in trying to fill the two minutes. They had been programmed to speak and sit down within the restriction of 30 seconds. I believe one of the challenges many of us face is we have been taught from an early age not to brag about ourselves. When it comes to business, if we don’t promote ourselves or our business i.e. blow our own horn, then who will? We should be passionate about our businesses and be able to talk at length about what we do, why we do it and why you should do business with us. In fact, I would challenge you to be prepared to deliver a 30-minute presentation about yourself and/or your business. Arguably that would likely be one of the slowest elevator rides ever, but if you have ever found yourself stuck in one for a period of time, you will know that it could very well happen.
A challenge I face is with having multiple business ventures, volunteer roles, my professional career & pursuits, I could easily take the full thirty minutes for my 30-second pitch allotment. That doesn’t leave any room for the others. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I think the answer lays in referring back to our analogy of the elevator ride. Many larger high rises have more than one elevator. I would challenge you to create multiple elevator pitches you can use to match with the appropriate venue and situation. A social setting may be a good place to talk about some activities you are involved with and touching upon, but not going heavily into what you do for a living.
At a Toastmasters conference I would likely introduce myself as…
“Good morning everyone, I’m Rae Stonehouse. I’m a Distinguished Toastmaster and have been a member for over nineteen years. So far! I’ve served as our District 21 Governor a few years back and continue to serve our leaders in multiple roles. My passion is organizing and creating something from nothing. I’d love to hear how your Toastmasters experience has been. Rae Stonehouse.” I’ve kept it short and sweet and hopefully have piqued someone’s interest that they would want to talk to me some more. I haven’t mentioned my profession or my business ventures at all. I will likely fit that into the follow-up conversation as the opportunity arises.
Here’s an example of an elevator pitch that wouldn’t be such a good idea. Let’s say that I was in a meeting of the senior managers in my organization. It would probably not be well received if I were to give an introductory pitch highlighting my experience as a union activist. It would be much better to identify my name, my professional designation, where I work, how long and what I bring to the table.
I’m a firm believer in the adage “If the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, then every problem will be a nail.” I believe that to be an effective networker you need to have a selection of tools in your metaphorical toolbox. Having a selection of elevator pitches to be able to rely on for any situation is one such tool. Don’t throw away that hammer though. Sometimes a hammer is exactly what is needed!
Rae A. Stonehouse is the author of Power Networking for Shy People: How to Network Like a Pro https://powernetworkingforshypeople.com and Blow Your Own Horn: Personal Branding for Business Professionals https://blowyourownhorn.online