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Don’t Get Stuck on the Elevator Speech

Eric Byrd December 9, 2019 350

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Learn a more natural, flexible way to introduce yourself that isn’t just memorizing a script that sounds fake.

Episode 007: Starting conversations is critical in any networking situation. The traditional answer to getting beyond the first “Hello” is the elevator speech. The problem is that even after decades and decades there are still people who hate them. A scripted and memorized elevator speech can sound wooden and stiff. Delivering one can leave you awkward and anxious… and possibly make you feel a bit like a used car salesman. In this episode Eric will talk about a different way to approach learning to introduce yourself that feels more genuine and engages more naturally. By preparing conversation elements instead of an elevator speech you can increase the likelihood you’ll get a positive response as well.

(see more information/tools below)


To help you use the technique I talked about in the episode follow these three steps to create your own flexible introductions. Or download the infographic and refer to it as you listen to the show, or re-listen to the show later:


  1. Don’t rely on just one all purpose elevator speech to introduce yourself. It can become too vague or generic for people to relate to and resonate with them.
  2. Break Your Introduction into three parts and create multiple options for each section for different people you may meet.
  3. The first section is “Who You Are”… and can include your name, your company, both, your title, your role in a process or a specific identifier or differentiator that sets you apart.
  4. The second section is “What You Do”… and includes specific work you do, projects, industry descriptions, or outcomes you help people to achieve.
  5. The third section is “Who You Help”… and might be phrases or descriptions people will recognize based on their group, situation or something else specific to them.
  6. When you create multiple options for each section you can customize an introduction by using different elements from each section (that you’ve prepared in advance) to put together an introduction that relates to each person or group of people you meet and interact with.
  7. Mix it up and have some fun with the process. See what combinations you can try. Which one’s work best? Get feedback to see if things make sense to other people you trust.

Episode Text:

Ever feel like a used car salesman when you’re introducing yourself to someone? Or maybe you try a little too hard to be clever and only get a sympathetic smile in return? We’ll talk about that.

From the early 90’s to the early 2010’s I worked in sales. Most of that time I sold professional video technology. Think television studios and stuff they used to make shows and commercials on TV or films on Netflix. I worked for many different companies during those years. One year in the mid 2000’s the company I was working for decided they wanted to standardize their messaging as part of a strategic planning process. All the members of the sales team were given a statement we were supposed to use whenever anyone asked us what the company did… it was the company elevator speech. I don’t remember exactly what it said (which is a hint as to how effective it was), but I do remember it was very vague and tried to be all encompassing… to speak to as many types of customers as possible. You know language like “we create high end solutions to solve the biggest problems production clients face in a changing technological world so they can exceed benchmarks and thrive in their market space.” Sounds impressive, right? yeah… it’s got some problems. First of all, it doesn’t really say anything at all… and it certainly doesn’t tell me what the company actually does. Not only that it’s BORING and basically wouldn’t make anyone say “hey! I want to hear more about THAT!”

And I seem to remember my experience was that it didn’t… and so I stopped using it as some point… probably not too long after we started using it. My recollection is most of the sales team felt the same way. Instead we came up with our own way to introduce what the company did. That was the first time I actually started consciously thinking about introductions and what they meant… and how to do a good one.

There are many ways to introduce yourself. Some people go for the generic business sounding approach my old company used. You could also take the clever route… “we’re the one stop shop for all things video. If it records, rewinds or receives a video signal, we have it”… or other variations on that theme.  The thing they all have in common is they are created using the same basic process… scripting, memorizing and repetition. 

To be clear, I don’t want to come down too hard on scripting in general, because there is a place for it. preparing words and practicing them before you’re in a live networking situation is extremely helpful. The problem with the traditional elevator speech is actually not that it’s memorized and delivered… though i think that is part of the problem… it’s the concept behind the elevator speech that I think doesn’t work for most people. 

Today I want to talk about why and offer you a different way to approach the process of creating introductions that is more flexible, more natural and in my experience more effective. 

The strength of the elevator speech is that it’s consistent. And, once memorized, it becomes easy to deliver that same consistent message over and over. It doesn’t change. But that is also it’s weakness… because in networking you’re audience WILL change. What one person finds interesting and engaging another may not. One of my observations is that mass marketing strategies sometimes break down when we get one on one. Consistency is great in overall messaging and is important for marketing. But when you’re networking you have to interact with individual people… and that’s different.

I think this is one reason elevator speeches often become vague and meaningless. People are trying to figure out how to make it interesting for everyone. And that is impossible. We need to fight that urge because as they get more generic they also get less interesting and harder for people to connect with in a conversation. Being specific and relevant to the person you’re talking to right NOW is an important skill. A one size fits all script often won’t interest anyone because it’s trying to fit everyone. 

Being specific is the way to go… but there’s a problem… to make it individual you need a different elevator speech for each person or type of person you meet. And that is overwhelming to even think about.

The good news is there is another answer. Instead of pre-creating an entire introduction let’s use the basic format of an elevator speech, break it into pieces and create several options for the different parts. This technique leverages the strengths of the elevator speech and reduces it’s flaws. 

An elevator speech usually has three main parts… the who you are part. The what do you do part. And the who do you do it for part.

The who you are part is most often your name and/or company name, sometimes a title. This doesn’t usually change much. So that doesn’t need to much work. Though there are variations you may choose if you want to emphasize the company, you or your role or title in the company. Each of those becomes an option.

Then there’s the what you do part… this could be industry, specific types of work or projects… even outcomes you generate. For example, “I’m a dentist who helps you keep your mouth healthy and teeth bright”. This section often becomes too generic, the reason is that your company may do a bunch of different things. So you try to include them all because it feels strange to leave something out. You never know who you meet so put it all in there. 

The problem is that when you try to include them all the description gets way too long, and no one wants to hear it… or it gets so generic that it’s fuzzy and people can’t identify themselves in your description. Keep in mind people are listening from their own perspective and experience. If you want someone to relate and respond you need to say something that catches their attention… something that is about them… or that they can relate to. That’s why they respond… their brain says… “hey! that’s about me”. so we need specifics in the second part of our introduction to get them to see why they should be talking to us… even if it’s for a few more minutes.

The third element is who you do those things for… your customers… but in a referral group it could be your referral partners. Either way the concept is the same. This is another area that may have multiple answers. You may work with different groups or types of customers and the tendency is to go generic so you don’t miss anyone. The problem with that is there isn’t anything the other person hears that makes them say “that’s me!”. A dentist that says they serve “anyone with a mouth” may be correct, but that won’t be as relevant to me, if I hate going to the dentist, as a dentist that says “I specialize in working with people who hate dentist visits”… I may be more likely to be interested and ask questions. Which is our goal… get the person to engage in a conversation. In that conversation you can find out more about how you might be able to help them. If the conversation ends, you find out nothing.

 So instead of making one generic intro for everyone let’s break the three parts up and create different options for each. That way you can pick and choose the right specific element for the situation you’re in and for the person you are talking to right now. 

Here’s an example. If I’m a dentist I may work with seniors who have retired, families who have kids, and young adults starting their careers. Each of those groups will probably have certain services that are more relevant to them. 

The seniors may need bridgework or dentures and have to deal with issues of an older mouth.

 The families may have scheduling issues because they are juggling multiple activities and coming in for cleanings and checkups can be tricky. 

The young professionals may be less inclined to come in because of the cost but at the same time they may be more interested in some cosmetic dentistry services like whitening given the importance of their social interactions and that they are trying to make a good impression on people to further their career. 

If I have a statement or two for each of these groups that highlights things they specifically care about… I can plug those in as needed in an introduction. 

If I’m talking to a retired gentleman I can share that we have payment plans for dental services since they are not covered by Medicare. So we help him to maintain his winning smile. 

I could talk about child friendly office and flexible rescheduling of appointments if I’m meeting a dad with three kids. You need to change your appointment, no problem… we won’t penalize you and we’ll make it easy.

Likewise that young professional looking to ace an interview for a new job might like the payment plans too. Now she can get her teeth whitened so she’s super confident when she meets with that hiring manager. 

By not getting trapped in the rigid format of an elevator speech you can gain some breathing room and make your introduction much more targeted. That keeps it specific to the person in front of you. That will increase the likelihood that they will want to keep talking. And that you will find out more about what they need. 

It’s a simple way to be more effective. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it it’s also more natural and comfortable for you. It’s so much more like a normal conversation than a one size fits all script… you can also change the words as needed once you know the idea. That way it doesn’t get boring for you either.

Just because it’s simple, however, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take some work. You need to spend some time thinking about who you are interacting with and who you really WANT to be talking with so you can target your conversation elements. 

Creating elements that don’t appeal to people you’re trying to attract can also be a drag on your success. And you need to do that BEFORE you get to the event or before you show up at your leadshare meeting. It takes preparation and fore thought. Being clear who your customer is… so you know who you’re trying to connect with… is something we’ll talk about more in the future. 

Also pay attention to your environment. keep your introductions situationally appropriate. If you’re at a soccer game with you kids… you may not want to jump into how you maximize ROI for accountants… you might get funny looks from the other parents. So in that case maybe a higher level more generic answer is appropriate… at least until someone says they want to talk more.

if you’re at an accounting conference you can probably focus on the ROI and other things that are interesting to the accountants there. Keep things relevant and flexible and pay attention to your surroundings… and listen to what the other person says. They will say things that are clues for you so you have a better idea what might be interesting for them.

There you go. To sum up… break the introduction into “who you are”, “what you do” and “who do you work with” segments. Then instead of only creating one script that tries to include everything you do and all the people you work with… create multiple answers to each of those questions that can be combined on the fly in conversations. That will make your intro more meaningful and targeted. 

I’ve been using this technique for years and it works really well. People are usually far more engaged and interested that way. And I feel like I’m having more interesting and meaningful conversations too… which means I’m more likely to stay motivated… and keep networking. The more I network the more benefit I’m going to get.

Let me know what you think. How do you approach introductions? What has worked for you? See anyone do anything interesting lately? Does this sound like something you could do… or even want to try? I love hearing your stories about what’s working for you. I even like the stories about the things that go wrong. You can go to Adventures in Networking dot net to share your stories and questions. Maybe we’ll ask you if we can share it on the show. And while you’re there You can subscribe to the podcast too. 

I can’t wait to hear what you think. Until next time remember. Life is an adventure, so keep exploring!  

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