The first time I heard the term elevator speech was in the middle of the dot-com bubble. I had been hired to design a three-day new employee orientation program for webMethods and the CEO was laying out the specifications. Among them he said this, "Everyone at webMethods must understand that they're salespeople. They must know our elevator speech and be able to pre-qualify potential customers anywhere they meet someone -- on the plane, at a cocktail party, at a conference."
Fast forward four years. I am giving a speech in Connecticut and a woman in the audience tells me about her CEO. He had the practice of eating lunch in the company cafeteria where he would sit down with an employee he didn't know and ask his favorite cafeteria question, "Who are you and what does the company pay you to do?"
Click, click... pieces fell into place. I realized that a leader has to have her own elevator speech. I thought instead that it should be called an elevator pitch because I realized how especially important it is for women (who are often encouraged to be modest, not boastful) to feel comfortable pitching (promoting) themselves.
A Pitch By Any Other Name
What is an elevator pitch? Originally an elevator speech referred to a short (you can say it in the time it takes an elevator to move between floors) and complete description of the business idea of an entrepreneur trying to catch the attention (and backing) of a venture capitalist.
In the context of our careers as women leaders in organizations, elevator pitch means a short description of the position we hold and why it matters. It is used to catch the appropriate attention of people we meet by promoting the value we offer (the company, a potential employer, a network member).
Which is the Pitch?
The CEO sits down next to you and asks his favorite cafeteria question. "Who are you and what do we pay you to do?" Which of the following is closest to your most likely response:
- "Hi, I'm Meredith from accounting".
- "Hi, I'm Meredith Ricardo, director of Accounts Receivable."
- "Hi, I'm Meredith Ricardo, director of the department that makes sure our receivables are under 30 days so we have enough cash to keep growing."
If you're like so many women and would answer along the lines of the first or second example, you need a pitching coach... an elevator pitch coach to be exact.
From the Coach's Corner:
Why is the third response a better response than the other two? A great elevator pitch meets four criteria:
An elevator pitch, whether for the CEO or a stranger on an airplane, is the opportunity to demonstrate how you create value for customers, shareholders, and/or employees. It's not about what you do; it's about why you do it!
I'm project lead on the new product that is going to open the Asian market and drive our growth goal in the region.
I'm a new product project leader.
I lead a customer support center that's driven customer retention up 15% in 6 months.
I help organizations meet their key growth goals.
I'm a consultant.
Switch the Pitch?
You can't have ONE elevator pitch. You have to be able to modify it for your audience. You could tell the CEO that you keep receivables under 30 days so there's cash to keep growing, but what if next year's strategy is to purchase outstanding stock. Switch the pitch.
I'm director of the department that keeps receivables under 30 days so we will meet our goal of buying back 100,000 shares of stock.
What if you're talking to a businesswoman sitting next to you in first class? Likely she will want to know what company you work for. Switch the pitch.
Hi, I'm Meredith Ricardo, director of accounts receivables for <company>. My department is instrumental to fueling our new growth strategy.
If it's a company no one is likely to have heard of, add the company's elevator pitch. Switch the pitch.
Hi, I'm Meredith Ricardo. I'm director of accounts receivable for <company> -- the industry leader in providing diamond chips for industrial use. I make sure that we have the cash we need for growth.
What if you're at a cocktail party and someone asks what do you do. Switch the pitch.
I make sure that customers pay us on a timely basis so that we have cash available for expansion.
You're on Deck
Now, make up your elevator pitch. The first and possibly most difficult question you have to answer is this:
What's the most important corporate outcome you contribute to?
Once you've answered that question, practice several ways of describing it in the context of an elevator pitch until you find one that feels comfortable to you.
From the Coach's Corner:
Switch your pitch for different settings. How would you reword it for:
Finally find a trusted friend who will role play with you the various settings in which you might use your elevator pitch.