An Essential Communications Tool: the Elevator Speech
Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 4:38PM
Julie Senter in Associations, Small Business, elevator speech, pitches, speeches, volunteers

"So, what do you do?"

Easy question, right? Strangely, this single question that we should be able to answer in our sleep can be a huge stumbling block, particularly because it seems so innocuous.

What do you do? Simply? Succinctly? So that someone cares?

If you can’t answer the question in 30 seconds or less, you need to work on your elevator speech (so called because the average elevator ride from the bottom to the top floor is roughly 30 seconds).

But elevator speeches aren't just for elevators. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever given an elevator speech in an elevator. Elevator speeches are perfect – when they are simple and focused – for when you’re introducing yourself in just about any situation. The goal is to grab your captives' attention and quickly tell them what you do, for whom and why it matters. This could be during a reception, before a large business meeting or in line at the bank.


Because every meeting, no matter how brief, is a sales opportunity for your business, association or nonprofit, an opportunity to attract a new customer, member or donor.

Crafting Your Elevator Speech

What is your organization’s unique value proposition? This is going to play a key role in your pitch.

Take a look at this pitch:

My name is Shirley Feeney and I run a not-for-profit organization that provides assistance to lonely, single women in Milwaukee.

Vague. Boring. I can’t wait to get off this elevator.

But what if we use more specific, concrete verbiage?

My name is Shirley Feeney. I run the Boo-Boo Kitty Foundation, which provides emotional companionship to lonely, single women through donations of tattered stuffed animals.  The Boo-Boo Kitty Foundation is the only foundation of its kind in the United States, dedicated solely to assisting factory employees who skip on sidewalks.  Through generous grants and donations from the American Broadcasting Company, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and individuals such as yourself, we are able to comfort nearly 10,000 women annually.

You not only know what my organization stands for, but why it stands out. And that we accept public donations. (Smile.)

This statement isn’t going to come easy. It needs to be crafted.

Start with your name and what you do. Do you run something? Do you create something? Do you assist someone? This isn’t about listing your job title; it’s about explaining in concrete verbiage what you actually do.

Then take a look at your organization’s mission statement. A good one will help in explaining the purpose of your organization. Ask yourself why what you do matters. Play with different sentence constructions and omit needless words. Replace passive language and keep it tight.

A Good Exercise for Volunteer Leadership

Elevator speeches aren’t just for an organization’s CEO or executive staff. Associations and Nonprofits should take advantage of their volunteer leaders and include an exercise during annual leadership retreats to assist volunteers in developing their own elevator speeches. Ask your volunteers to write down why they volunteer their time and talents to the organization then show them a copy of the organization’s mission statement. Have them reconcile the two into 3 or 4 sentences and practice delivering the speeches in small breakout groups. It is best if everyone uses their own words to deliver consistent messages.

Final Tips

Practice your speech, but tailor its delivery to your audience. No one likes a canned response, and your elevator speech is no exception.

Keep your speech to 30 seconds. Using a sales analogy, your goal is to get a second meeting, not to close the deal. Ramble on and you won’t make a good impression.

Photo Credit: jaded one

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