Elevator Speech – How to Present Your Ideas in 30 seconds

Elevator speech is a short, clear message that communicates what you are selling, why you are better than the rest and how you can benefit an organization.

Elevator speech is a short presentation in front of a targeted audience. Sometimes all you get is 30 seconds in front of someone to present your idea, business, personal profile or company. It could be at a cocktail party, when you get hold of a potential high-profile customer. Or at a charity event, when you join the table of a venture capitalist, whom you are targeting. Or at the company Christmas party, when you find yourself waiting for the toilet with the VP of Engineering. It could also be the classic example in the elevator, when you travel between 14th and 56th floor with the CEO.

What would you say in that case? How would you present your idea (or business, or profile) in the best possible way? What are the pitfalls that you should avoid?

This article explains the term “elevator speech” and outlines different tips and steps that you can take in order to create and polish it. In case you are representing a company, it is assumed that you know your mission statement, vision and Unique Selling Proposition (USP). If you are an individual, it is assumed that you know your personal strengths and skills. In both cases it is assumed that you know you are trying to do and what you are trying to achieve.

To learn more about defining your USP you can go to this article. And to learn more about how to identify your strengths you can go here or here.

Time to read

Time to read: 14 minutes (based on 150 wpm)

What is an elevator speech?

The elevator speech is a brief and clear message that is like a Superbowl commercial. The Superbowl commercials cost millions of dollars for 30 seconds, but once you’ve paid the price you should get the most out of that time. The elevator speech is typically also 30 seconds, or the time it would take an elevator to get from the top to the bottom of a building.

It communicates who you are, what you are looking for and how you could benefit the listener. It is that inevitable part of an interview, when you get the question: “Tell me more about yourself.” Within those 30 seconds, you should be able to say what you do, what your greatest strength is, what you would like to do and what your motivation is.

Elevator speech - the most important steps
Describes the most important steps in an elevator speech.

How to create an elevator speech?

There are many structures for the creation process of an elevator speech and the one I am using consists of six elements. I will be reviewing hypothetical cases and I will work with them on all steps. Feel free to adjust the steps based on your needs and preferences.

Step 1: Identify your objective

You should be very clear and specific on this step and avoid trying to advertise too much! Remember those 30 seconds and know your audience. Do not try to sell lemons AND cars at the same time. Do you try to market your consulting business AND your application about connecting people with the same interests.

Example 1: Consulting Business

Let’s say that you have a business that sells consulting services. Then your goal would be to get more customers. Or in order to make it SMART: “attract 10 new customers, who belong to the target group, that will buy the middle-level tier of services by the end of the year“. Now your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable (hopefully), Realistic (hopefully) and Time-based.

With that formulation of the goal, your objective should be: “to target potentials customers that belong to your defined target group and to present to them your product“. It could be a wonderful idea to have an example from the existing customer base (or even an existing customer). Moreover, the way you propose or present the product to your potential customers should be consistent with the image of your company and with the opinion of the existing customers.

Example 2: Student looking for a job

Another example is that you are a student are looking for a job in Company X (your dream company). So your goal would be: “get an interview at Company X for a lower-management position in Division Y, by the end of the month“. Then your objective could be: “meet as many people from Division Y as possible and present my skills to them“.

Helper questions

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What could be the outcome of the speech? New customers? A job offer? A professional partnership?
  • Where do you want to be in 1 year?

Step 2: Prepare an explanation of what you sell

This is the second-most important part of the elevator speech. It tells the listener what it is all about. Consider it like the preface of a book, or the intro of a song, or the trailer of a movie. It should be catchy and should hook the listener if he is part of the target group or discourage him if he is not.

Example 1: Consulting Business

If you continue using the first example, then you could sell consulting services. For example, those services are relevant to the IT industry and your typical customers are middle managers in IT industry. You need to be able to articulate what you deliver to the customers.

For example, you could say that you “deliver consulting services in the field of procurement management that help inexperienced managers overcome the difficulties of procuring IT outsourcing services“. I made it a bit too specific on purpose in order to explain the method better. The purpose of that part of the elevator speech is to help the listener identify (or not) with the target customers of your company.

Example 2: Student looking for a job

In the other example what you are tying to self is yourself, your time and your skills and competences. You should define your profile on a high-level so that it would look appealing to potential decision-makers or recruiters. A nice example would be: “I am a student at University Z and I specialize in Field 1 and Field 2. I am very interested in developing myself as a manager. I feel qualified for the position, because I have experience managing peer groups.

Helper questions

  • What is the common topic of your previous jobs? Could you transfer it?
  • Which achievements in the professional level are relevant for the listener (certificates, awards)?
  • What is your business? How do you describe the products or services that you offer?
  • Who are you in general?

Step 3: What problems do you solve

You sell your products in order to solve problems for your customers. Here you describe what problems do you solve and convince the customer that you understand where their problems lie.

Example 1: Consulting Business

Most inexperienced middle-level managers struggle in first few years at the job, because of difficulties managing the procurement. This steps comes extra and is not relevant to their experience at a low-level management position unlike other skills like project, people and stakeholder management. They often seek advice and help when dealing with IT outsourcing companies.

Example 2: Student looking for a job

You often review the job offers coming from Company X and you notice recently that there are much more opportunities at Department Y. It is clear that there are enough big projects that need additional personnel.

Helper questions

  • What is the pain of your customers?
  • What are your customers trying to achieve?
  • Are there limitations in the everyday business of your customers?

Step 4: What makes you unique

Here comes in play your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or in other words what makes you stand out from the competition. This is the most important part of the speech, you must convince the listener that what you sell (offer) is the best, unique and invaluable. This is the win/lose part. Except that there is no lose part, because you always learn something. 😉

Example 1: Consulting Business

Your consulting business in the field of procurement management teaches a unique approach in targeting the IT outsourcing companies and evaluating them based on a 1-to-10 scale. This could be easily achieved by reviewing the database of all previous projects in your company and especially the procurement information. Based on this information and a mix of statistical and regression methods your customers will be able to select the best 3 performing IT outsourcing companies and allow them to select the best one.

Example 2: Student looking for a job

You have proved very talented especially in Field 1. And even though you are not that advanced in Field 2, it would be a huge growth area for you. One of your course projects was remotely connected to the business of Division Y and you believe that most of the code could be incorporated in the actual application.

Helper questions

  • What makes you stand out?
  • How do you feel different than the rest? Or the competition?
  • What special skills have you developed over you career?
  • Why do your customers buy your product?

Step 5: Customer testimonials (optional)

You would receive mixed feedback on that topic, but I do believe that customer cases are very useful in an elevator speech. On the other hand, if you don’t yet have customers, don’t worry about that step.

Example 1: Consulting Business

You have already helped numerous people in the position of your listener, for example in companies like X1, Y1 and Z1. And your efforts lead to overall increase in the successful projects by N% and in the percentage of successful procurement partnerships.

Your listener could benefit from your product by increasing the success rate of his or hers projects. Which on the other hand, could translate into a faster promotion or increase end-of-the-year benefits.

Example 2: Student looking for a job

Company X was recommended by your teacher Mr. V, who is an alumni of the company. He event suggested a few possible places, based on his inside knowledge, where your skills could boot the success of the whole division.

You could not only fill one of the spots, but with you skill you could also eliminate the need for people in positions like M, N or P.

Helper questions

  • Who benefits from your product?
  • What would your customers say if they recommend you to a friend?
  • What has your previous employer said about you?
  • Who made you aware of your listener? Who recommended them to you?

Step 6: What is your motivation

Here you answer the question that is in the head of the listener(s): “why have you bothered to prepare that whole speech, to come to me and say all those things?” This is time to show them that it is not all about money and that there is a deep belief and motivation below.

Example 1: Consulting Business

The mission of your company is to help reduce the number of failed projects, because of procurement failures in the IT field. And to help inexperienced middle-managers be successful by building trust between them and the company. One of the values of your company is “engagement” and this means that the failures of your customers are your failures and their successes are your successes.

Example 2: Student looking for a job

You are a young professional, who is passionate and wants to have impact on the world. This could happen in any company in the world, but it would happen if you join Company X. They are selecting only the best employees and you are one of them.

Helper questions

  • Why do you get up in the morning and go to work?
  • How do you picture the changes in the world because of your company?

Delivering the elevator speech

You have prepared the speech, you have rehearsed it and now it is time to deliver it. The listener is carefully chosen and matches the target group (or not). You have grabbed his or her attention.

About you

  1. Start with explanation of what you sell (or who you are). This is Step 2 from above.
  2. Add what makes you unique. Step 4.
  3. What are you passionate about. Step 6.

About the offer

  1. What problems does your company help solving. This is Step 3.
  2. What customer testimonials do you have. Step 5.

About the benefits

  1. How can your listener benefit from your offer. Step 5.
  2. What very special service, product or solution can you offer them.
  3. Hand them something tangible (at least a calling card) and tell them the next steps (call you, contact you with an email, ask them if you should call them).

Summary

Presentation skills are essential for an entrepreneur or a professional, but the ability to deliver a 30-second speech in front of a target audience it even more important. Sometimes this can be the difference between success and failure, promotion and oblivion, getting a customer or bankruptcy.

In order to succeed you need to know who you are and what you are trying to do. You need to know what problem your are trying to solve and why does your target person have that problem in the first place. Then, you need to create the speech and rehearse it as many times as needed. And last but not least, you need to have the courage to deliver the speech when appropriate.

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