Words That Elevate
By Craig Harrison
From the July, 2001 edition of the
What is an Elevator Speech?
Elevator speeches are mini-speeches that you can deliver in the average time spent with a stranger in an elevator…sixteen seconds. Ironically, elevator speeches are best delivered outside of elevators, and they're best delivered conversationally, so they're not perceived as speeches. Nevertheless, these ‘sixteen second sound bites’ are ideal tools for word-of-mouth marketing whenever you meet a stranger who asks what you do or where you work. Elevator speeches can be delivered at networking events, conferences and conventions, on sidewalks and in hallways. They even work on escalators!
Elevator speeches explain your occupation in terms that will show listeners what your services and products can do for them. Here's an example William Hamilton shared with me when I interviewed him about how he promotes his self-storage business to strangers:
"We're a hotel for your stuff! We're Price Self Storage. When you store with us we give you back your space: under your bed, in your closet, on your balcony and in your garage. Aren't you ready to park your car in the garage again?"
This elevator speech is designed to be thought provoking and informative, eliciting a response from my listener. Delivered conversationally, it is purposely short, to invite dialog.
What Makes Elevator Speeches Effective?
In a society in which we have been trained to process information in short sound bites, elevator speeches succinctly communicate the basics to people about how our services and products can help them. The best ones convey our information in style. They communicate facts while showcasing our professionalism, playing up our uniqueness. They're memorable too. Here's what manager Lynne Kreizenbeck tells strangers who ask about Cave Creek Road@Greenway Parkway Self Storage:
"I'm the general manager of a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art storage facility here in the Phoenix area. Our flex-space technology lets us design customized units to fit your needs. We can convert larges spaces to smaller ones, and vice versa. Why pay for more than you need? Our accessibility lets you get in and out, and our security keeps others out."
The Anatomy of an Elevator Speech
The brilliance of elevator speeches is their simplicity. Concise in their description of your occupation, they are designed to speak to your listeners' needs. When you tell people what you do (otherwise known as the features you offer), they must translate them into what those features can do for them—in other words, how will they benefit from them.
Elevator speeches are created and delivered with your listeners in mind, showcasing the benefits you offer (as underlined below):
"We own and manage four dozen self-storage facilities throughout the Pacific Northwest. We're those rows of garages that you can put your stuff in to put it out of sight and out of mind. We're locally owned and managed, offer many sizes of spaces to fit your needs, and even provide you with your own disc lock, so you'll never lock yourself out. Come visit our facility and let us help you with packing instructions and other useful strategies for solving your storage needs. I'm Mary Briggs, president of Kevin Howard Real Estate of Portland."
Here's another example, courtesy of William Hamilton:
"As Southern California's only drive-in facility you can store your boat or RV, and even park it yourself, anytime. Because it's indoors we can protect your property from dust, UV rays and excessive heat. Best of all, we help you comply with your neighborhood or condo association's good neighbor policies when you store with us. I'm William Hamilton. Let us know how we can help you."
Each elevator speech emphasizes the following:
In the following elevator speech a catchy rhyme initially attracts our attention, as does the fact that the pitch leads with a benefit:
"We offer superior protection for your wine collection. We're Marin Wine Vaults of San Rafael. Our multi-million dollar facility is known as the Taj Mahal for wines. We're seismically fortified and humidity controlled. Every vault is alarmed and we even have on-site natural gas-powered backup generators in case of rolling brown-outs. We are the '100 points' place to store your wine."
The aforementioned elevator speech also scores points for using lingo that wine connoisseurs recognize: 100 Points is a rating system for fine wines.
The Power of Questions
It's recommended you include questions in your elevator speech, as an invitation to your listener to respond. Your questions yield valuable information you can use to help them. Some questions may be answered "yes" or "no." These may determine whether your listener has ever used self-storage before or if they expect theirs to be an "in once/out once" type of use. Notice how Stan Colona utilizes a question at the end of his pitch:
"We're XPS Services, a commercial real estate company serving the needs of self-storage properties. With 22 years of collective experience we manage properties for self-storage clients, and offer a call center to offload essential services for self-storage facilities. I'm Stan Colona and this is my partner Brad Boyd. What services can we off-load from your day-to-day operations?"
When you ask open-ended questions you learn more:
Building Your Elevator Speech
As you develop your elevator speech, identify two or three benefits you offer. Also, focus on any unique selling propositions. What do you offer that others don't? Location? Security? Storage options? Skilled staff? Special grounds? As you mull over what you offer potential customers, replay past interactions with customers. What appealed to them? How can you push their buttons in ways that makes their life easier, solves their problems or increases their productivity?
Now experiment with the order of your responses to see which way it sounds best. Perhaps the company name will work best as the last element and telling what’s unique about it has more impact when it's the opening line. In other words, your script order may end up as 1-5-3-4-2-6. Scripting your elevator speech gives you practice focusing on what you wish to say. Through repetition, you will become fluent in expressing the sentiment of your elevator speech, even if it comes out a little differently each time.
We Deliver Too!
One of the keys to effective elevator speeches is how they're delivered. When they are recited like the reading of a script, they fall on deaf ears. Delivered conversationally, they appear more natural. Nobody likes to be read to or treated to a recitation. Your goal is to engender a discussion, not just issue a commercial message.
Those skills you learned in speech class are still in effect. Good eye contact helps you connect and convey your sincerity. A smile makes you accessible and demonstrates your friendliness. Although your goal is to deliver your initial message in sixteen seconds, you shouldn't rush your words.
Elevator speeches are ultimately spoken, not read. While you write yours conversationally, what looks good in print may not sound conversational or natural. Once you've identified the order of yours, practice it with friends, family members and even yourself! Call your work or home message center and leave your elevator speech on your machine. Play it back and analyze where you sound confident and where you lack poise; which words flow off you tongue and which get stuck in your throat? Can you simplify it so it is both easy to speak and easy to understand? For your final exam, deliver yours in an elevator!
Push the Right Buttons
As you craft your elevator speech, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
In your elevator speech you can showcase your facility and its benefits for businesses and individuals. Develop multiple versions to showcase the services and products you provide, and ways they help the public solve their problems, serve their needs and create new possibilities too. Stay upbeat, confident and personable and you'll push all the right buttons with your elevator speech!
Craig Harrison is a speaker, trainer and consultant who helps professionals express their sales and service excellence!