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Use A Compelling Elevator Speech

to Hook New Prospects


In many times and places around the world, children ask their peers, “What’s your favourite colour?” The question is generally answered in the same playful manner in which it is asked. Then the questioner gets to name his or her favourite colour in response. Many self-employed adults should do the same, asking “What do you do?” then responding with their elevator speech to hook prospective clients.


elevator speech definition

An elevator speech answers the question, “What do you do?” in 30 seconds or fewer, as if asked by a stranger who might leave the elevator at the next floor. A compelling elevator speech answers the question so that a stranger asking “What do you do?” feels compelled to ask you for your business card before leaving the elevator.


ask, listen, answer

This article advocates asking others what they do and listening attentively to the reply. By the rule of expected reciprocity observed by children around the world, this gives the asker permission to respond with their own answer to the same question. Thus, sales reps and the self-employed can hook prospective clients and get more business first by asking somebody about themself, then by responding with their own elevator speech incorporating information just learned about the other.


steps in a compelling elevator speech

As in the examples below, this is the formula for a compelling elevator speech:

  1. inclusive opening (e.g. “You know…”).
  2. three problems you solve described emotionally (e.g. fear, anxiety, aggravation, worry).
  3. that you solve such problems (positioning you as a sympathetic rescuer).
  4. a hook question (e.g. “Is that important to you?”).

how to hook prospects with your elevator speech

To hook new prospect using your compelling elevator speech, follow these steps:

  1. Initiate dialogue by giving your name and asking, “What do you do?”
  2. Listen attentively as the person describes what he or she does.
  3. Consider the information just shared to fit your elevator speech to that person.
  4. Lowering your voice, share your compelling elevator speech adapted to that person.
  5. Finish with a retreating hook question. (e.g. “You don’t have any of these concerns, do you?”)

how to get started

Here is an example. Miranda is a biochemical engineer. Attending a soil remediation conference, she would like to meet possible new clients. When a break is called, she turns to the man beside her and says, “My name is Miranda. What do you do?” The man takes a minute or more to give his title, name his company, describe his role in a current project, and summarize his background. When finished, he naturally asks, “What do you do?”


elevator speech example

Because she just learned about this man’s work and background, Miranda focuses her elevator speech to compel him to take an interest in her work. She replies, “You know, there’s a lot of people involved in groundwater monitoring who just aren’t satisfied when a former gas station site is denied to oil companies for the future. Some raise alarm about soil contamination at public hearings. Others lose sleep with worry that municipal decision makers do not appreciate how much time it takes to clean up a polluted site once contaminants enter the aquifer. As a specialist in soil remediation at petroleum-contaminated sites, I help people to rest at ease that soil and groundwater can be protected. That wouldn’t be important to you, would it?” The man asks for Miranda's card and signals to a colleague to come over and join the conversation.


get new clients

Joshua is a technical writer. He runs a one-man technical writing firm augmented by a few on-call associates. At the same conference, he turns to the man behind him in line for lunch. The man might need technical writing for himself, or make a referral to somebody else. He says, “My name is Joshua. What do you do?” Like Miranda, Joshua pays attention to the answer so that he may focus his elevator speech to compel him to ask for his business card.


sample elevator speech

Once the man has finished describing what he does, Joshua then delivers a compelling elevator speech: “You know, there are many people in positions like yours as VP of Operations who find it frustrating when qualified staff take months to get into sync with their organization’s preferred practices. They roll their eyes in dismay when they witness personnel simply doing things the wrong way. Sometimes they get anxious about the risks of employing people not accustomed to their operational culture. As an expert technical writer, I document policies, procedures, and guiding principles so that people may be trained in the proper ways to do things. My clients find relief in knowing that their staff are accountable to conduct business correctly, as documented. None of this matters to you, does it?” The man asks, “May I have your card?”


assertive like a child

Obviously, children assert themselves when asking each other, “What’s your favourite colour?” Self-employed adults and sales reps are wise to be equally assertive. Asking the elevator question gives the opportunity to give an elevator speech. If you listen carefully and demonstrate sincere understanding of the problems you solve, you can make it compelling. That could hook new prospects and get more sales.

- Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.

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