Getting Storied with Your Elevator Speech/Pitch

I’ve written somewhat extensively in two of my books about the elevator speech, which is also known as the elevator pitch. In Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, I call this communication tool the Elevator Story.

yb_elevator_pitch_061030_300w1.jpg I have to admit, however, that of all the career-marketing communications I’ve written about, the Elevator Pitch/Speech/Story is the one I’m not quite comfortable with.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a natural networker myself, and most elevator communications seem a little corny or hokey to me. My research tells me, however, that, yes, they are hokey, but they work to cement networking contacts and make the user memorable.

My discomfort came home to me again yesterday when I attended Bernadette Martin’s webinar previewing her book, I Need to Brand My Story Online and Offline — Now What???.

The end of the webinar dealt with the elevator pitch. Bernadette wrote to me last night and told me she felt the elevator-pitch portion of the webinar had been very rushed and had not done justice to her message (the presentation had already gone past its scheduled end point when she started talking about this topic.) She said she hoped to conduct a separate webinar devoted to the elevator topic. She also noted that the example pitch she discussed in the session was not as polished as it could be.

Because Bernadette was not happy with this portion of the presentation, it’s not fair to critique it. I do have one bone to pick with one of her basic tenets about the elevator pitch: She feels an elevator pitch should be 60 seconds. I feel that’s at least twice as long as an elevator pitch should be; in my opinion, it should be 15-30 seconds.

She and I both believe the most effective elevator pitches are storied. It’s not easy to make an elevator pitch into a story, however, and I have to admit I’m not completely happy with the storied quality of some of the examples in Tell Me About Yourself.

Here’s one that is because it’s told in a problem-action-result format:

Hi, I’m Sandra Dinkleman. You might be interested in knowing that I recently stabilized a highly chaotic operational and customer-service situation by taking control and implementing new heightened customer-service standards and collaborating with staff members to improve the company image and boost the morale of my employer’s staff.

ElevatorPitchoutline.jpg Bernadette’s formula for an elevator pitch, shown at left, from a screen capture of one of her slides, also incorporates the basic problem-action-result sequence.

Here’s another from my book, contributed by one of my former students, that tells a nice story but depends on its audience grabbing the bait of a teaser line to unfold. This pitch doesn’t do a lot toward telling what the networker wants to do but does give a good sense of his character:

Networker #1: Hi, my name is Tom Jacobsen. I was born a lucky Arkansan.
Networker #2: How so?
Networker #1: Because I was born on July eleventh, 7-11. I have been fortunate enough to meet two presidents, Reagan and Clinton, and the richest man in the world, the late Sam Walton. I am also blessed to be part of a good family with one brother and three sisters. This family has instilled in me strong values, which were reinforced by volunteer work in my church and community. Trustworthiness and honesty are my defining characteristics. Quiet by nature, I am the “strong silent type.” Far from boring, I have a great sense of humor, and even own a goose. I intend to achieve my goals through hard work.

I am not sure that either Bernadette or I have come up with the formulas for elevator pitches that are sufficiently storied. Perhaps a better approach is to train yourself to pick up on appropriate tidbits from the situation you’re in and weave a compelling story out of them.

Such was the approach of Marcos Salazar in Part 6 (of 10) of a personal-branding story on Dan Schawbel’s personal-branding blog (and I will admit that this one probably lasted at least 60 seconds):

When I got asked what I did in New York, the person also said, “Nice shirt!” That night I was wearing one of my Brooklyn BoroThreads tees, so instead of simply mentioning my day job of, “I’m a psychology researcher for the Girl Scouts,” I took a cue from that person and started talking about how I had designed the shirt myself and it was from a clothing company I just launched in New York. I could have ended there, but that still would have not been too exciting.
So I began telling a story of how I had met my business partner Gabriel via Craigslist when I subletted an apartment after breaking up with the girlfriend I was living with. Gabriel was my roommate for that month and we hit it off right away as we hung out in the apartment talking about how much we loved Brooklyn, funny things about New York, Amherst (where he was from and I went to college), and general tech stuff. This led me to talk about how Gabriel and I were chatting at a café one day and noticed how New York was packed with clothing stores, but no one had ever really created hyperlocal clothing focused on interesting and quirky things about living in the 5 Boros.
So before you know it, I was creating a narrative on the origin of BoroThreads and discussing funny stories, the way we come up with the designs, and how we end up seeing people on the streets wearing our gear and make it a point to go introduce ourselves (and sometimes buy them a beer). The person was really enjoying the story and I can guarantee that they remembered who I was much better than if I had just said, “I am a clothing designer.”

One very useful tool Bernadette offered was a phone number (below), where you can call to record your elevator pitch and play it back so you hear how it sounds. NumbertoRecordPitch.jpg

What are your ideas on integrating stories into elevator speeches?

A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
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A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
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Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


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