Why Everyone Needs an Elevator Pitch

The following scene gets enacted in numerous workplaces every day.

Joe enters the cafeteria, and Sally, a senior executive, is standing right in front of him. Sally makes eye contact, smiles and asks Joe how he is doing. At this point, Joe might respond in one of three ways:

  1. Joe says, “I am fine, how are you doing?” and not knowing what to say next, he starts fiddling with his phone.
  2. Joe mumbles, ”Fine,” and at a loss for words, starts fidgeting awkwardly. He then leaves in a couple of minutes under the pretext of just having remembered something important that needs his immediate attention.
  3. Joe says, “I am doing great, Sally, how are you? In fact, you’ll probably appreciate hearing that our team is on its way to crush its targets again and with your help we can do even better… ”

It’s pretty obvious that (3) is a great response, however most people tend to pick one of the first two responses when faced with this situation.

Why does this happen? It’s mostly due to a lack of preparation for this interaction. Unless you are a master of improv, it’s highly unlikely that you can whip up a great conversation with a senior executive at a moment’s notice. However, that one conversation can make you stand out from the masses. So how can you prepare for this interaction?

Entrepreneurs are told that they need an elevator pitch – a 30- to 60-second elucidation of their idea so that a potential investor is hooked and interested in hearing more.

Similarly you need an elevator pitch for your chance executive interaction.

A successful elevator pitch has three components:

  • A quick overview of the most important project you are working on from the company’s standpoint. Sally might be interested in the details of your training for an upcoming marathon, but she’ll be much more interested in how you are developing a whole new customer segment for an upcoming product launch.
  • What is the progress on that project? Be objective and realistic when you describe the progress. Don’t leave Sally with the impression that everything is great when it’s not. Also, don’t take this opportunity to rant against other team members or departments. Remember, Sally is just there to get lunch, not solve your problems between her soup and dessert.
  • Has anybody been particularly helpful in enabling the projects success? Be generous with your praise. It helps spread good karma and your acknowledgements will eventually reach your colleagues who will want to make you even more successful. Alternatively, are there simple things that Sally can do to increase the probability of the project’s success? For instance, can she suggest somebody in her department who has the skills to consult with you on a particular aspect of the project?

Take 15 minutes to work on your elevator pitch today.

Be authentic. Be brief. And above all: Be Ready.

Photo credit: Marco Wessel/Flickr under Creative Commons license

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