Never Again Give an Elevator Speech

“It’s not about you. It never was.” – Diane Keaton

Do you know anyone who likes listening to a speech? Me neither.

know anyone who likes listening to a speech

Speeches are lectures. Who wants to be lectured?

That’s why, from now on when someone asks, “What do you do?” never again TELL them.  What?! Here’s an example to show what I mean.

Years ago, I was on a speaking tour with my sons. We had a night free in Denver, so we went downstairs to ask the concierge, “What do you suggest?”

He took one look at Tom and Andrew and said, “You’ve got to go to D & B’s.”

We were from Maui at the time and had no idea what he was talking about. We asked, “What’s that?”

He must have known that trying to explain it would only confuse us. Instead, he asked a qualifying question, “Have you ever been to Chuck E. Cheese?”

My sons nodded enthusiastically.

He smiled and said, “D & B’s is like a Chuck E. Cheese … for adults.”

Bingo. Ten seconds and we knew exactly what it was and wanted to go there. They should have put him on commission.

Why did that work so well? He turned a one-way elevator speech into a two-way elevator connection.  Here’s an example of how you can do the same.

A man approached me before a presentation and said, “I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told many people. I’m an introvert. I go to conferences all the time, but then I hide out in my hotel room because I hate networking.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m uncomfortable with small talk. Plus, I work in tech. I can never explain what I do in a way people can understand it. It’s so awkward, I rather just avoid it.”

I asked, “Want a way to introduce yourself that isn’t confusing or awkward, and that can actually lead to a meaningful conversation?”

He came back with, “Is that a rhetorical question?”

I asked, “Don’t tell to explain what you do. That’s like trying to explain electricity.  Instead, describe the real-world results of what you do that we can see, smell, taste and touch.”

He thought about it for a moment and said something about credit cards, online retailers, financial software and computers. The light bulb went off in my mind. “Do you make the software that makes it safe for us to buy stuff online?”

He lit up. “Yes! That’s exactly what I do.”

“That’s good … but don’t tell people that.”

He looked at me, puzzled. “Why not?”

“Because if you explain, ‘I make the software that makes it safe for you to buy things online, they’ll go, ‘Oh,’ and that’ll be the end of the conversation.

You don’t want to end the conversation; you want to open a conversation.”

“So what do I do instead?”

“Ask a three-part question that gives people an opportunity to share how they – or someone they know – may have experienced what you do.”

“What’s this about a three part question?”

“If you ask, ‘Have YOU ever bought anything online,’ and they say ‘No,’ you just ran into a conversation cul de sac.

If you ask, ‘Have you, a friend or a family member ever bought anything online … like on eBay, Travelocity or Amazon?’ you just increased the odds they’ve benefitted from what you do or know someone who has.

They may say, ‘Well, I never shop online. But my wife’s on Amazon all the time. She loves the free shipping.’

Now, link what you do to what they just said, ‘Well, our company makes the software that makes it safe for your wife to buy things on Amazon.’

‘OOHH,’ they’ll probably say.  Believe me, an intrigued ‘OOOHH’ is a lot better than a confused ‘Huh?!’ or a disinterested ‘oh.’

Their eyes will probably light up and their eyebrows will probably go up. They now relate to you and are more likely to remember you. Furthermore, you now have a mutually-relevant hook on which to hang a conversation which means you’re both more likely to want to continue the conversation.

All this in 60 seconds and all because you stopped TELLING people what you do and started ASKING how they may have experienced what you do.”

He actually got a little misty-eyed. I asked him, “What’s going on?”

He told me, “I can’t wait to get home after this conference.”

“Why?”

” I can finally get across to my eight year old son what I do in a way he understands it.”

Elevator Speech

That’s the power of turning an elevator speech into an elevator connection.

How about you?  What do you say when asked, “What do you do?” What do your co-workers say?  Do your responses cause confusion or create connections?

You might want to turn your next staff meeting into a brainstorming session where everyone crafts two-way introductions that genuinely engage people in mutually-relevant conversations that are a win for all involved.

By the way, this is just one of 25 ways to create more mutually-meaningful communications featured in my latest book – Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? Discover for yourself why it’s been endorsed by Dan Pink, Miki Agrawal, Terry Jones (founder of Travelocity), Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone) and Marshall Goldsmith who says it’s a “must for every leader.”

Want your employees and association members to actually enjoy networking at your next event and create more relevant, meaningful conversations? Contact Cheri@IntrigueAgency.com to arrange for Sam to deliver her fun, inspiring, interactive keynote that gets everyone interacting and genuinely connecting in the room and in the halls.

Down with Elevator Speeches

“Enough about me.  What do you think about me?” – Bette Midler in the movie Beaches

While speaking at an INC 500 event, I introduced a new approach for replacing elevator SPEECHES with elevator CONNECTIONS.

sam tedx image

An entrepreneur named Colleen raised her hand and said, “I can’t figure out how to do this for my business.”

I asked what she normally said when meeting people. She started explaining her job, using technical terms like magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. None of us had any idea what she did.

I asked, “Want to brainstorm a better way to answer the ‘What do you do?’ question.”  She said a heartfelt “YES.”

“Okay, from now on, instead of EXPLAINING what you do (which is kind of like trying to explain electricity), focus on the real-world results of what you do that people can see or may have experienced.  What are those?“

She said, “Hmm.  Well, I run medical facilities that offer MRI’s and CT scans.”

“That’s better already because we can mentally picture what you’re talking about. It’s no longer conceptual or highly technical.  Plus, we probably know someone who has had an MRI or CT scan so now we can relate to it.

But don’t stop there. If you TELL people what you do, they’ll go, ‘Oh,’ and that’ll be the end of the conversation. We don’t want to CLOSE conversations, we want to OPEN conversations. You can do by asking a three-person question.”

“What’s this about a three-person question?”

“If you ask, ‘Have YOU ever had an MRI?’ and this person hasn’t, the conversation comes to an awkward dead-end. If you ask, ‘‘Have you, a friend, or a family member ever had an MRI?’ you just increased the likelihood they’ll know someone who is familiar with what you and your organization offers.”

“Okay, what next?” 

“You LISTEN.  Imagine the person says, ‘Yeah, my daughter hurt her knee playing soccer. She had an MRI.’ Just link what you do to what they just said. ‘Oh, I run the medical facilities that offer MRI’s … like the one your daughter had when she hurt her knee playing soccer.’

They’ll probably say an intrigued “Aaahh.” which is a lot better than an apathetic “Oh” or a confused “huh?” It means they GET what you do which means they’re more likely to remember you. As a bonus, if they ever need what you do, they’re more likely to contact you because people like to do business with people they know and like.”

She said, “Why is it so important to use the same words they used? I don’t want to parrot them.”

“Good point. I’m not suggesting we repeat what they said word for word. I’m suggesting we use a few of the same words because common language is what connects two strangers who, a moment ago, didn’t know if they had anything in common.”

She thanked me, sighed and said, “I wish someone had taught me this years ago.  I can’t wait to get back to work and share this with my staff.”

How about you?  What do YOU say when people ask, “What do you do?” What do your employees and team members say?

Think about it. Whether we like it or not, wherever we go, the people we meet will ask “What do you do?” And what we say MATTERS.  

That CEO’s inability to answer that question at the INC 500 conference could have meant millions of dollars in lost opportunity costs. She was surrounded by highly successful entrepreneurs, all in a position to partner with her, refer business to her or use her services. But that wasn’t going to happen because they didn’t know what she did – which meant they didn’t value it and wouldn’t remember it. 

Many people tell me they hate this question, for a variety of reasons. They don’t know how to answer it. They feel it pigeon-holes them and they don’t want to be defined by their job. They’re out of work. Or, they don’t have a position or profession people respect. Some tell me they dread “networking” because it means being subjected to a series of long-winded, boring, confusing elevator speeches.

I tell them, it can be helpful to realize that when people ask “What do you do?”, they’re not really trying to find out what you do; they’re trying to connect. They’re trying to identify what you have in common you both care about so they have a hook on which to hang a mutually-interesting conversation.

Which is why it’s so important to stop TELLING people what you do. An elevator speech is a monologue delivered in the presence of witnesses. A scripted, rehearsed-to-death elevator speech borders on being offensive because it’s a one-way lecture.

Elevator Speech

Instead, next time someone asks what you do, you might want to say, “I’d be happy to talk about what I do, and first may I find out more about you?” By giving other people an opportunity to go first, you’ve not only set a precedent that you’re genuinely interested in them and it’s not going to be “me, me, me;”  you’re sure to discover something relevant you can use to customize your opening so it reflects and integrates what you already know about them.  

When it’s your turn, remember, instead of launching into an explanation, ASK a three-person question that gives the other person an opportunity to share how they – or someone they know – have experienced or benefitted from what you do.

Truly listen to their response, and then link what you do to what they just said.

Voila.  You’ve just created a two-way conversation (dialogue vs. a monologue) that is a lot more likely to lead to a mutually-meaningful CONNECTION.  Furthermore, you’re also acting as an eloquent ambassador for your profession because the people you meet will have new-found appreciation for the work you do and the positive difference it makes for so many.

Want to see how this is done?  Watch this TEDx talk and share it at your next staff meeting. Be sure to have paper and pen or your laptop ready so you can take notes on how to adapt this approach to upcoming, real-life situations.

The first example in the TEDx talk shows how to introduce your idea or organization in a business setting where you’re trying to win buy-in, support, a green light or funding from decision-makers. The difference is,  by ASKING (a dialogue) instead of TELLING or SELLING (a monologue); you’re genuinely engaging people instead of lecturing them with INFObesity.

The second example in the TEDx talk shows how to introduce yourself at networking events or conferences when you’re meeting people for the first time.

Hope you find this approach and short video useful, and they help you genuinely enjoy meeting people and create more mutually-rewarding connections that benefit all involved. 

-   –   – 

Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency, helps people create intriguing respectful, collaborative communications and projects that scale their influence – for good. Her work – including POP!, Tongue Fu! ConZentrate and Sam Horn’s Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? How to Create Intrigue and Connect with Anyone – has been featured in New York Times, Fast Company, Forbes and on NPR.  Her inspiring, interactive presentations receive raves from Intel, Cisco, NASA, National Geographic and Capital One. Contact Cheri Grimm at 805 528-4351if you’d like to arrange for Sam to speak at your convention or train your team.     

Got Your Attention? Wins Book of the Year Award

What a thrill to hear from publisher Berrett-Koehler that my book GOT YOUR ATTENTION? is the INDIEFAB gold medal winner in the career category.  Here ‘s the announcement from Foreword Reviews.

Following that good news, I went to Amazon.com and discovered it is trending at #4 in ‪#‎Business‬ ‪#‎Money‬ ‪#‎Sales‬ ‪#‎Marketing‬ ‪#‎Presentations‬

Then I went to LinkedIn and discovered this post on WHY TO NEVER GIVE AN ELEVATOR SPEECH – AND WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD (excerpted from “Got Your Attention?”) has more than 21,000 views and 649 shares.

Things just kept getting better. My publisher Berrett-Koehler got in touch to let me know foreign rights for Got Your Attention? have not only been sold to China, Korea, Turkey, Greece, and Poland – they were also just sold to Russia.

So, this is a very good day.

Thanks to Berrett-Koehler Publishers and for being selected PUBLISHER ‪OF THE YEAR. Check out this wonderful interview with BK’s CEO Steve Piersanti to get insights into why they were chosen for this well-deserved award.

To all my colleagues, clients, audience members and author friends; thank you for your support, positive feedback, and for buying the book and spreading the word about it to your company and convention decision-makers.

When you write a book, you never know how it’s going to be received. You can hope, but you can’t know.

So, for Got Your Attention? to have become a Washington Post bestseller, and to read the reviews – not just from endorsers Dan Pink, Marshall Goldsmith, Keith Ferazzi, Elizabeth Lesser (co-founder of Omega Institute),  Terry Jones (founder of Travelocity), Kay Koplovitz (co-founder of USA Network) etc. – but from people I’ve never met who took the time to share how the book has impacted them … please know how much it means to me.

For example, Martin P gave it a 5 Star review on Amazon and said, “The way you should judge any business book is: does it give you actionable, real world advice that gets results? This book does. It has made a massive difference to my business again and again. Better networking conversations, better selling through listening first, a better structure in my keynotes, I could go on and on – this book really has made a difference to my income again and again. Incredible advice in such an engaging format. Just brilliant, thank you, Sam!”

And special thanks to Kathleen Hassan who gave the most recent review: “There Is NO Connection without Quality Attention” and no one walks her talk more than Sam Horn. I had the privilege of being with Sam recently in Washington DC for the United State of Women Summit. I haven’t seen Sam in over thirteen years, but she made me feel important as if she were meeting the First Lady herself. And while in line with Sam, making our way into the conference hall, Sam gave that same kind of rapt attention to everyone she came in contact with. She is genuinely curious about people and asks the most “intriguing” questions. She is brilliant and generous with her time and ideas and I feel blessed to get to swim in her sea of wisdom and insight. The ideas in this book are so relevant and applicable and the W5 form alone is worth the price of the book to get clarity about every communication I create so that I am able to connect on a deeper level so that my clients feel important and heard too.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you. I hope Got Your Attention? continues to make a positive difference for you, helps you create INTRIGUE communications that earn respect for your projects and priorities, and helps you actually enjoy meeting people and create more meaningful connections with everyone you meet, on and off the job.