When, and when not, to give your elevator speech


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At a recent reception, I walked over to say hello to a friend. He was chatting with someone, so I stayed a discreet distance away, not wanting to interrupt. My friend did not look like he was having a good time.

As soon as he saw me, he abruptly ended the conversation and practically ran over. As we shook hands, I asked what was wrong. He rolled his eyes and said, “another elevator speech.”

Although I would commend the job-seeker for trying, she didn’t make any points with this CEO.

“All I did was ask, ‘How’s it going?’ She proceeded to unload her elevator speech. She’s an engineer; we don’t even have engineers! I don’t even know how to help her, and I don’t dislike anyone enough to send her to them.”

Although our unemployed have largely fallen off the media radar, we still have lots of them, and it’s still really tough to get a job. They’re told that networking is the key, but they have to do it right.

Many are taught to develop “elevator speeches,” a supposedly brief commercial that tells us about them, what they offer, the benefits they produce and the methods they use. Unfortunately, they’re not limited to elevators.

Many of us have become so sick and tired of commercials, we look for ways to avoid them. Channel-surfing became a national pastime once remote controls came with TVs. Now there are all kinds of equipment and software to help us watch our favorite shows sans commercial interruptions.

Why would anyone, especially professional job search experts, have people develop these as a way to get a job? No doubt, we need to know the content we would put into such a speech, but what are the chances of running into someone that just happens to be looking for whatever we’re going to say?

Whether in an elevator or anywhere else, when I want to start a conversation with someone, I ask them questions about themselves. I discovered long ago most people are far more interested in themselves and their problems than they are in me.

It’s not difficult to get them to talk about their problems if you don’t sound like an interrogator. A few more questions to demonstrate your interest – it must be sincere – and they will usually reveal quite a lot. It’s still not time for the elevator speech, but it is time to perhaps suggest something that might help. “Have you tried … ?”

Try to keep the other person doing most of the talking. If you are truly helpful, they will want to know you, and they will ask. Don’t give them the elevator speech, just a piece of it. If they’re curious, they’ll ask for more. If they’re not curious, your speech would be falling on deaf ears anyway.

Where I can see almost no value to giving an elevator speech, I can see an awful lot of value in perhaps having an elevator conversation, so to speak. Because you’ve done your homework and have taken the trouble to find out what the other person is interested in, you know just what parts of your speech to share.

But again, it’s best to just give them a little and let them lead with their questions. You just might end up giving your whole elevator speech and more, but now you’re giving it to someone who wants to hear it.

This requires a major attitude shift. Instead of trying to get someone to give you a job, you have to be willing to try helping them, even if you receive nothing in return. There aren’t a lot of people willing to do that, so it’s a major differentiator. If you want to stand head and shoulders above the crowd, this is a good way to do it.

But you have to be genuine and sincere. There are so many charlatans out there that many of us are naturally suspicious of strangers. Many people can instinctively tell the difference between people who want to help them and those who just want something from them.

The first person you have to convince is yourself. You have to feel like you really want to help the other person. You can’t just pretend. If you don’t believe it, neither will he or she.

Yes, it’s hard, but if you do it well, you’ll make the right impression. The other person will want to do something for you, perhaps even more than you want. nhbr

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

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