If you read any networking "how-to," you are likely to come across the suggestion to create an "Elevator Pitch." (Like here and here.) For those of you that don't know, an elevator pitch in a networking setting is basically a succinct statement about yourself generally, your career goals, or why would you be a great addition to a team. It responds to the question: "What do you do?" and is called an "Elevator Pitch" because you are supposed to be able to state the whole thing while riding up or down just a few stories in an elevator. This little speech is usually about 30 seconds long, at most.
Contrary to popular belief, you really don't need an elevator pitch, at least not in the traditional sense. Having a scripted elevator pitch can be a problem for several reasons:
- If you forget your lines, you end up feeling like a fool. If you have ever memorized a speech to recite and forgotten a portion of it, you know what this feels like. If you stumble over your "lines" then it may get you flustered to the point that it is no longer effective.
- Sounding rehearsed isn't impressive. If you recite your lines like a robot, on the other hand, then you just don't come off as genuine. Some may even think that you are too "salesy" to be taken seriously. Breaking off causal conversation to stare at the wall and recite your memorized pitch doesn't impress or let you truly connect with anyone.
- Your "pitch" may not be relevant in this situation. If you are an entrepreneur, you may be involved in quite a few projects or ventures. Spouting all of these off in a few breaths is going to be overwhelming for your listeners and will ultimately be ineffective.
- Your pitch might cause confusion. If you are too succinct or use industry terminology that the average person doesn't understand, then your pitch isn't going to be effective anyway. Most people write their elevator pitches, but we do not speak using the same language we use when we write. (i.e., "We don't speak the way we write.") The average conversation doesn't allow the target audience the same amount of time to process information that reading something would.
- Elevator pitches simply are not engaging. An elevator pitch rarely gives the listener the opportunity to stop you and ask questions like: What did you mean by that? Where are you located? Why would someone need that type of service? A scripted elevator pitch generally has no pauses and no room for the other party in the conversation to respond.
Avoid the Repetitive, Glassy-Eyed Elevator Pitch
Instead of having an elevator pitch, it is so much more effective to be genuine. Listen to what the other people have to say and respond appropriately. Tailor your response to what they want and need--and be concise about the solutions you provide. The other person in the conversation feels so much more valued when they believe they are being heard and understood.
Instead of an elevator pitch, what you DO need is to...
- Ask questions. Be interested. Goods conversationalists know, it's not about you--it's about them. Pay attention and truly listen to the person you're speaking with. It's the only way to create a valuable connection, AND if the person isn't a good connection for you, you'll find out much sooner. That leaves you free to focus your follow-up where it counts.
- Be sure that you know your market, products, skills, and abilities (for whatever networking purpose you have) inside and out. In order to respond to their needs, you need to know your content so well that you have a response to every statement, question, or concern. If you don't know, don't fake it. Telling them that you will get back to them is a great excuse to have a follow-up conversation after a networking event.
- Listen to what they want or need and respond. You sound so much more authentic when you can respond directly to questions or engage in casual conversation. This is selling yourself without actually "pitching" yourself. It might be helpful have a few mock conversations with a friend or colleague to develop this skill.
- Write down everything you want potential customers or employers to know about you or your company. This is part of the elevator pitch development process, but it does have value even when you don't create an elevator pitch. Writing down which points you want to emphasize will help you remember what you should bring up in conversation. You don't want to recite a list, but you want to work those items into your discussion.
You still need to have an answer to the question "What do you do?," but it doesn't have to be an elevator pitch. Tailoring your response to your situation and audience will make you more personable and, ultimately, more effective.