A Compelling Elevator Speech: The Real Thing Happened to Me

Dozens of business people were rehearsing scenes like this in the hotel ballroom as I stepped away and into the elevator. As the elevator doors opened, I stepped into an impromptu encounter with Glenn Harrington of Articulate Consultants Inc. Since my role at the conference was basically to smile and draw attention, I did not know who he was. As the elevator doors closed, he gave me a gentlemanly grin. Then I got the real thing.

“Hello,” I said with a smile. Having just come from the conference in the ballroom, where people were learning about elevator speeches, my RADAR was on. He smiled a silent hello.

As the elevator approached his floor, he spoke: “What do you do?” The table was turned. I gave a pretty good elevator speech, answering with a convincing spin on my importance. (He later told me that he used the three-foot rule by asking me that.) Then, I asked him the same question.

“You know,” he began, “there’s a whole bunch of people, right now, trying to work out the best way to describe themselves in 30 seconds or less. They are investing their time and their hope in a great answer to that question. They want memorable content and convincing presentation, and they think that the results are going to be wonderful.” I nodded.

“The truth is,” he continued, “a compelling elevator speech doesn’t sound especially eloquent or look like a flash of light. In fact, a compelling elevator speech isn’t about you at all. It’s plain talk about the problems you solve, plus a word about how you rescue people from those problems, followed by a simple question.” No rhymes. No bombshells.

“What sort of simple question?” I followed. He replied, “Does that matter to you?” I told him, “Yes; I want to know, please.” He told me, “Now you do know.”

That’s it. That’s Glenn Harrington’s formula for a compelling elevator speech – in an actual elevator. After naming three pains you relieve, make a benefit statement that positions you as the rescuer to people who suffer those woes. Then, ask a question like, “Does that matter to you?” Simple. Not what people are rehearsing downstairs, though.

Harrington explains: “First, get past the expectation that you’re going to intrigue people into buying from you by talking about yourself. Then, apply the formula for a compelling elevator speech, which is not about you.” After that, you need some market intelligence (from listening to your customers), and the right attitude. “Rehearse and allow it to be natural.”

But a Compelling Elevator Speech is a bit unconventional. Harrington: “Many people need coaching to get started, then to get it rolling naturally. If they stick with it and allow – you should hear the smiles in their voices when they talk about the results.” The Compelling Elevator Speech is one of Harrington’s specialties.

As the elevator doors opened and he began to step out, I asked for his card. As he gave it to me, I had an a-ha moment. We just had an elevator conversation that resulted in me asking for his card. Perfect. I followed him out.

“You see,” he continued, “Most people never have that moment – the simple question plus the answer that they have rehearsed creating a new business relationship. Because that rarely happens, most stop paying attention for the opportunity.”

“Some are diligent and give their elevator speech often – at parties, at mixers, at work – but it feels artificial and does not result in much business. They stick with it longer.” In contrast, he cites people who never take their elevator speech beyond learning the concept.

So, if most people give up before they experience success with an elevator speech, why does Harrington champion the cause? He gives one of his metaphorical answers: “You can buy a musical instrument and a book of scales and get a few pointers from people who play. If that’s your approach, then maybe you’ll enjoy your instrument. Some virtuosos start out that way.”

“However,” he continues, “If you want to be asked for your card by a stranger after a self-introduction that lasts thirty seconds, then think of the people who learn from a good music teacher and practice diligently.” The musician metaphor concludes: “They don’t flounder. Those people make lots of friends around the campfire.”

Harrington tells it straight: “There are thousands of people who find the traditional elevator speech valuable mainly as a short-term exercise.” But some want a truly compelling elevator speech. “When they accept that it should not be about themselves, and they want strangers to ask for their business card, they can contact me for a little coaching.”

He had already given me his card. I asked for it when the elevator stopped. Perfect.