We hear a lot in business literature about how it's important to have an "elevator pitch" – a prepared speech about our business that's so concise we could deliver it to someone on a brief elevator ride. We're often told to memorize our elevator pitch and practice it in the mirror, making sure we look and sound appealing and confident.
This may sound great in theory, but in my experience, when someone delivers an elevator pitch to me, it's pretty obvious and painful.
Often, I'll be at a party or event, having an otherwise pleasant conversation with someone. But then we'll get into talking about their business, and they'll suddenly undergo an unnerving transformation – their posture will get rigidly straight, they'll slap on a forced grin, and they may even start speaking in rhyme ( "I turn your reads into leads "), as they recite their rehearsed speech.
When someone starts talking this way, it does not exactly inspire me to buy what they're selling – instead, whatever pleasure I was getting from our conversation quickly evaporates, and I want to excuse myself for more hors d'oeuvres.
"Elevator Pitching" To Yourself
I do not mean to say elevator pitches are never useful. I've found, both in observing myself and working with clients, that delivering a sales pitch out loud is most helpful, not when we're talking with another person, but when we're alone.
The exercise I'm suggesting – which is similar to an exercise I have people do in pairs in my workshop – involves simply finding a place to be alone, and speaking, out loud, a brief description of what you have to offer. As you do this, notice how you find yourself feeling and reacting.
Some questions you might ask yourself include: where is my body tensing up as I'm talking? Is this a really intense or anxiety-provoking experience? Is there some reason why doing this does not feel okay – maybe, for instance, there's a sense that I'm being pushy, greedy, or deceptive, or that I'm wasting someone else's time?
In my experience, the more awareness we develop around why it's hard to talk about our business, the more we become able to put into perspective the difficult thoughts and feelings that come up when we self-promote.
How This Has Helped Me
This exercise has been very helpful to me personally. In the past, when someone asked me "what do you do?", I'd find answering difficult for some reason. I'd get an uncomfortable, heavy feeling in my stomach, and to avoid that feeling I'd often find myself downplaying what I did or changing the subject.
Worse still, all the usual techniques for crafting a compelling elevator pitch did not seem to help. No matter how much I practiced my speech, and worked to deliver it with convincing intonation and body language, that pesky sensation remained.
I finally started getting more comfortable talking about my business when I shifted my focus from trying to "look and sound good," to getting intimate with that weird feeling that came up when I promoted myself. My new practice was to make my speech, while holding my attention on my stomach and any queasiness that arose there.
What I found was that, the more I just allowed that unsettled feeling to be there, without running away from it or criticizing myself for having it, the more familiar and tolerable it became. Once the feeling became easier to be with, talking about my business began to feel more natural, and even fun now and then.