The 30-second elevator speech, also known as a networking pitch or a 30-second intro or a personal commercial, is a brief statement that you use to introduce yourself to another person in an attempt to establish a relationship beyond the 30 seconds. That’s it! Get the person you’re talking with to ask you for more information or further details. It’s nothing really more complicated than that.
Let’s assume that you’ll be in a variety of situations where an introduction would be useful. You meet a new client – an old schoolmate – a peer at a professional meeting – a distant relative – a potential employer – and in each situation you will need to answer the basic “Who are you and what do you do?” question. What you want is a brief social and professional introduction of you – a “who I am” sound bite.
I’ve seen and heard hundreds of variations on the elevator pitch in the courses I lead or at networking meetings (both social and professional) that I attend. They range from great to pitiful, from informative to painfully boring. And since your professional future can depend on how well you present yourself in those few seconds, you must know how to do it effectively.
So, if you’re new to this networking thing, I suggest you start out with a basic pitch that, once you master it, you can easily tailor it to any situation at hand. Let’s cover the 5 key elements of a basic, standard pitch:
1. Your Name: Keep it Simple! State your first name only. A nick-name is fine, but avoid using distracting names like “Princess” or “The Hammer”. Save your last name until asked for, as it only complicates or lengthens the introduction. A simple phrase like “Hi, my name is Bob” is all that’s needed here.
2. Your Title: Give me a sense of what you are or what task you currently perform. Use generic descriptions, avoiding industry terms and overly descriptive definitions. Do not use your company “title” and don’t mention your company name at this time (remember, this is your pitch, not your firm’s pitch). This is very brief and should usually be between four to eight words. Something like “I am a Project Manager” or “I sell used cars” or “I am a nurse at a local hospital”.
3. Your Role: This expands on your title above, to give a bit of depth, but to also explain your job simply enough such that a 5th grader can understand what you do. This might be a clarification of your title: “I manage web programmers and coordinate testing of their programs” or “My nursing specialties are dealing with emergency room patients and also some cardiac-care patients.” You can add another sentence if needed, but remember to stay away from jargon and keep it brief.
Note: It’s up to this point in your introduction that you want anybody to be able to effectively repeat your name, your title, and your role such that they could introduce you to someone else effectively without anything more than listening to your first three steps. These first 3 steps should have taken no more than 10-12 seconds.
4. Your Passion: You now need to start to build some enthusiasm. Tell me why you like what you’re doing or tell me some exciting actions that you’ve performed directly related to your role. This is one or two sentences that get me excited about you and that we can talk about in more detail over the next few minutes. This is a bit tough, but you need to show me some passion…focus on it! “I enjoy being a school teacher because I get to make a real impact on children’s lives. I get excited when their eyes light up once they’ve grasped a new concept or when they tell me that the topic I’m teaching them makes sense.” Make me believe you are passionate about your job.
5. The “Talk With Me” Statement: This is where you stretch your introduction into the objective of the meeting. If you were dating, you’d mention the type of dating relationship you might want, “I’m looking for a girl-friend that likes hiking, jogging, and tennis, but also enjoys a quiet evening watching movies at home.” In the career search, you do something similar, “I’m looking for a new opportunity, to maybe practice nursing in a doctor’s office or at a different hospital. Do you know of any nurses or doctors that I could talk to about their experiences?” Remember, this is about engaging in a conversation, but also checking to see if there’s a potential benefit with this new relationship. This “talk with me” statement is the difficult piece, because you are striving to bring a potential contact into your network that you can use throughout your career. The same “talk with me” statement might not be beneficial with all people in all settings, so you need to try out a few variations on this step.
The 5-Step Review
Remember that this is a template or starter pitch. You need to prepare it, practice it, and present it. I suggest you write it down, rehearse it several time, then record yourself. Play the recording back and decide if it sounds smooth, conversational, and not like a canned speech. Go back and refine it if needed, then go to some networking event where it’s safe to practice (like a Crossroads Career meeting) and give it a try. Ask for feedback to refine your pitch for when you need to use it in a professional setting.
Networking is about growing a collection of friends, business acquaintances, and other resources that can help you grow professionally (and socially) by sharing your experiences and backgrounds. Networking is not a means to put someone on the spot — the networking pitch is never a “do you have a job for me” or a “when can I come by for an interview” conversation. It’s about laying the groundwork for further discussions, possible relationships, and fostering a 2-way communication channel.
Whether you use your elevator pitch as a personal networking tool, a professional networking tool, or even an ice-breaker when meeting new people, you need to practice it until it sounds natural — just like you having a casual conversation. Focus on getting the first four steps clear and repeatable. Then develop a few variations on step five so you can use the 30-second pitch in a variety of situations.
Now it’s important to know that this is just the first step in building a basic networking pitch. There are many more topics that I’ll write about over the next few posts. For example, a person that’s changing careers would have a different intro. Also, a student that has recently graduated will have a different presentation. But for most of you that are staying in your current career, use this as a “template” for your 30-second networking story!
Bottom Line: The 30-second pitch is about developing a relationship that you can use at a later date. While there are many variations, a simple 5-step intro works as a great way to develop a solid starter pitch. These steps are: 1 – First Name, 2 – Simple Title, 3 – Role Description, 4 – Passion Statement, and 5- a Conversation Growth statement or question. Keep it simple enough for a 3rd grade student to understand what you do and rehearse it until it is smooth, natural, and informative. (Posting revised 10/2/2011)
Update: Continue on to my next 30-Second Pitch 102 posting which addresses graduates and career changers.
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