Let’s hit pause on the elevator pitch.
Yup, back on my elevator pitch soapbox (again) as my calendar has a number of upcoming presentations in front of audiences of female founders and women entrepreneurs, and somewhere in the startup frenzy the necessity of a carefully crafted, memorized, 90+ second elevator pitch became gospel, to the point that whenever you ask pretty much anyone “what do you do?” or “tell me about yourself?” the reply is a flurry of prepared words tossed at the questioner, like paint tossed on a canvas by a splatter artist.
A carefully prepared elevator pitch is a barrier to listening.
Elevator pitches in social situations, be it a meetup or social gathering or work setting, rarely invite someone into a conversation. And isn’t that what you are really trying to do? Spark conversation? Ignite conversation? Make a connection???
When you’re tossing prepared words at someone you’re singularly focused yourself – on remembering those 90 seconds of carefully rehearsed text, on whether or not you’re sweating or upper lip quivering or what the question was they asked… Beyond all the anxiety around forgetting your lines, you may also be slightly stressed about meeting someone new, or on making that oh, so critical, strong first impression. Your attention is singularly sucked inward – and what you’re incapable of is considering the other person and taking in are the social cues they are giving off.
BTW as I’ve learned from Therese Huston’s new book “Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your SuperPower“, the part of our brain that stores “elevator pitch” type memory goes bonkers! haywire when we are anxious or stressed – you know, at times when we’re asked about ourselves by someone we’ve only just met.
So how do we course correct this? With a pause.
Yup. A big deep breath after the delivery of a short, sweet, you-are-not-likely-to-forget-it-regardless-of-how-nervous-you-are first line in answer to a question such as “tell me about yourself?”.
Insert a pause to let the other person join in and ask for more or for you to continue next with “shall I tell you more?” or “would you like to know more?” or “what about you, tell me about your [job/startup/experience/whatever]”. Be as interested in learning about them as you would like them to be about you.
Let me provide an example.
An IP attorney I coached used to introduce herself as “I’m a partner at XYZ firm in the Intellectual Property Group and I handle complex commercial litigation matters…”. Thrilling, huh?
My question to her – when I interrupted the carefully crafted pitch as my eyes were rolling over (which is good if you’re an eye yoga practitioner, but not so great if you’re trying to feign interest in the words being tossed at you by someone who is not paying attention to whether or not you’re listening, but I digress…back to the question) – was “I don’t know what you do, I only know how you do it (litigation). So tell me, what do you do? What’s the outcome or achievement?“.
“I open new markets in the pharmaceutical industry”.
Brilliant. Perfection. A concise statement to start a conversation. The how (i’m a partner at….) BS can now follow – after a pause (of course!) to let the other person dive in with an obvious “how the heck do you do that???” (which is precisely what I did!).
Make sense? Just in case, I’ll summarize:
- Think about what you really do versus the mechanism of how you deliver what you do.
- Describe your “what” in a brief sentence.
- Insert a pause after delivering the “what” when you’re in 1:1 or smaller social situations where conversation and human connection are the desired outcome.
Remove the barriers to listening (doh! it’s a rather critical skill, especially when networking) by ditching the script.