person presenting to a room of professionals
Communications expert Neil Gordon explains how business owners need to first grab the attention of their audience before describing what their business does. — Getty Images/Cecilie_Arcurs

This article was submitted to CO— by Neil Gordon, a communications expert and speaking coach focused on helping clients attract a following.

Many business owners look toward developing their networks to grow and improve their businesses. A common way to help achieve this goal is a “go-around-the-table-and-introduce-yourself” type of exercise. Each person has perhaps one or two minutes to describe what they do and the types of products and/or services they provide. This is what is commonly referred to as one’s “elevator pitch” — a description of one’s work that is so concise that it can happen within the span of an elevator ride.

The fault in the elevator pitch

When someone asks us what we do, we usually tell them just that. “I do this, and I do this, and I do this.” It seems like that would be an appropriate thing to do, for it answers the question we were asked. However, this is only of value if the person we’re talking to (or someone they know) has a need for those exact services.

As a result, each person simply waits for their turn to speak and the exercise becomes transactional.

But what if there was a fundamentally different thing we could do when it comes time for us to speak in this way, and it would actually lead to other people lighting up with interest?

The reason why a typical elevator pitch is so transactional is that it’s all about the person giving the speech and their services.

Neil Gordon

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 neil gordon headshot
Neil Gordon, communications expert. — Neil Gordon

Effective communication values the recipient over the sender

The reason why a typical elevator pitch is so transactional is that it’s all about the person giving the speech and their services. But effective communication values the recipient over the sender. The key is to deliver succinct, one-sentence recipes that instantly empower your audience to think differently about their own lives — whether they do business with you or not. This empowerment is what creates trust.

Instead of a typical elevator pitch, I suggest giving an elevator speech, which incorporates the following four steps:

  1. Explain the problem your work solves. Most people just start with their solution, but listeners are more likely to embrace a solution when it’s presented within the context of a problem they care about solving. The task here is to start with something that speaks to a pain point your target audience already knows they have. For example: “Many of us struggle to feel uplifted and peaceful in our day-to-day life.”
  2. Address the typical way(s) people respond to this problem. One reason why we suffer in the problems we have is that we’ve tried the more typical approaches that don’t ultimately work — and that’s why we’re still in pain. Here, your task is to prime your audience for your solution by framing it in the context of what hasn’t worked before. For example: “We put intense amounts of pressure on ourselves to do more, achieve more, and constantly chase a sense of happiness that typically eludes us in any given moment of our lives.”
  3. Include your silver bullet. Perhaps the most powerful, yet overlooked, communication technique is a single cause-and-effect sentence that encapsulates the whole of your idea. By providing a single action that leads to a single outcome, you empower your audience in just that sentence alone. That’s why people have “aha” moments and get excited to talk more about the sentence, and why so many inspirational quotes are formatted in this way as well. For example: “The key to a peaceful life is self-compassion.”
  4. Describe what you do. Here is where people usually start, describing what they do. There is, of course, a place for this in the elevator speech; it’s just recommended to follow the three previous points so that people are far more invested in learning about it. For example: “I teach people how to free themselves of chasing after impossibly high standards and elevate their quality of life as a whole.”

The fatal flaw in your elevator pitch is that it’s actually a pitch. But by using your minute to empower everyone at your table, you’ll make it about them.

And that’s when they’ll want to connect with you.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published February 14, 2020