This post is for anyone whose lack of refined elevator speech inhibits them in any way whatsoever. At all. Ever.
We get it. We’re supposed to be able to clearly articulate what we do in a sentence that makes us sound like a superstar so that we don’t blow a chance to get someone interested in what we do. Useful. Totally. I agree.
Until the creation of said speech twists you into a contorted ball of tension and anxiety. Until the delivery this amazing, alluring, brilliant line feels so forced that you flush with embarrassment. Until the pressure to have something so hot and on point actually begins to disintegrate the very fabric of what you know you do, eroding the confidence that you have any clarity at all and eventually making you question who you are, what you have to offer and if there’s any validity to your talents or wisdom or skill.
In my work with entrepreneurs, this is one of those hot buttons of self-recriminating bullshit. Not having an elevator speech worked out seems to be equated to knowing nothing and having nothing. Not having an elevator speech worked out can take people who are trying to drive their business along and make them pull over like they’re at a blockade and sit there staring off into depressed space. If I don’t have an elevator speech, we tell ourselves, then I must not be clear enough on what I do.
But that’s not true. That’s like saying ‘If I don’t have a great title for this blog post, then the content within it lacks clarity/substance/validity/blah/blah/blah.’ Good titles are important, sure. Your elevator speech is one piece of ‘marketing material’, one aspect of how you present who you are and what you do and it can be useful and buoy your confidence. Unless it’s not and doesn’t. In which case, put your attention on something else.
I have no wavering clarity on what I do. But depending on the company I keep, how I speak about what I do totally alters, because no matter what I say before or after the word ‘coach’, 30% of all people still ask ‘What sport?’ When I toss the word Integral in there, the only people who know what I’m referring to is the very insular group of Integral Theory enthusiasts and with those folk, I’m a dime a dozen, even if we’re all stoked to share a framework and language (or argue about it.) Trying to explain what Integral means and is based on makes me cringe, especially if it’s recorded in an interview that one of my colleagues may hear because anything I say is going to be partial. So sometimes I leave it out, other times it’s a necessary distinction for the kind of coaching I do.
When the 20 something guy who just called me a MILF and told me about his keg stand prowess asks what I do, I tell him that I help people get their shit together.
When the burnt out A-Type who’s been slogging it for someone else’s vision wants to know how this work applies, we talk about the importance of getting to bring all aspects of who we are and what’s meaningful to us to the work we do.
In a group a coaches from different backgrounds, I’ll say Integral and qualify that I work with people on their Way of Being and that my area of focus is working with entrepreneurs around life’s calling and deepest purpose.
For the solo-prenuer I’ll speak to that challenging balance of art and hustle and that we each have our own specific and unique needs to line up our deepest ache with our practical world and results. I help people do that.
For the pompous dude on the airplane who went on a tirade about ‘those artsy folk who think they can change the world’, I say I’m a writer and activist.
I used to feel some measure of stress about needing to articulate what I do in a single shot that will land wherever. Then I was sitting around with a group of marketing mavens and rockin’ entrepreneurs who’d all given great importance to the elevator speech and when I asked what theirs were, they scoffed and laughed ‘Don’t have one.’ ‘No idea.’ ‘Meh, it changes.’
So if you’re stumped, if you have a few streams or directions or themes, if you know what you offer but are having a hard time expressing it, or the need to have an elevator speech leaves you feeling like you’re being left behind or failing, here are some decent places to put your energy. This is NOT a list to help you discern an elevator speech. These are places to put your attention that serve a similar purpose, to connect and communicate what you do.
1. Ask questions. Get more interested in other people and what they’re up to and what matters to them than you are in trying to show them who you are or what you know.
2. Speak to what’s important to others. So many think they need to display what they know or what they can offer. One of the best ways to display that is simply by being deeply present with what matters to other people and giving language to it. Then you don’t need to prove or show anything, your way of being will show it all.
3. Seek alignment within yourself. What you have to offer is not only based on what you’re delivering to market, but what’s stirring within you, your passion, what uniquely matters, what turns you on and makes you come alive. The more anchored you are in this, the more freedom you’ll have to express yourself clearly around it. A big mistake people make here is in focusing too much on what they think others want to hear or what they think will sound good to others. What’ll sound good is what’s true.
4. Translate. When you’re anchored and aligned within yourself and when you know where someone you’re speaking to is at, where they’re coming from and what their worldview is, you’ll be better equipped to share about what you do in a way that feels honest and clear for you and also lands with them in a way that makes sense. My examples above are not actually different from one another in terms of what I actually do, but they’re translations and they’ll mean different things to different people.
5. Relationship over selling. To carry that last point a little further, the best use of translation is not to hook or sell someone, but to create a relational meeting place, a place where the other feels met and can meet you, it’s from this place that you get to explore further if what either of you need or are offering are a match. Without that meeting place, the best elevator speech in the world is just a bunch of words and if they don’t land, you may think you need a better elevator speech, when what you probably need is a more intimate connection with yourself and others.