or, Why You Need an Elevator Speech
You are chatting, feeling comfortable and a little prettier than usual. You make a joke and people laugh. You’re sparkling. You’re witty. Then someone says it… those five words…
“So, what do you do?”
Why is your tongue suddenly five times bigger? You feel your skin go ashy and your armpits go damp. “Um, I, um, am a, um…” The looks you’re getting are going from curious to concerned. Two more seconds of this cotton-mouth syndrome and they’ll shift into creeped out.
When “what you do” confuses people
“I’m a writer” doesn’t seem like it would be that tough to say. Or to understand. After all, it’s self-explanatory, all contained there in the single word. It’s not something fancy like “logistics and process engineer” or “distributor relationship management.”
But somehow it’s mysterious to people. I’m a writer; I write stuff, and people pay me for it. But whenever I say, “I’m a writer,” I get these follow-up questions like, “Oh, really, so, how does that work?”
If you are a creative professional of any sort, you’ve probably experienced the same sort of thing.
And if you are a creative professional or small business owner blazing new ground in any way (doing website stuff or social media or selling digital goods or self-publishing your own ebooks or making money from a blog or website or any other number of things…), you’ve definitely experienced this.
3 pitfalls of the “What I Do” speech
When what you do is unfamiliar to people (even if it seems simple to you), explaining it can become a series of ill-chosen words and ums and ahs. Not exactly professional.
There are three main reasons you might have trouble explaining yourself as a professional:
1. You don’t know how to explain… you’ve just never thought about it. It’s so familiar to you, something you know so intimately, that you don’t think about how foreign it might be to other people.
2. You don’t identify with your current job… but it’s your “real” job, and the stuff you do identify with is a “side business” or a hobby or a dream. So what do you say when people ask what you do? Give ‘em your “real job” title or the one that’s still half-imaginary but so much more what you’re all about?
3. You feel unqualified, or unprofessional, or like you haven’t started yet. This is so common with creative professionals who are just launching into the “professional” side of things. Maybe you’ve been writing – as a hobby, for yourself – for years, but you’ve never had anything published. Or maybe you’ve been painting, or inventing, or making, or whatnot, but you’ve never “made money” off your art/craft/genius. It can be hard to take that leap and say, “I’m a writer” or a _______ when you feel as if you haven’t paid your dues and earned the title yet.
How to answer the question without stuttering
An elevator speech is a 30-60 second introduction to who you are or want to be professionally. It sums up, in a brief, clear way, what it is you DO as a creative professional/small business owner. It is something you take time to write and then you take time to practice saying.
You put some time into it when there isn’t someone staring at you with a concerned expression. You think through the word choices, the possible questions, the professional terms, the whole message you want to convey.
You put it together. You practice: first on yourself, staring in the mirror. Record yourself saying it on your phone and listen to it. Tweak it. Then call in a friend or two, or a semi-objective family member (not your Mom, in other words). Practice on them. Get feedback. Ask: Is it clear? Does that make sense? Did I talk too fast?
You write it, you practice saying it, and then, next time you get the “What do you do?”question, you use it.
Tips for your elevator speech
- Make it short
- Use concrete, definite words
- Avoid titles or jargon/buzz words. Don’t use meaningless, overused, jargony words that have been sucked dry of any validity. “Guru” comes to mind, as does “social media strategist.” Ehhhhh…..
- Humor is good. Feel free to make a little joke or pun, provided it’s clever and will be understood.
- Pause and emphasize the important words in your delivery. Don’t talk like a robot.
- Personalize your delivery. If your elevator speech is something like, “I help small business owners learn how to blog for their businesses,” you can personalize it when you’re talking to a restaurant owner you just met: “I help small business owners, such as restauranteurs, learn how to blog to promote their restaurants and get more people in the door to eat their food.”
- Wait for add’l questions. That’s a win. If people understand what you say and are intrigued by what you do, they’ll follow up with a question or two. Give them a few seconds of breathing space to think, process, and ask. Then, of course, answer!
Free help with your elevator speech (limited time)
When I’m not blogging here or chasing my kids around, I work as writer: blogging, marketing materials, copywriting, articles, so on.
You could say I know a thing or two about words.
If you write up an elevator speech, and want to get a “test subject” to give you some feedback, let me help.
Send me an email with your new elevator speech and I’ll give you a brief response/critique. Only catch: you have to get it to me within a week. So write it up and send it in by July 12 (2012).
Doing this will help so much: it will build your confidence in what you do, save you from those embarrassing moments of stuttering and awkward looks, make you look professional, which helps you feel professional, which helps you act more professional, which keeps on adding up to good things happening.
So write it! Then send it to me. I’m waiting.