Why You Need an Elevator Speech.

When I was getting my MBA at George Washington University I was also using that time to network with people as much as possible. I learned early on that the lessons and skills you pick up in an MBA are important. However, they are nowhere near as important as the network you can develop. I made it my mission to get to know people and what they did as much as possible. At the same time, because I was transitioning out of the military, I had limited knowledge on what life was like in the civilian world. So I used my “networking time” as a time to gain insight on different fields in the business world, such as accounting, finance, marketing, consulting, and the like. The one tool I always fell back on to open up these kinds of conversations was my elevator speech.

I will never forget the day I was literally in the elevator on the fifth floor of the business school of GW when a professor stepped in with a student, and a guest speaker for his class. As the three men stepped into the elevator the professor turned to his pupil and said, “Ok now’s your chance. Give the man your elevator speech.”

At which point there was an awkward silence and the student stared at his professor blankly and said nothing. His professor was pissed, and the guest speaker was embarrassed for the young man. I was so equally embarrassed that in order to stifle the awkward silence I stepped in and gave my elevator speech to the gentleman.

My Elevator Speech

“Good afternoon, My name is John McCarthy, I just finished a 6 and ½ year career in the Marine Corps as an Infantry Officer and a compliance manager. I was fortunate that during that time I was able to develop unmatched leadership skills and knowledge of strategy development. I am confident that the skills I learned in the military paired with the business acumen I am gaining through my MBA and internships make me an integral member of any organization I will find myself a part of in the future.”

Of note: I usually made sure the last sentence said “make me an integral member of (insert job I was interviewing for, or name of the organization the person I was pitching belonged to if I knew it ahead of time).”

 The guy had a look of surprise, relief, and awe wash over his face in a matter of seconds. The professor looked up and said, “now that’s an elevator speech.” The doors opened, we walked out of the elevator and the gentlemen handed me his business card and said he would really like it if I got in touch with him. They walked off and I sent the man an email a week later. He turned out to be an executive at Deloitte. I later determined I had no interested in the type of “back of the house” accounting he was in charge of. While I admired and respected the man’s career I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps.

Here is the thing though. By giving him that speech I placed the ball in my court. I gave myself the opportunity to decide if this was a path I wanted to pursue. Of course he could have always decided I wasn’t a good fit. Fortunately for him and me, I learned early on that balancing spreadsheets was not in my forte. Nothing ventured nothing gained. What we aren’t considering though is that poor young man who had nothing prepped when the opportunity presented itself. If the military taught me anything it is to prepare for all eventual outcomes.

How I Crafted My Pitch

Once I developed an elevator speech I honed it and tweaked it until I got things perfect. I was constantly watching for people’s reactions to what I said. In preparing to do so I would practice in the mirror. I repeated it to myself on the subway and I can to this day recite it off of the top of my head. If you’re pitching people you need to have candid responses to their questions. It’s a tactic that politicians and salespeople use with much success.

After my speech was near perfect, I could see the success I was having. As Americans we naturally begin conversation anywhere by asking people what they do for a living. I would drop my elevator speech at weddings, family gatherings, you name it. I wanted a job, so I didn’t care if people thought it odd. No one ever did. In the end I made sure it didn’t sound salesy. Instead I delivered it as though I was stating something I was proud of. After all my experience is something I am proud to share with people. Moreover, I genuinely believe I am an asset to any organization I find myself a part of.

Feel free to rip off my elevator speech and make it your own. Tweak it to what ever you want, but most importantly, memorize it and practice your delivery. These are the things that make the difference between successfully building a network and getting a piece of paper when you go back to school. I wanted both.

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