Elevator Speech

How to Turn Listeners into Supporters

An elevator speech is a short and simple pitch for an idea.  The goal with an elevator speech is to grab a listener’s attention and convert that attention into action—all in a very short period of time.  In this post, we’ll talk about how preparing your elevator speech can be a useful exercise for your organization, too: the faster and more succinct you and your teammates are at explaining, say, your organization’s mission, or the goals of a particular campaign, the more consistent your group’s understanding of itself will be.  Therefore, an elevator speech can serve two purposes.  It’s good to have ready when you need it, so you can draw others in whenever the moment is right.  But an elevator speech is also useful for defining who you are as an organization and sharing that with others quickly.

Hint: It’s Not Just for Elevators.

Let’s be honest.  The chances of using an elevator speech in an actual elevator aren’t very high.  So where would an elevator speech come in handy on your campus?  If you’re trying to spread the word about your organization or a new project, then you can use an elevator speech at involvement fairs and promotional tables to attract new members.  If you’re trying to secure support for a campaign, then you could use an elevator speech with your friends, roommates, classmates, and others whose support is important.  And then there are always those unplanned run-ins with influential people, like when you bump into your university’s president at the gym (it happens!).

Crafting the Elevator Speech

Making an elevator speech is an activity you should collaborate on with your team members.  As we’ve said before, the more feedback you can get from one another, the better.  It’s also important that you are all saying something similar, since nothing is worse for a campaign or club than conflicting messages.  Use some brainstorming activities to get the conversation started.  Settle on a specific set of priorities for the speech.  As you go along, test your speech out on each other.  Make sure that, by the end, every member of your group can pull the speech off.

Let’s also be honest about something else.  There doesn’t exist any single formula for an elevator speech.  A generic elevator speech will quickly fail as you struggle to adapt it to all kinds of situations.

Instead, there are three things to consider that are universal to any elevator speech you put together: your audience, your project, and your outline.

1. Your audience

Who is your audience and what do they care about?  As an example, how will you grab the attention of these two different people?

  • A stranger rushing through the student center to lunch
  • Somebody you’ve identified as a potential power-broker

Different audiences will respond to different openings.  Put yourself in the audience’s shoes, and consider what they care to hear about.  It may be difficult, but you need to decide how to directly target each person you share your elevator speech with.

2. Your project

Start with what is unique about your organization or project.  What specific issues does it address?  What sets it apart from similar endeavors on your campus?  Use language that makes your distinctions clear.

  • “We are the first…”
  • “We are the only…”
  • “We are the highest-rated…”
  •  “We are the longest-lasting…”

Are there any particular accomplishments you can point to?  What challenges have you overcome?  What are your achievements?  Again, specifics matter.  Go back to your SMART goals and incorporate specific details.  For instance, what measurable actions have you completed?

Finally, why are you interested in this audience member?  What are some specific ways they can help your organization or project?

3. Your outline

Remember, this isn’t a script.  Your outline consists of several bullet points that will help guide your speech.

  • An introduction of your organization or project
  • The issue your organization or project addresses
  • Your past accomplishments and your next steps
  • How this affects or relates to your listener
  • What you expect your listener to do with this information

Perfecting the Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a form of public speaking, and so all the usual rules apply.  Pay close attention to:

  • Your time—try to keep it under 30 seconds!
  • Your enunciation, or that you’re speaking clearly and not mumbling or talking too fast
  • Your tone
  • Your body language

Also pay attention to the reactions, chiefly the body language, of your listener.  If they look bored or in a rush, adjust your elevator speech accordingly.


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