Elevator Speech Out! Bumper Sticker In: Advice For Career Networking

Elevator Speech Out! Bumper Sticker In: Advice For Career Networking

For years, people have been asking me for help with their networking Elevator Speeches. And for years, I’ve been saying “When are you going to use that Elevator Speech?” In regular old human conversation, there just aren’t that many opportunities for us to launch into a thirty-second diatribe about what we do professionally – not if we want to be polite, anyway.

Regular conversation doesn’t happen in thirty-second chunks. A typical networking conversation tends to flow more like this:

YOU: Hi, I’m Jane - and you?

HIM: I’m Carl. Nice to meet you, Jane. What brought you here tonight?

YOU: Oh, my friend Maggie is one of the organizers. I’ve never been to a meetup before. How about you?

CARL: I come to this group occasionally, and always have fun when I do. So, are you a marketing person?

YOU: I’m an event planner, so I’m in the same vein. I didn’t see any event planning meetups so I tagged along with Jane at this marketing one.

CARL: So, what sorts of events do you work on? Do you work for yourself?

Nobody in this little drama gets more than ten or fifteen seconds of airtime before the microphone (virtually) shifts back to the other person. This is how the standard back-and-forth between two new acquaintances tends to unfold. So, where’s the moment for the interminable Elevator Speech? There isn’t one. Imagine if Carl and Jane had met one another this way:

YOU: Hi, I’m Jane – and you?

HIM: I’m Carl. It’s nice to meet you, Jane. What brought you here tonight?

YOU: Oh, my friend Maggie is one of the organizers. I’ve never been to a meetup before. How about you?

CARL: I come to this group occasionally, and always have fun when I do. So, are you a marketing person?

YOU: I’m an Events Planner. I work for High Point Events, a national event-planning firm, and I’m the local person here in Springfield. I plan and execute events from bar mitzvahs to corporate sales offsites, everything from choosing the venue to arranging the content, audio visuals and budget to create an unforgettable emotional experience for the participants. I work with most of the big hotels in town and many of our largest employers, from XYZ Labs to Charisma Confections and many others. I’ve been in the business for eight years, and I love what I do.

CARL: Wow….that’s outstanding. Gosh, you know what, I just spotted my old boss coming in – I’ve got to go say hello. Nice to meet you Angela — er, Paula? Sorry — have a great evening!

What went wrong? Jane’s carefully rehearsed Elevator Speech let fly into Carl’s face like a blast of bug spray. Most of us would rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than subjected to a new acquaintance’s audio business spiel. That’s why Elevator Speeches are so annoying for the recipients — they’re one-way aural assaults. Real conversations don’t include blocks of commercials that sound the way Jane’s Elevator Speech does. We can do better.

We can stay in a natural networking conversation and convey a bit of our business or career information by way of a less intrusive self-intro, called a Bumper Sticker. A bumper sticker is short — like the bumper stickers we put on our cars. It’s brief and pithy. It says just a little (not a three-fold brochure’s worth) about what we do on the job. It leaves the listener, if he or she is interested in our what-I-do-all-day story, in a position to ask us for more details. If the listener isn’t interested, that’s okay too! The Bumper Sticker doesn’t force information into the hapless newcomer’s ear canals. It says “If you want to know more about my job, just ask me.”

Here are some Bumper Sticker examples to illustrate the concept. Each one is an answer to the question “So, what do you do?”

  • I’m an events planner - I specialize in big out-of-town events, like sales meetings.
  • I help manufacturers get their process costs way down by simplifying how they build things.
  • I run marketing, site content and PR for a very cool jobs-research site called Glassdoor.com.
  • I’m the CFO for an organic chocolate maker here in Springfield.

A Bumper Sticker intro has five advantages over an Elevator Speech, namely:

  • It lets the listener, rather than the speaker, decide how much information is enough and how much is too much.
  • It keeps the focus on the two people in the conversation (or three, or more) rather than on anyone’s job description (which may well be the least interesting thing about you, in any case).
  • It doesn’t hijack the conversation and turn it into a sales pitch, or run the risk of appearing to do so.
  • It gives the new acquaintance just enough information to remember “Oh yes, Jane, the event planner.” It doesn’t overwhelm the listener with detail or sales-y overkill.
  • It is polite!

Try a Bumper Sticker in place of an Elevator Speech at your next networking outing. If you’re on the fence, try holding your breath for thirty seconds and see how it feels. Thirty seconds, as it turns out, is an eternity. Remember that the point of networking is to create relationships, not to thwart them before they’ve begun, and you may swear off Elevator Speeches for good.

Categories: Career Advice

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