Elevator speeches aren’t just for elevators anymore. I mean, when’s the last time you’ve actually used one in an elevator? And not afterwards gotten a look that said, “Please, can’t you see that I’m pretending to be really interested in what’s on that teeny tiny news screen up there?”
It’s rare to hear a good elevator speech these days, even if it’s just the two of you in that little box with no TV screen available for refuge. (Thank goodness for iPhones.) Here are some of the typical speeches I hear: “I do commercial litigation at Biglaw firm.” “I work at a mid-sized hedge fund in New York.” “I’m interning at Attorney General’s office this summer at the division of civil rights.”
These are just the short versions. The longer versions aren’t much better. They’re just longer (guess whose this one is…): “I work at a travel and hospitality company doing general transactional work, such as commercial contracts, M&A, business development, and advertising and social media.” Yawn….
All of these descriptions, while accurate, are just horribly boring. Unless we’re talking to a recruiter, pitching our firm, or interviewing for a job, it’s best to avoid these generic descriptions that sound more like we’re rattling off our résumé, rather than attempting to engage in something resembling a normal conversation.
Generally, you will need an elevator speech in some kind of networking scenario — events where you expect to eat, drink, and try to convince others that you’re more awesome than they think you are. The problem with all of examples above is that, unless the people you’re chatting with happen to have a particular interest in or knowledge of your line of work, they’re kind of left hanging and trying to figure out what to say next in order to appear genuinely interested (and not as if they’re wondering whether to down a glassful of wine just to have an excuse to go looking for a refill).
It’s really not very difficult to revamp your elevator speech a bit to make it easier for the other person to jump in with an easy follow-up comment or question. You just need to figure out what aspects of your job could be interesting or relatable to a broader group of people.
For example, let’s take: “I work in international asset management at XYZ company.” (I like to make fun of this one because it’s a description of my husband’s job.) Suppose I had met my husband at a cocktail party and this was one of the first things he had said to me. Besides thinking that this cute guy could really figure out a better pickup line, my eyes would have started to glaze over (and possibly rolled backwards into my brain), and I would have started feeling slightly anxious, desperately searching for a response that wouldn’t lead me down the road to discussing something I had little interest in, such as, “Oh, um… what kind of asset management?”
What’s a better alternative? Here’s one that could keep a broader group of people interested: “I do international asset management work. Some of the countries we have investments in are Argentina, Hong Kong, France, Dubai, Australia, and India.” To this, I could have responded with, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted to visit Argentina! So you’ve you traveled there? What’s it like?” We may ultimately end up discussing what it’s like to work in asset management, but even in a work-related networking situation, your first conversation with someone doesn’t have to be all about your actual work. Your goal should be to establish a memorable connection and try to have a good time with it.
Mentioning that I write for ATL is a great conversation-starter when I meet more junior attorneys. (Whether the senior attorneys I meet have heard of ATL is bit of a hit or miss). But even then, I often don’t use the intro to its full potential and instead often let it careen to a dead end:
Me: “…I also write a column for Above The Law.”
Cocktail Party Peep: “Cool, what’s your column about?”
Me: “I mainly write about what it’s like to be an in-house lawyer and provide in-house perspectives on working at a company.”
Cocktail Party Peep: (gulps down her wine) “Oh, nice… I’ll check it out. Gee, lookit that — I’m gonna go refresh my drink…”
Instead, consider how the conversation could go with Cocktail Party Peep if my response were something more like: “I explain what it’s like to work as a lawyer at a company, as opposed to at a law firm. For example, I’ve written about how soft skills are so important in the workplace, but are something that law schools and law firms don’t focus on. I’ve also written about why just being a great lawyer won’t get you a promotion.”
Getting the idea? I hope so. Try it the next time you see someone’s eyes starting to glaze over. Unless you find out that the reason that’s happening is that they actually have hypoglycemia. Then you may want to revert to the short version of the elevator speech for the moment. The long version won’t be effective no matter how captivating you make it.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.