Flying back from Copenhagen recently I picked up a copy of British Airways' Business Life Magazine. Flicking through, I was naturally interested to come across an article by Terri Sjodin entitled 'Going Up?'
In the article Sjodin offers ten tips to put together a three minute 'elevator speech'. She urges readers to craft and prepare their three minute pitch for any situation where it might be needed, whether a planned or 'spontaneous' situation. In the advice Sjodin suggests writing out a long version of the talk and then transferring key points and phrases to index cards.
Then, says Sjodin, you need to "practice, practice, practice again and again until it feels like a natural part of your everyday communication."
I defy anyone, the author of the offending article included, to stand and be subjected to a carefully practiced three minute elevator pitch in spontaneous conversation without wanting to throttle the messenger. Conversation is a two way process and such preparation negates the compulsion to listen and engage. Three minutes of one person speaking is not conversation, it is a speech.
We really need to move on from the concept of elevator pitches in the 21st Century. Yes, they do have their time and place (some would argue that the former is usually the 1970s and 1980s). If you are in front of an interview board, a panel of investors or pitching to clients then such preparation is key to success.
But elevator pitches are still presented as part of the networking process. And they're not. Sure, some of the key tips that Sjodin offers in her article are helpful and relevant. You should know your goals, be prepared for chance or planned encounters with people you need to meet and be able to get across your key messaage when the opportunity arises. Such advice becomes devalued, however, when packaged into rehearsed elevator pitches.
When you meet people informally, whatever the environment, be ready to engage them in conversation naturally. Ask questions, listen, find out about them and seek to develop a rapport and relationship. When the time is right, ask for help and share what you do or what you're seeking. But do so by reading the conversation and saying the appropriate things in the appropriate context.
Elevator going down....