Networking is an essential career skill that can lead to new contacts, better relationships and more opportunities. Despite this, most people don't prepare for the unexpected situations where you happen to bump into people inside and outside the workplace.
In this article, we explore why elevator pitches are so important and look at some tips on how to create and give them.
How most people interact when they meet new people
Most people haven't created elevator pitches (short descriptions of yourself, your work or your company). When they bump into someone new, this usually leads to one of the following results:
- Neither person says anything.
- One person starts a conversation and perhaps asks a question. The other person answers the question and the conversation ends.
- Two people start a friendly conversation. They talk about nothing in particular - the weather, something that happened in the news, the music playing in the background, and the weather again. Then the conversation ends.
How people with elevator pitches interact when they meet new people
Now, notice the difference when people with prepared elevator pitches bump into someone new:
One person starts a conversation and asks a question about the other's work. The second person answers with a prepared elevator pitch and ends by asking a question. The first person replies with their prepared elevator pitch.
This usually has one of the following results:
- The two people don't have much in common and the conversation ends.
- The two people have some common interests and the conversation ends before they have a chance to exchange contact details.
- The two people have some common interests. They continue their conversation, agree to speak more about this at a later date and exchange contact details.
Notice that in all three elevator pitch interactions, both people have at least learned the other person's name and area of expertise. They have also created the starting point of a relationship that could possibly develop in future.
However, in all three non-elevator pitch interactions, the most we come away with is a memory of someone's face (and perhaps what the weather was like on that day).
There are, of course, more benefits to having an elevator pitch than gaining a new contact.
You're looking for a job. You're at a job fair and you see a company you know well. It's somewhere you'd love to work and would really like to get an interview. As you're walking towards their representative, you start thinking about what you're going to say.
You have a great idea for a project. You know this will be great for the company, but so far you haven't managed to get anyone to really listen to you. One day, you're finishing work and move towards the exit. As the door is closing behind you, you see someone running towards you. You catch the door before it closes and open it for them. The person happens to be the company CEO, who thanks you and asks for your name.
You're a salesperson. You've been trying to get the attention of a major client for a long time now without success. One day, you're getting your haircut when you overhear the customer next to you talking. You discover that this person is a manager at a top company in your industry.
You manage your own start-up company. You're working out at the gym and someone who is new there asks you for directions to the changing rooms. Afterwards, you stop by the cafe outside to have something to eat and see the person again. He recognises you and starts a conversation where he mentions that he's an investor in your industry.
In all four case studies, you have one opportunity to make a good impression. If you can describe yourself, your project, your product/service or your company clearly, you may get a new opportunity. If your description is unclear, you probably won't get this opportunity.
Tips for creating and giving your elevator pitch
- Create more than one. As we've seen, elevator pitches can be suitable in many different situations. And what you say should depend on who you're talking to. You should try to create elevator pitches to describe yourself, your company, any projects you're working on and any products or services you are involved with.
- Be general, not specific. In such a short time, we shouldn't look to get too specific in what we say. If the person shows an interest, you can always go into more detail.
- Use simple language. If people can't understand what you're saying, they'll 'switch off' immediately. So, unless you know for sure, you should assume they don't know language specific to your industry.
- Include place and company names. When speaking with people, we are always looking for ways to connect information together and keep our memories organised. If the person you're speaking to recognises a name that you mention, it will help them remember who you are. It also gives opportunities to continue the conversation: "Oh, you come from Manchester? Me too!"
- Break the ice. Try to get used to starting conversations yourself, as this will lead to you meeting more people:
- "Nice watch! Is it a Rolex?"
- "That's a lot of equipment you're carrying!"
- "I don't think we've met before, have we."
And you can follow this up with a simple:
- "My name's [your name], by the way."
- Be a good listener. Good conversations are always two-way. So, take an interest in what the other person is saying and ask questions to make anything you don't understand clearer:
- "Right, I see. Sounds interesting!"
- "So, are you working for IBM or are they your client?"
It's never too late to start networking. And creating a perfect elevator pitch is a great place to start.
This article is part of the free Networking Basics ecourse at The Language Professional. Learn more about this free ecourse.