By Erin Cooper, Washington State University Vancouver Neuroscience student
You dodge behind a corner and peek around it, keeping your gaze on your target. He has got away from you twice today. You see your chance to make your move towards him and dart out, yet try to remain cool in appearance. Then all of a sudden you are stopped by someone who asks, “Do you know where the bathroom is?” What? Bathroom? You were so focused but the interference has shaken you and now you don’t see your target.
“It’s over there” you say, not really knowing where the bathroom is and side step, hurriedly walking to where you just saw him. Bam! Now he is in front of you and you lock eyes. He stares at you with a suggestion of introduction on his face. This is it, the moment that all of your stalking has led you to. You hear Eminem in your head rapping out lyrics to “Lose Yourself,” the bass line is your heartbeat. You stick out your hand and introduce yourself to the person that might change your life. This is your moment of opportunity and you better own it.
Graduate school interviews, networking, and socializing at conventions are moments of brief introduction, often referred as elevator speeches, which are only a couple of minutes long. When giving this speech, you must be prepared in order to sell yourself or your cause to someone that might influence it. You want to make sure every word that comes out of your mouth is precise and accurately conveys what you want to get across. You might also be literally standing in an elevator next to an unknown person who asks, “What do you do?” This person could be someone you never see again or someone that becomes a pivotal person in your life story. Having a ready-made reply in any case is a good idea.
What makes an elevator speech great is how well it is remembered, not by you, but the person you are communicating with; you want the person to become curious as to who you are so questions will form in their head from genuine interest. Of course embarrassing moments are memorable and not necessarily good for your cause. You want the person to become engaged in who you are and what you do.
Tips and questions to answer when formatting your speech:
- K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid. Think bullet points and highlights; minimum explaining (this might help them form questions).
- No jargon (unless the person is familiar with terminology)
- Know your audience (Same career? What are they passionate about?)
- What is it you are passionate about? Why?
- What is your end game, what do you want to communicate? Save the world? Cure a disease? Change a single life? How does this apply to the listener?
- Be entertaining with your story, not by telling jokes. Your sense of humor might be unique to you and your friends.
- Be relevant. Tangents don’t help and are distracting. While the Shark Rumba cat is adorable, what does it add to your selling point?
- Practice! Do you think Andre Agassi became number 1 in his sport without practice? NO!
There plenty of good video tutorials out there to watch and get ideas about how to shape your elevator speech, but I personally like this video. The creator goes into body language as well as format and key points to include. This is another video that will help you understand how to explain who you are and what you do in just a few minutes to a complete stranger.
Remember to practice! You may want to run your elevator speech by a friend, but what is better than the real stress of talking to a stranger? Next time you are in a grocery line, give your pitch under pressure. If you completely biff it, no worries!