Fine-tuning your elevator speech

Woman talks to man in office
When presented with the question, “So what do you do?” how do you reply? Do you have your "elevator speech" at the ready?

When presented with the question, “So what do you do?” how do you reply? Do you have a ready answer, commonly known as an elevator speech?

What is an elevator speech?

An elevator speech is a brief, clear message that explains your background and experience – it’s called an elevator speech because it should be short enough to be delivered during a quick elevator ride. An effective elevator speech can help you build your professional network, get hired, or connect with new colleagues on your first day of work. It should showcase your abilities and express your personal mission statement when it comes to career and beyond.

For a legal professional, the typical elevator speech might include something like this: ““I help ____________ [insert your target audience such as “legal consumers” or “business owners”] _______ [insert verb such as “solve,” “protect,” or “plan”] ____________ [insert your favorite project or type of case such as “business,” or “family”].”

How to build an effective elevator speech

Done right, an elevator speech will allow you to share your expertise and credentials quickly with people who don’t know you. Here’s how to sum up what you do and what you care about in less than 30 seconds:

  • Keep it short. An elevator speech should take no longer than 25 or 30 seconds to deliver and consist of approximately 80 to 90 words (eight to 10 sentences).
  • Focus on the essentials. Tell them who you are, what you do, and what you want to achieve.
  • Don’t just give them your job title. Instead of simply saying “I’m a lawyer,” say something like, “I help people solve their legal problems.” Try to present the legal industry as a helping profession.
  • Cut out jargon and unnecessary details. Make your sentences strong, powerful, and free of unnecessary words, yet compelling enough to spark your listener’s interest.
  • Express interest. Don’t focus on yourself – explain why you are interested in your listener.
  • Share your skills. Your elevator speech should briefly explain the qualifications and skills you bring to the table, without sounding like a sales pitch.
  • Mention your goals. Say what you’re looking for without getting too specific – “a role in a law firm,” or “an opportunity to help people resolve their legal issues.”
  • Explain what you offer. Tell them about the benefits you offer, what advantages you offer, and what sets you apart.
  • Practice, practice, practice. You should memorize and practice your elevator speech out loud in front of a mirror or with a friend. The more you practice, the more natural (and less robotic) it will sound and the easier it will be for you to breeze through it whenever an opportunity presents itself.
  • Say it with a smile. Always smile at whoever you’re about to give your elevator speech to, and open with a statement or question that will grab their attention.

Although you might feel like you need to pack a lot into those 30 seconds, try not to speak too fast, avoid rambling on, or speaking in a monotone way. Always give the person you’re talking to an opportunity to respond to what you’re saying, and don’t restrict yourself to just one elevator speech – you might want to have one elevator pitch for professional gatherings and another more casual, personal one for social settings.

When and how to use an elevator speech

An elevator speech can be used in a variety of situations, such as:

  • At job fairs and career expos when you’re looking for a job.
  • To serve as part or all of your LinkedIn or Twitter bios.
  • When you are introduced to someone by a friend.
  • To introduce yourself at networking events or mixers.
  • During job interviews when you’re asked the proverbial question: “Tell us about yourself.”
  • To introduce yourself to a large group of people – as a way to kick off a presentation.
  • When you’re helping to market your employer’s business.

Before you give your elevator speech, ask yourself if you’ve answered the key question that your listener likely has about you: “How could this introduction benefit me?”

Do you know of other ways to ramp up your elevator speech? Could you spin off your own spiel in one minute or less? Now’s the time to start practicing!

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