The Elevator Speech

Once the doors open, people walk out.

Whenever I think of an elevator speech, I think of the elevator at my library.  The library is two floors – main floor and lower level.  When I take the elevator, I ask patrons to press “5th floor”.  People usually respond by hesitating, laughing, or they look confused.  The best response was from a man in his 80s.  Without smiling, without skipping a beat, he said “do you have the access code?”  The point?  It’s typically a good conversation starter.

Whenever you introduce yourself to someone, you need to think about what you want to say ahead of time.  Like that real elevator, you have to be quick because once the doors open – people walk out.  You can search on Pinterest or Googleelevator speech” and get a lot of advice on how to craft one.   And depending on the situation – the when, the how, the why – you will need to adjust your approach.  Over the years, I have failed at this.  But I’d like to think it took me all those failures to get it right.

Here’s an example of what I used to say versus what I would say now:

Before: “Hello. {shake hands} My name is Tina Williams and I work at the Volcano Library. We have branches in the 3 local towns of Hilly, Lilly, and Rome. {hand them a large packet of papers}  Here is information about what my Library does.  We offer… {go on & on, flipping through each piece of paper}.  If there is anything we can do for you, please give me a call.  Here’s my card {awkwardly pull out my card}.”

Now: “Hello.  I work at the local library.  We have a program coming up that we would like you involved in.”  {State what I want from them while handing them one program flyer with my business card attached. The person starts asking questions and a conversation ensues.}  “I will give you a call within the next two weeks if I don’t hear from you.  Thank you.”

Before, I would say a lot.  I was aware I shouldn’t take a long amount of time; so I would speak quickly.  I would be winded by the time I was done.  And guaranteed,  when I walked away – that packet of papers went in the garbage.  I’m not sure they remembered me, the library, or why I was there.

Now, I think of what I want to say based on who I am speaking to and with an idea of what I want from them.

  • Because I stick with something simple the person starts asking me questions and my elevator speech has landed a conversation. The intent of the elevator speech is to grab someone’s attentionThey will want to know more.
  • I stopped saying my name upfront because people did not remember it when it was the first thing out of my mouth.  I have my business card attached to the information.  Once the conversation was underway, the person typically says something like “…and you are?”  or they would look at the paperwork and find my name.  This is better because the person has now visually connected my face and my name.
  • By saying ‘local library’ they get the message of who I am representing.  I stopped stating my library’s full name because they didn’t remember it either.  I know we would like to think it is important to state where I am from.  But the purpose of the elevator speech is to just get my foot in the door and to keep the conversation going. The information is in their hand.
  • Why wouldn’t you want to partner with your local library?  Because we do amazing work! My hope was that if I gave a lot of information, they would see the vast amount of services and programs we offer.  I stopped flooding people with a packet of information because they weren’t going to read it.   If you want people to learn how amazing you are, you need to show them that over time and you can’t prove it by forcing a book in their hand.  So on the first meeting with them, give them the most important information – a clear purpose for the visit.
  • Don’t use business jargon.  In libraries, we say to “never assume people know what you know.” The simpler the language, the better.  Your purpose is to get your message across quickly and simply.
  • I also stopped shaking hands. Simply put, not everyone wants to shake hands.  If someone extends a hand to me, I shake it.  It is no longer my normal approach.  You will have to decide to shake hands or not based on who you are approaching.
  • I’ve often read to have something in your speech that people will remember.  I think the most memorable part of my speech is making it quick, friendly, and worth their time.  When I follow up, I usually start by remarking they might not remember me.  This allows them to feel comfortable with not remembering me and they usually listen more intently this time.  They typically remember part of what I said; or, at least, they pretend to.  Either way, I have their attention.

Another tip:  Make sure you have discussed who from your business will be speaking for your organization.  Be on the same page as to who you are contacting and for what purpose The business might find it confusing to have different people trying to make a connection and it might make them wonder about your business.  If there are different purposes for contacting the same business, go with your teammate to that business.

Besides forming a contact, when else would you need an elevator speech?  You may need to develop one or two sentences to grab someone’s attention in your speech.  Whenever I am working at an expo or in a lobby setting, I am sitting at a table with people walking past me.

What makes the person stop to listen to me?March 2016 JJC Expo

  • Sometimes they stop because I’m a friendly face.
  • Sometimes they stop because something on my table catches their eye.  Hint: always have chocolate.
  • Typically, they stop because of what I have said to catch their attention. Depending on the situation, have a few sentences ready.

For example:

  • Would you like to spin our prize wheel?  It’s free.
    • I love when they stop walking, but hesitate.  We jump in with our next sentence; “It’s rigged, everyone wins.”  Then we give an elevator speech about what we are promoting.
  • Do you have a library card?
    • When someone tells me they do not need a library card, I have several sentences at the ready. Here’s our point: The library can offer you books, magazines, videos, music, computer classes, art programs, free classes, and more.
    • And when all else fails, I pick up the candy dish and offer them a piece of chocolate.  I have had people come just for the candy.  But after a few pieces, they have sweetened up to me and start talking about the library.
    • And if someone doesn’t like chocolate or can’t have candy, talk about the weather.  Be prepared, especially if you are in the Chicagoland area, for this topic.  You might strike a chord, but will have started a conversation.  That’s the point.

The purpose for all of this preparation is to get people to listen to you.  Whatever speech you are preparing, make it sound natural.  Read a lot about different approaches.  Then develop your own approach.  Practice several speeches for different situations that might occur.  After you have done this enough times, it will become second nature.  Whether you are selling something or not, we live in a society where people have their defenses up when they are out in the public.  Once a person has let their guard down against your approach and you have become a person they can talk to, you can talk about your purpose.

~I’m Here To Help


More resources to guide your speech making:

Bates, Mary Ellen.  March 19, 2016.  The Anti-Elevator Speech.  The Reluctant Entrepreneur. Retrieved from:

Collamer, Nancy. Feburary 2013.  The Perfect Elevator Pitch To Land a Job Forbes.  Retrieved from:

Hansen, Katharine.  2015.  Elevator Speech Do’s and Don’ts. Quint Careers.  Retrieved from:

Mind Tools Editorial Staff.  2016. Crafting an Elevator Pitch: Introducing Your Company Quickly and Compellingly. Mind Tools.  Retrieved from:

Mitchell, Deborah.  July 2015.  Do We Really Need to Shake Hands?  Entrepreneur.  Retrieved from:

Orrela, Kelli.  May 2015. Get An Elevator Pitch That Sounds Like You AND Gets You The Job. Skillcrush. Retrieved from:

Psychologies. 2010. How to Talk So Others Listen. Psychologies.  Retrieved from:

Wilkens, Carrie. 2014. How to Talk So People Will Listen. Huffington Post.  Retrieved from: