Delivering a Powerful Elevator Speech

By Dr. John Sullivan, globally renowned strategist in human resources and talent management

Almost everyone needs a great elevator speech. Its purpose is to quickly impress someone that you meet for the first time. Whether you’re looking for a job, for help on a problem, or for funding, you must develop a convincing and compelling elevator speech that quickly sells you. An elevator speech is so named because it provides a short but powerful enough message to make a positive first impression during the time it takes for a brief elevator ride. Most elevator speeches are presented when you meet someone at a conference, at lunch, while in line or during an introductory phone call or electronic contact.

The speech is a powerful response to the “what do you do?” question. It communicates your focus and at the end, it lets the party you are addressing know what follow-up action you would like (i.e. a meeting, a phone call or a referral to someone else). It can also be used as the beginning of a LinkedIn profile, in social media messages or it can be presented on a YouTube video. As an added benefit, the process of creating an effective speech helps you better understand what you want and what you have to offer to others. Craft your elevator speech so that it contains as many of the following elements as possible. 

Pre-work elements

  • It is usually presented verbally but first it is written down and memorized.
  • You videotape it and pretest it numerous times, until it is perfect.
  • It is presented with enthusiasm and there is excitement in your voice. You use a louder voice than normal because you want to be overheard by others.
  • It is short, 1-2 minutes (you must time it).

Content of the speech

  • It mentions your name, title and firm.
  • It mentions your area of focus.
  • It gives a short easy to remember name to your focus area, problem or solution. If you’re looking for a job, it makes it clear in which functional area.
  • It estimates the dollar impact of that problem. Or in the case of a job hunter, your performance level or the dollar impact you will likely have after being hired.
  • It contains and highlights the key points that are required to immediately get someone’s attention (i.e. it highlights each one of the benefits to them or to others).
  • It mentions unique tools, skills or approaches you will use and it includes at least one currently hot functional or industry buzz word.
  • At the end, you hand them a business card, a prospectus or a resume and request some follow-up action.
  • It is so compelling that the person will offer to accept a call, to have a meeting, they will provide suggestions or they will refer you to someone that can better help you.

Errors to avoid

The most common error is failing to have any type of elevator speech. This will result in your stumbling when someone asks you about yourself. The speech needs to be memorized but not to the point where it appears to be “canned”. You need to remember that the speech is designed to impress, so you must realize that because others are “tooting their own horn”, you also need to brag (but not exaggerate) during it. The last major error is not having a plan to periodically visit areas where you can interact with decision-makers who can ask you the question that triggers your elevator speech… “What do you do?”


2 examples of effective elevator speeches


An example of an hourly workers elevator speech

I am Mary Jones, formerly customer service team lead at Marriott. I have five years of successful experience in providing exceptional customer service in the hospitality industry. I have utilized my planning, organizing and leadership skills to ensure that my team consistently exceeded customer service and revenue benchmarks by over 19%. In the last few years I have focused on becoming an expert in how technology and social media can lower costs, while positively improving the way that customer service is provided. I have worked in and benchmarked the very best hospitality leaders including Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, Marriott and MGM Mirage. In addition to the extensive business skills that I obtained in college, I am a rapid learner and I am passionate about developing breathtaking customer service and remarkable products and services.  I have a range of skills in other important areas including metrics, hiring, training and improving team effectiveness in order to provide the organization with a competitive advantage.

I have studied your organization extensively and I am familiar with your recent “rebooting” effort, so I am sure that I would be a perfect fit. With your permission, I would like to follow-up on this brief conversation. May I have your card and permission to follow-up with a call at your convenience? If you are not the appropriate person, can you kindly give me a referral name?


An example of professional level job candidate’s elevator speech

I’m John James, assistant director of marketing at Intel. My professional expertise is in planning, organizing and directing eight figure global revenue generating projects in various industries, including the telecom and high-tech sectors. As a director and a GM, I have utilized my leadership and influencing skills to assemble global teams that consistently produce significant profits by continually innovating and by proactively seeking out new global market opportunities. Strategically, I excel at forecasting business opportunities, anticipating competitor marketing strategies and I have successfully presented numerous compelling business cases to C level executives. I view myself as a global leader with extensive work experience in rapid growth economies including Asia, South America, Europe and the Middle East. In addition to the extensive business skills as a result of my Stanford MBA, I am a rapid learner and I am passionate about developing remarkable marketing campaigns.  I also have technical skills in advanced marketing, product strategy, building strategic partnerships and customer acquisition, which I have successfully used on targeted global 500 firms. I have utilized my “big picture” knowledge of analytics and economic and consumer data to initiate and develop new products and to monetize services and data sets, that previously failed to produce significant revenue.

I would like to talk to you more about how I can contribute to your organization. Here is my card; may I have yours and permission to follow-up with a call at your convenience?


© Dr. John Sullivan 10/19/12

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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