You’re standing in an elevator and for some reason, instead of staring straight ahead, the person next to you asks you what you do for a living. In a brief moment of panic, you can hear the voices of every manager and trainer who told you that you need an “elevator pitch”.
You remember that you’re supposed to say something truly compelling at this point, just enough to get that stranger in the elevator to ask you for more information. Here it comes, the culmination of all of those years of training…..
“I’m a financial advisor.”
Is the Elevator Pitch Dead?
Despite the questionable notion that we regularly need to communicate our value between the 5th and 10th floors on an elevator ride, a relatively high percentage of advisors say they have formalized an elevator pitch.
These numbers are drawn from a recent whitepaper from the Financial Planning Association’s Research and Practice Institute. More interesting, however, is that when advisors were asked to describe how they communicate what they do, there was a subtle but perceptible push back. Several advisors made it clear that a “canned” pitch didn’t reflect the work that they did, which left me with a question.
Even if you don’t like a canned elevator pitch, how do you respond if someone asks you what you do?
If we assume that stony silence isn’t the best response, then how do we answer the question in a way that doesn’t feel canned?
The Problem with the Elevator Pitch
The traditional elevator pitch was developed as just that – a pitch. We’ve all been taught the same thing. When asked what we do for a living, the goal is to respond with just enough information to ensure the next question is ‘how do you do that’ or ‘tell me more’.
But let’s remember that the pitch was structured in this way because we assumed that every breathing individual was a prospect. The goal of the pitch was to lure anyone and everyone into conversation in a way that would have them following you back to your office to sign up. (Think Alec Baldwin in the ‘Always Be Closing’ Speech in Glengarry Glen Ross).
We’ve come a long way from there.
- We know that everyone we meet in the proverbial elevator isn’t a prospect. We’re not selling the guy in the elevator, we’re actually just having a real conversation with a real person. What a concept.
- We don’t have to make ourselves sound more interesting. Neurosurgeons don’t tell people they help people reach their individual potential by making full use of their brains.
- Authenticity matters. The most compelling thing we can say is typically something that reflects what we actually feel is true.
However, the elevator pitch does highlight something very necessary and very important. We all need to be able to describe what we do in a way that is clear, meaningful and concise. We can’t pull out a power point presentation at a cocktail party, so whether we call it an elevator pitch or something else, it’s an important concept.
Elevator Pitch 2.0
The new generation of the elevator pitch (which clearly needs a different name) demands that we balance clarity with understanding. It has two parts.
- Your role. This offers clarity. You are a financial advisor or planner, for example, not a psychologist.
- What you do. This creates understanding, by sharing a little more detail on your focus.
Here are a few examples:
- I’m a financial advisor. I work primarily with business owners to grow and transfer their wealth.
- I’m a financial planner. I specialize in helping women when they are going through a transition like a divorce or death of a spouse.
- I’m a financial advisor. We take clients through process to think about the legacy they want to leave and then build a plan from there.
Avoid the Pitfalls
I’d suggest that in an effort to create some mystique about what we do, we may have lost our authenticity.
There are a few pitfalls to avoid when thinking about your elevator pitch.
- Don’t be too cute for your own good. It’s confusing and may negatively impact your credibility.
- Clarity is important. Tell them what you do and provide some detail on your focus. It’s not a question of either/or.
- Use words that you would actually say out loud. Really, say it out loud and if it doesn’t roll off your tongue, go back to the drawing board.
Why Is This Important?
While the history of the elevator pitch has obscured its benefit, it’s still important. It’s important so that you don’t hesitate when asked what you do, but there is a more important reason.
If you can craft a clear and concise elevator pitch it reflects clarity in your messaging, overall. It suggests that you have done the hard work of defining what you do and for whom and narrowed that down to a single, essential statement. If you can do that, you’ll be able to communicate your value clearly and effectively. And that is a worthwhile exercise.
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