Care and Feeding of Your Stress Monkey
by Ruth Halpern

Crafting Your Elevator Speech by Ruth Halpern




Crafting Your 30-Second Elevator Speech— The Shortest Story You Have to Tell
By Ruth Halpern, President, Halpern & Associates

You’re at a crowded networking evening event, wine glass in hand; you’re huddled on the sidelines of a soccer game in the drizzle, chatting with a fellow team supporter; you’re on a long vertical ride in the proverbial elevator, when the question emerges: “What do you do?”

So, what do you do? How do you answer the question? Do you provide a standard job title: I’m a tax attorney; I’m the Manager of Operations; I run the Western regional offices? Or do you have an answer ready at hand that is vivid, memorable, yet mysterious?
These three elements—an answer that is vivid, memorable, and yet mysterious—are the key to crafting an effective “elevator speech,” as it’s sometimes known, or what I call a “business narrative”—a story.

What is a Business Narrative?
A “business narrative” is an anecdote or image that includes people, action, and outcomes, and that happens in the physical world over some period of time. The opposite of a narrative, by this definition, is any statement that is abstract, fact-based, and does not include real-world actions.

Adapting E. M. Forster’s famous example of this distinction to a business context, you could say that “The queen died and then the king died,” is an annual report—factual, cut-and-dried—while “The queen died and then the king died of grief,” is a narrative. In the second example, we find cause and effect, emotional content, and people acting in response to their experiences—all elements of a good story.

In business communication, an abstract statement would be, “Employees will act in accordance with the mission statement.” Turning that into a business narrative, you might have, “We all live our commitment to team work every day, whether we’re working with clients or maintaining the lunch room.” A business narrative uses conversational language, concrete examples, and plenty of action.

Create a Vivid Picture of the Results You Provide
As you’re crafting your business narrative, use strong action words and concrete images to paint a picture of the results of your work in your listener’s mind. If you’re a tax attorney, you could make reference to stacks and stacks of requirements and regulations, or the legendary “red tape.” The danger of those images is that they may inflict brain fatigue on your listener, rather than convey your excitement about the heart of what you do.

An alternative is to pick a fresh image that evokes the pain and confusion the IRS can inflict. Thus, rather than saying you’re a tax attorney, you could say that you lead your clients to the best path through the brambles of IRS regulations. This way, you’re characterizing yourself as a leader, and planting an image of someone struggling in a bramble patch until you arrive to show them the way out.

Similarly, rather than describing herself as a “financial analyst,” a professional could say that she “transforms dry deserts of spreadsheets into strategic maps that help people get to their dream destinations.”

Make Your Story Memorable
One of the conveniences of a job title is that it’s brief and concise—that’s why it’s so easy to fall back on. As you craft your elevator speech, try to be brief, and create a story or image that can easily be repeated. Ideally, the person you’re talking to should be able to explain to someone else what you do—because the first person you meet may not need your services themselves, but they may know someone else who does.

Don’t rely on the job title to speak for itself—spend time identifying the most powerful and interesting results of your work, and make sure your answer highlights them. Rather than saying you’re the “regional office administrator,” say, “I’m the one who makes sure the lights are on, the phones are working, and the pens are in the supply room when you need them.” It may also help to “think in three’s,” (as this article does), since we are trained as story-listeners to recognize and remember patterns of three (three wishes, three chances, and so on).

Make Your Story Mysterious
One of the best ways to make a connection with someone is to pique their curiosity. Tell them just enough about your work that they want to know more, and let their questions guide what additional information you share, and how your story unfolds.

Thus, when Katherine Schrup introduces herself, she says, “You know how people are so stressed today? Well, I help people to relax, sleep better and have more energy.” Naturally, people turn to her eagerly to say, “I need that! How do you do it?” Only then does she explain that she’s a Reiki Master, a title that may not have a very clear meaning (or might even have a negative connotation) for some people.

Similarly, the story of “helping people find a path through the brambles of the IRS” could describe an accountant, an attorney, or even an IRS agent! By focusing on the results you provide, you allow your audience to ask the questions about what tools you use—how you make the story happen—and thus, what makes you unique.

There are Many Ways to Tell a Story
Remember that your story, like a diamond, has many facets. How do you determine which one to present first? Get to know your audience. When you’re getting to know someone, be sure to ask questions. The more you know about the person you’re talking to, the more you can tailor your story to pique their interest.

So, going back to the networking evening, or the soccer game, or even the crowded elevator, one of the best story telling strategies is to start out as a story listener: Be the first one to ask, “What do you do?” and you may get a chance to share some of the most important stories of your life.

Ruth Halpern is a business narrative consultant who works with individuals and organizations to help them tell their best stories. Her workshops include “Galvanize Your Colleagues with the Power of Storytelling,” “The Care and Feeding of Your Stress Monkey,” and “Become a More Effective Public Speaker in 15 Minutes.”


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