You are given a chance to introduce yourself and your professional availability by standing up in front of a certain group of people who may be able to help you or whom you could help. But the vast majority of people are not effective at doing this, and the unfortunate outcome is that the listeners tune out and you are not heard. That’s a harsh punishment for not preparing ahead of time. It’s a tremendous loss, too, because when you’re with a group, you have a fantastic opportunity—within seconds—to impress people who would be glad to help you, who could provide you with information, and who might possibly offer leads or—dare you hope it?—even introductions. But if you’re not heard, you’re ignored.
Outplacement organizations tell clients that in order to be prepared for different kinds of circumstances, they must have both a 30-second elevator pitch and a 2-minute elevator pitch. I can go along with that, provided that the key elements of an effective elevator pitch are there and that those lengths can be modified based on the specific situation. I usually advocate for a very short one—but one that contains certain vital attributes.
First, make sure your elevator pitch is brief. Audiences have a propensity to tune out shortly after they’ve already heard several people before your turn—and especially if the earlier pitches were lengthy and unremarkable. If you don’t believe me, just think about how attentive you yourself are to those aired and re-aired and repeated and repeated pharmaceutical company drug ads on television. If you’re like me, you just don’t hear them anymore, or, even better, you turn off the TV altogether.
Start with your name—pronounced very slowly, clearly, and just a bit more loudly than your normal tone of voice. This is the first thing people hear, and you want them to remember it.
Next, describe what you do—not who you are or what you were before you were let go from your last position. You want to project yourself into your future and not into your past. Tell people how you can be of help to them or to a future employer. No need at this point to tell everything about how great you were in the past and how much money you saved employers in the past. Why should an audience believe you—or even care? Rather, talk about an experience and not numbers. Talk about your specialty in a way that will not mix you up with generalists, of whom, as you know, there are way too many. Then mention something unique about you. You want people to remember you through association by your being special. Make that uniqueness your brand.
In addition to the content of your elevator pitch, you are actually performing. When you stand up, people will look at you and probably remember what they see and less what you say. Stand erect. Look at people, but don’t move your head left and right like a panning security camera. Look at one person, and at the end of a sentence, look at someone else. Project your voice loudly enough so that those in the last row will hear you.
Your smile projects sincerity, confidence, and charisma. Think of President Obama or President Clinton when they smile. Plus, moving your hands to emphasize what you’re saying generates a positive image.
A few more comments: When delivering your elevator pitch at a job search networking group, be even briefer than in other situations. The attention span of a networking-group audience is the shortest—especially among those who delivered their own pitches before yours. And if you think you can deliver a unique, memorable, and effective elevator pitch impromptu, you are vastly overestimating yourself because only practice makes perfect. And now you are on your way.