Elevator speeches: we help our customers to ZZzzzzzz…

Elevator speeches: we help our customers to ZZZzzzz...Psssttt … did you know that potential customers are bored fartless by the stock answer to “what to do you do,” e.g. “we help people like you to quadruple your turnover in a week / make employees slave 12 hours a day for you until their hands bleed / have rampant sex that makes a jack rabbit look boring / etc.?

Recently I have been attending several face-to-face business networking meetings and as you know, most are prefaced by the ringleader getting everyone to introduce themselves.

Without fail in the last few weeks, each time I hear those words “we help our customers/clients to…” all eyes drop down to the smartphones for a surreptitious email check…

It seems only a few years ago that business networkers got away from using the elevator speech as an audio version of their mail order catalogue and learned how to be more customer benefits focused. But all good things must come to an end, or at least stop being good things because there have been too many of them.

“Never mind that, what do you do?”

That’s a question I hear people ask time and time again. I sometimes wonder if it’s all to do with the recent financial crises in the developed world.

When people are struggling to keep their businesses afloat they haven’t got the time, energy or gullibility to listen when you promise to help them increase productivity ergo profitability through ergonomically designed restroom facilities for staff. Even if you’re the best plumber in town.

Have we gone the full circle? Should our elevator speech start with “I’m an undertaker and I bury stiffs…”? Are we now tending to take the p*ss with this “we help customers…” approach to the point where no-one can believe us any more?

Seriously, I don’t have the answers – just flagging up the problem

I’m really not sure what to advise people to write and/or compose for their elevator speeches now, given this paradigm shift in elevator-speech-ology. However here are some suggestions which might help us think along constructive lines.

Say what you do and give it a bit of background. Assuming that to start with how you help people has become cheesy wheeze of the year, start with (and I’m using myself as the guinea pig here) something like “I’m a business writer who specializes in online content and writing. I’ve grown up right the way through journalism, advertising and later on corporate script and speech writing. But for the last 10 years I’ve been working mostly online and guess what – the internet is the love of my life!

Now turn it around to show how it benefits others.With that kind of experience backing me up, I’m a pretty useful person to have around. Why? Well, one, my knowledge of online comms and social media means I take you straight to what works…you don’t have to find out the hard way … like I did… And two, putting my experience to work for you means you get first class results, quickly, without having to slave over your writing projects yourself.” That would take about one minute for me to say, which is the average length of time allowed in F2F business network meetings. Some organizers try to make people shorten it to 30, 20 or even 10 words (see below) but they’re hardly going to get out a loaded AK-47 and point it at you from word #31 onwards.

Elevator speeches: we help our customers to ZZZzzz...Longer elevator speeches: ask questions

If you have five minutes or so to say your piece, you might like to try the interactive route. That will certainly keep your audience engaged but you might run over your time and p*ss off the organizers.

However, try saying “I’m a business writer … I specialize in the internet and all online comms including social media. What sort of help in this area would YOU find most useful?

You could then go on to answer one or two questions briefly and when the organizer starts waving at you to shut up, you can suggest people come and see you afterwards to talk about their needs in more detail.

And how about those 10 word challenges?

These seem very popular right now and I’m fascinated to see how people waste precious words on hot air.

What doesn’t work:I help people get the best from their online writing.” They’ve heard it all before and it’s pretty meaningless, especially in today’s hard-nosed business environment where all but essentials can’t be afforded, so crap-cutting is essential.

What might work:I’m a business writer specialising in all types of online content.” (11 words, but no-one will notice.) OK, it’s true, but … so what?

What I find works a treat:I specialize in online business writing and I’m (appropriately rude adjective) good at it.” (11 words again – whoops.) That may come across as arrogant but it picks you out from the crowd and usually raises a laugh … something for which the audience will remember you.

Now, it’s your turn…

What are your views on the evolution of the elevator speech? Have you come across these trends yourself? Please share your thoughts and experiences…!

More help to keep your audiences wide awake: (instant downloads)

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well
“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
The MAMBA Way to make your words sell“…how to think your way to superbly successful sales writing

photo credit: yoshiffles via photopin cc
photo credit: jikatu via photopin cc




  1. I never did like the ‘I can help people bla bla bla ….’ and I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one!
    10 words? I teach German and I am bl**** good at it 😉

  2. Suze – wonderful! I’ve taken a moment out to respond to this as the very words ‘elevator’ & ‘pitch’ go together as well as ‘elevator’ and ‘music’.

    Both are supremely forgettable – in fact they aren’t even that – to forget something you have to have to have consciously remembered it in the first place – and to do that – you have to have cared – at least once.

    The very reason I kicked into touch 90% of networking events after the first couple of years of self employment is elevator pitches. I hate them – despise them – spit on them. Hats off to the guy at Monkey Island – Bray boring business breakfast gathering No 26 (or whatever) I attended a couple of years – where he sang what he did to the opening bars of a Frank Sinatra number. Way to go fella – he looked and sounded a prize appendage (even ‘ol blue eyes would struggle to make plumbing supplies sexy) – but at least no one texted through that one – something the rest of us never managed. If I recall I got “gonged off” for taking up 50% of my slot explaining why I hate explaining what I do in 45s.

    Elevator pitches (like elevator music) are there for a reason. To create ‘backdrop’. Backdrop in hotel lobbies that would be much better left in silence. Pitches are vital – a good pitch is a joy – and it’s a vital daily self-affirmation over your journey. But the notion of the ‘elevator pitch’ randomly hosed out at a random gaggle of folks….oh Lord….no.

    These events – where You Tube video’s one sees again and again – ‘The Mole Valley Enterprise Club’ where various folks are paraded on the screen and asked: “Was it worthwhile”? “Did you do business today”?

    Really? “Do you know Pam – as a freelance pagoda designer – I was nervous about the value of coming here – but the lady next to me has just signed me up to Utility Warehouse – so at least my energy bills are cheaper – so it was well worth the 6am start, the hack through the traffic and all the catch-up I have to do later”.

    Elevator pitches are fine in a room full of people there for a galvanised and clear purpose – where there isn’t much time for niceties – and everyone will ask you who you are and what you do again at the coffee break – IF they care. Other than that – they are useless – and ‘going round the room’ mainly means this: Stress-related flatulence attacks and dry mouths prior to pitching. Underwear-readjustment and post pitching lighting up of texts immediately after pitch ejaculation.

    I’ve decided if I’m ever caught like that again – here’s my new super-trimmed version: “Never mind the bollocks – here’s environmental tuning – for those curious – come see me later – I don’t bite – unless you do first”..

    • ROFL … seems I touched a nerve with this article, Richard! Do you think there is a new sense of realism pervading current business, whereby people are fed up with struggling to keep their businesses afloat and simply no longer have the time or patience to listen to beatific bullsh*t and just want the plain facts about new contacts they make?

      • Yes I do – in fact at this rate – if things don’t improve in more common-sense grass roots ways – there could be an exodus of talent from the UK not seen since the ‘brain-drain’ of half a decade ago (especially as English is now being usurped by mandarin)!

  3. Excellent post – to a point!

    I firmly believe in leaving elevator pitches at the ground floor. So I’m in accord with Richard in my loathing of them. You mention the question ‘what do you do?’….this is the networking equivalent of ‘do you come here often?’. People don’t care when they ask it and don’t care about your answer. They are just breaking the ice.

    So it doesn’t really matter what you say, people aren’t listening. Whether in a 1-2-1 conversation or a presentation to a room, people don’t tend to tune in to your elevator pitch.

    You are much better advised to find out what you have in common with the other people in the conversation and/or room. Find people with whom you have rapport and with whom you can build a relationship over time.

    When you have built that relationship they will be interested in what you do – and at that point it is important to communicate how you help your clients. It’s all about selling through your network, not to your network.

    If you explain just what you do people will switch off if it’s not perceived as relevant to them. But if you explain who you do it for and why, they can look into their network.

    But only when you have built the relationship with them first.

    • Excellent points – thanks Andy. And especially your point about building up a relationship first.

      Recently I got chatting to a wonderful lady at a women’s business networking event and we spent nearly the whole lunch talking about breeding cats (her hobby and a keen interest of mine). It was only weeks later that I found out what her business was about, she realized what I do, and asked me to write some articles for her!

      At the risk of sounding anti-feminist, I believe it’s particularly important to women in business to create a strong personal connection before building business stuff on top of it. Would you say that’s as important with men?

  4. Andy Lopata says

    It’s important for everyone to create that strong personal connection first but I think that women actually find it more natural than men.

    In general men tend to steam towards the business first and worry about the relationship later. Meanwhile women are great at getting to know people and finding out how they can help them but less forward when it comes to asking for the business.

    I generalise of course but many people tend to recognise these gender traits. Ivan Misner covers it expertly in his book ‘Business Networking and Sex’.

    Ultimately, neither approach is ideal. The happy medium is what we should all aim for.

    • Absolutely, Andy. I can’t see many men yakking for an hour and a half about cat breeding, but could easily see that happening in a conversation about golf or soccer. You just want to watch it doesn’t turn into an argument! Thanks so much for your input – really appreciate it.

  5. Hey Suzan

    When do you find time to write all this awesome stuff. I could spend a month reading your blog and still not be finished.

    I got with ‘I’m an SEO copywriter and consultant who helps small businesses understand the murky underbelly of Google and rise up the rankings’ or something.

    Or I say ‘I write stuff’.

    Having read this I’ll have a rethink 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Kate – thanks for your kind words (especially heartwarming as you are a fellow business scribe!) You’ve got a point – there are a lot of articles on here; haven’t checked recently but there must be nearly 500 now, so if we take an average of 1,000 a shot that’s half a million words (check it, I’m terrible at math…)

      Of course it’s not just me – we have some fab content from our columnists Lynn, Lucy and Jackson, plus technical support from the wonderful Babs.

      As for your elevator pitch … I love “the murky underbelly of Google…” makes me think of Google with a huge beer gut and baggy underpants…!

  6. I’m in favor of a much shorter and punchier approach (I call it a memory dart):

    If you have more than 10 seconds, think in terms of this sequence: 1-sentence statement — quick story — analogy. People remember stories and analogies, not bullet points and overblown claims.


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