During the holiday, I was telling a family member about an interview I listened to recently on NPR. Don’t roll your eyes, it was a non-biased, intellectual interview of a high-powered President and CEO. The most amazing part of her the interview was her lack of ability to answer two simple questions that were posed during the interview. She was being asked several questions about the state of the company at the time she decided to take on the conglomerate and the challenges she has faced. She was competently answering questions as she reiterated HP’s role in commerce today’s. But I was baffled at the lack of or dancing around the answers to two questions (not word for word, especially since I’m having a hard time remembering ever since I wrote the blog about weed): 1. Tell us “What is [insert name of company]?” and 2. In 5 words or less, describe what your company sells? I still cannot tell you what your company is. Is it a corporation that makes printers or is a company that sells IT services? In fact, I don’t even remember what her answer was, but I know it included commercial and personal computers.
Regarding the second question, she actually answered the first question, but using about 50 words or more. I am sure it is hard to hold back enthusiasm for a company you are turning around and making relevant, so why limit yourself to 5 words. However, as a CEO, having an elevator speech is part of CEO 101, and she didn’t even try.
Everyone should have an elevator speech. In college, whether we took speech class or a management course, we all had to learn an elevator speech. This is where you pretend you are in an elevator and someone introduces themself to you and asks what you do. You have about 30 seconds to tell them what you do. Why does it matter? Because you never know who you are going to meet in an elevator. Stammering and getting into too much detail will kill an opportunity to make a great first impression. Imagine you are in an elevator on your way to a job interview and the person next to you starts talking. Now just imagine that person is the interviewer. You need to be ready and prepared at all times with your elevator speech. “Cynthia, glad to meet you. I am a writer on my way to an exciting job interview as a sex and relationship columnist.” (sorry, still wishing I was the actual Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City.) “Being able to sum up unique aspects of your service or product in a way that excites others should be a fundamental skill.” Bloomberg Businessweek, June 18, 2007.
Do you have an elevator speech? Even inanimate objects, like television shows, have elevator speeches. For instance, Star Trek, “Space — the final frontier.” In four words I know the show is about space. I have immediately checked out, but sci-fi fans are geeking and all of a sudden Star Trek has 15 million fans.
I would love to have your elevator speech. If I can get enough, I will compile them into a posting.