What do you do?
It’s a question that comes up a lot in American small talk.
Maybe you’re meeting friends of friends and you’ve already been through “How do you know each other?” so work is the next logical topic.
Or you’re at a holiday party and you find yourself chitchatting with someone who could be an ideal customer.
Or you’re at a networking mixer and everyone gets an opportunity for a two-minute intro.
At varying degrees of casual to formal, we talk about our work a lot.
To be ready to make the most of these opportunities, in business school we talked a lot about preparing an elevator pitch — the name coming from the idea that you’re in an elevator with someone who could help advance your business and you want to get across your most essential, compelling points before one of you gets off that elevator.
As MBA students, we’d work on these, refine them, practice them together.
When I heard author Michael Port speak recently, he urged audience members to dump their elevator pitches and just talk to people.
I totally get where he’s coming from. Don’t sound like a radio commercial — some restrictions may apply, not valid in Alaska and Hawaii — but instead engage with the other person about what matters to him or her, see if there’s something you do that might be interesting.
But I still think there’s value in preparing your pitch, then tailoring it as needed. Maybe that means it’s more like three or four talking points you get comfortable saying clearly and succinctly, and you adapt as needed.
For example, when I tell people I’m a marketing consultant, I’m generally met with stony silence. It’s a bland phrase that doesn’t mean much to most people, and perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t present an opportunity to keep the conversation moving — if we’re making small talk about the weather, where we grew up and what we do, part of my job is to return volley in a way that keeps the conversation moving.
So I have a few different phrases that I use, depending on the environment, including:
- I’m a marketing consultant, which means I do projects for clients like helping with market research and social media strategy.
- I’m a recovering journalist. I got my MBA and now I like to help small businesses with their story telling through channels like blogging and social media, and help them figure out how that story telling aligns with their business goals in measurable ways like increasing sales.
- I like to help small and mid-sized organizations with their marketing, usually teams too small to have their own marketing director so I can help them with strategic projects like social media or market research that they either don’t have the time or expertise to do themselves.
I like to give advance thought to these key talking points, much as I encourage people to do before a media interview, because otherwise, it’s easy to have that moment pass and not get across your most important thought. True, you’re conversational, and you gave *an* answer, but maybe not *the* answer for the situation.
More than once, I’ve done the around-the-table introductions and thought later, dang, I missed the chance to say THAT.
Whether it’s an elevator pitch or just getting my talking points down, I don’t want to have that regret.
Do you use an elevator pitch? Do you adapt it depending on where you are?
Colleen Newvine Tebeau is a reporter and editor who then earned her MBA at University of Michigan with emphases in marketing and corporate strategy. She is a marketing consultant who helps small and midsized organizations with strategy and tactics, including social media and communications.
- What do you do? (inceptionseomarketing.com)
- UM Launch Pad announces Elevator Pitch Competition; Voike launches (miamiherald.com)
- How to Create the Perfect Elevator Pitch in 5 Steps (business2community.com)
- The Perfect Elevator Pitch: In 20 Seconds or Less, Tell Me What You Do (thehartford.com)
- Conversation: A New Replacement for the Old Elevator Pitch (thehartford.com)
- Marketing Monday: Sales pointers gleaned from author Michael Port (newvinegrowing.wordpress.com)