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The elevator pitch for every professional

Imagine you’re standing in an elevator with another person who could be your next big client or investor. You’re asked, “What do you do?” Quick—in just a few seconds, what do you say? Do you stutter through, sounding unenthusiastic and unprepared? Or do you deliver the perfect pitch that leaves that person with your business card in hand and a desire to work together?

In those critical moments, you should be ready to deliver your well-crafted elevator pitch. The elevator speech is a succinct description of you and your organization, usually from 15 seconds to two minutes long. The original idea is that a businessperson should be able to give his or her company’s pitch during the length of an elevator ride.

A few seconds is a short amount of time to get your point across, which makes it all the more critical to have a succinct and enthusiastic answer.

Regardless of your industry, it’s important you have this worked out and memorized in the event opportunity knocks, but it remains even more critical for the entrepreneur. Business owners often wear many hats within their company, but also act as the face of their brand—clearly conveying the right words will make you sound confident and directed.

If you have a sales team, make sure they craft their own speeches that can be used out in the field. Being articulate and composed in person will put you heads and shoulders above the rest, and could translate into a new client, bid request, job interview, or investor. You never know who you’ll meet, so always plan to make yourself memorable.

A good elevator pitch is not cheesy, but it is polished. While I’ve never had an elevator speech actually occur inside an elevator—I’ve never been overly zealous to talk to a stranger within confined spaces—I know the expression on someone’s face when I’ve nailed my pitch. Instead of glazed eyes and the visible suppression of a yawn, the listener is invigorated and wants to be involved. Ordinary conversations can turn into informal business meetings. At the very least, you’ve successfully connected with someone.

So how do you decide what to say in your elevator pitch? The Harvard Business School has a useful interactive website that allows you to build and analyze your ideas, but there also are some basic guidelines for perfecting your elevator speech.

Be succinct: Your first two sentences are the most important—people have already decided whether to continue listening or tune you out.

Keep it short: Keep your speech around 30 seconds. It may be more or less depending on which capacity you think you’re most likely to use it.

Get to the point: Mention values and goals, not a laundry list of skill sets.

Define your market: Quickly describe who your products and services are meant for.

Find a solution: What problem is your company or service solving? What are you doing that other companies aren’t?

Leave out the jargon: Industry-specific terms or obscure sales numbers can confuse your listener.

Be creative: Have some fun with how you say it. Make it interesting!

It may take a few edits to find a message that sounds perfect and is in line with your goals. Once you’ve composed something you’re happy with, practice until you have it memorized and get comfortable with saying it to another person. Friends, spouses and family are great resources.

Practical application of your elevator speech means interacting with real people, so follow the natural flow of conversation to avoid sounding scripted. Be genuine when speaking with the other person and don’t forget to listen to what they say.

Even in our digitally-inclined society, effective interpersonal communication is crucial to professional success. Keep your well-crafted elevator speech ready in your back pocket—it could be your gateway to hidden opportunities.

Christy Rezaii works as a freelance copywriter and small business web strategist, and regularly contributes to the Boise City Revue, a local events and culture publication. Besides running in the Boise foothills, she can be found at me@christyrezaii.com via email or @crezaii on Twitter.

About Christy Rezaii