Project Practitioners > Take the Stairs

Take the Stairs

By Patti Gilchrist

Recently the topic of the elevator speech came up and I was asked the question, do I have an elevator speech?

Hmmmm… not even fully understanding what it is or the need for one, the first thought that popped into my mind was “no, I don’t have an elevator speech, I take the stairs.” But since it was a serious conversation with a senior manager, I couldn’t offer that as a response. And accordingly, I refrained from using the “dog ate my speech” excuse as well.

So as not to encourage further probing, I didn’t ask what it was or inquire about its intended use. But I was picturing a scenario of having to accost strangers, who were otherwise minding their own business and perhaps having a pleasant day up to that point, to regale them with details about myself and my accomplishments. Many questions were racing through my head. Do I have to sing it? Do I need to pull out a pitch pipe? Does it have to rhyme?

Since I didn’t have a good explanation for not having one (at least not one deemed valid), and apparently was not able to effectively demonstrate or convey to this manager that I held a keen understanding (or appreciation) of the concept, I was provided with what was explained to be stellar examples of properly constructed speeches. I was further instructed to use these fine examples to craft my very own unique and special speech, which I should always have on hand and be ready at any moment to offer a catchy and compelling representation in 30 seconds or less as to why I stand out from my peers.

Thirty seconds or less? Well, maybe I could talk real fast. Would that work?

By now, I was confused. And the examples provided only added to the confusion. The examples  offered sounded superficial and trite, using hooks such as “I am Superman of Software Development”,” “My real name is John Smith, but I am known as the Prince of Project Management,” “They call me an IT superhero because I have rescued many failed IT projects”, etc.

Although I found the examples amusing (I’ll admit I laughed), I could not imagine actually saying any of these things (or singing them either for that matter). I would have a very hard time describing myself in such grandiose and boastful terms.  Maybe these were bad examples (one can only hope). However, these were the examples presented nonetheless of how to compose the attention grabbing “hook” to set a favorable first impression.

So it made me wonder. Would it be more painful for the one having to deliver such a speech or for the one hearing it? To be honest, if someone approached me and presented themselves as superman or any other action hero, I am not sure I could refrain from laughing. Yes, it would be entertaining. And yes, it would make an impression. Perhaps not in the intended way.

Our discussion around always being ready to speak about your skills and what value you bring to the table reminded me of a situation from years ago. I was called by a hiring manager who was looking for the perfect candidate for his role. After describing what he was looking for, he asked if I understood what he needed.

My response was this. I understand very well the challenges in your department, the type of role this is, and what you are looking for in a candidate. However, to be honest, this position is not a match for me. Rather than waste time answering more questions about the position, I used the remaining time to explain and clarify the skill set he needed to look for to best meet his need. Some would say I blew this opportunity. Some would say I should have whipped out my elevator speech to ace the interview. Maybe. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. At least not this one. But several years later, this same manager had moved up in the organization and had another opening, this time a match to my background. He decided to call me and re-introduced himself by explaining that we talked several years back and wondered if I remembered him. He told me that he remembered me for being candid about my skills and that I didn’t try to overpromise just to get a job. Thus he said he held onto my resume -- just in case.

So if you are as confused and uneasy about crafting your elevator speech as I was, my advice is this. When describing what you do and what you can offer (aka your “elevator speech”), avoid using gimmicks and ploys that don’t sound genuine or natural. Throw away the canned, over-rehearsed sounding speech, which emphasizes style over substance. Do your job well. And always know what you can offer and how you add value. And above all else demonstrate integrity. Integrity and professionalism always make a lasting impression.

And my final piece of advice. Take the stairs.

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