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Advice / Job Search / Networking

The 15-Minute Method to Writing an Unforgettable Elevator Speech

Let’s start by getting one thing straight: Elevator speeches aren’t just for riding elevators anymore. And they’re not just for CEOs like me trying to pitch their companies, either.

They’re actually for anyone who needs to tell a story, leave an impression, or sell something as quickly and succinctly as possible—think 30 seconds or less. They’re great for networking events when you’re trying to give someone a brief snapshot of who you are. They’re great for that dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question in interviews. And when I sit down to chat with a potential friend, partner, or hire, I always appreciate someone who can hook me in with a concise, easy-to-understand description of who they are.

It’s not an easy feat, but with elevator pitches a little prep work goes a long way! Try this 15-minute exercise, and you’ll be that much closer to having a speech you can use time and time again.

Minutes 1-5: Write Down Everything You Want to Say About Yourself

The first step here is to get everything on paper so you understand what you’re working with. Take a blank sheet of paper, and write down every little thing you would want someone you’re meeting to know about you. Don’t feel the need to hold back here—I promise, we’re going to significantly edit it down later.

If you’re feeling stuck or aren’t great at bragging about yourself, try asking yourself questions like: What makes you different in your field? How do you stand out? What benefit would you like to bring to the world? If you’re making a career change, how do your current skills and experiences relate to where you want to be?

Minutes 6-10: Now, Write it on a Sticky Note

Now, what if you had to do the same exercise—with only the space of a square sticky note to work with? What would you prioritize? What would you decide isn’t that important for a first interaction? Look over your thoughts from the first five minutes and see where there are redundancies, what you want to keep, and what’s really not that important.

If you’re having a hard time paring it down, a good framework to use is to come up with a few sentences that answer these four questions:

  • What do you do?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why do you do it?
  • What’s next?

So start with a short, descriptive explanation of what you do, like “I’m a writer for the technical products division of Acme Company,” and then take it a step further and think about how your work affects others. Perhaps it’s “I help translate technical specifications into easy-to-follow instructions that anyone can understand at home.”

Then try adding your reason for doing it, such as: “I love being able to distill something complex and full of jargon into simple, clear steps and help people master technology.” Finally, especially if you’re job searching or looking to gain something from the interaction, you should mention what’s next, à la “Now I’m looking to branch out and do consulting work so I can apply this expertise to many more companies and improve the understanding of technology around the world.”

Minutes 11-15: Speak it Out Loud

Before you land on a final elevator speech, you need to actually test it out—out loud. You want this to sound like something you would actually say in normal conversation, not like you’re obviously reciting something you carefully wrote.

One thing that this step will help weed out is jargon. I’m guessing you don’t say business catch phrases like “strategic insight” in your day-to-day conversations—and most people won’t know what that really means. It’s much more powerful to find a simple, straightforward way to describe your role. For instance, instead of “strategic insight” you might say, “help businesses identify new products they could create or customers they could serve.” Now, that’s much more natural, tangible, and understandable.

Once you have an elevator pitch you’re happy with, put the sticky note somewhere accessible like on your desk or in your wallet, look it over every day, and then start integrating it into your conversations! You may tweak it from time to time—I often will personalize mine according to who I’m talking to or based on new goals—but you’ll have a solid base to start from.

This article was sponsored by University of Phoenix. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Photo of women in elevator courtesy of Shutterstock.