Throw Out the Elevator Pitch to Catch New Contacts

In my previous life as a marketing communications manager, I learned the importance of having an elevator pitch to quickly inform potential customers about the features and benefits of some piece of hardware or software. Ugh, that brings back memories of cubicle life and two-hour commute.

Ever since we started our home based business managing a team of remote marketing executives, I have much rather preferred to engage new contacts in a conversation than to risk boring them with specifics about what we do. I have now discovered there is a term for this. It is the “Anti-Elevator Speech” – that’s what professional speaking coach and author Cliff Suttle called it in his article I read in the August, 2012 issue of Toastmasters Magazine.

Cliff suggests how to attract new business contacts in less than ten seconds by paraphrasing a certain late, great president:

“Ask not what your contact can do for you, but what you can do for your contact.” — John F. Kennedy

This fits perfectly with our mission to help others, and clearly describes the difference between an elevator pitch and the anti-elevator speech.

What do we do?

Cliff suggests answering the question, “What do you do?” with a hook and reel to spur interest and engage in conversation. I’ve been doing this all along and thought I was just having fun with people. It turns out there is good reasoning behind this approach. The typical elevator pitch is nothing more than yet another commercial in an age when people are bombarded by thousands of advertisements every day.

The Hook:

In his article, Cliff explains that the anti-elevator speech begins with a hook to generate curiosity. The hook is a quick response that creates confusion, thus generating interest and almost always starting a conversation. Take for instance the hook I have often used without even realizing it…

“What do you do?”
“We help people fulfill their dreams.”

[dramatic pause]

This often results in a raised eyebrow or tilt of the head, which is a good thing. Cliff explains why when he describes the four basic elements of an effective hook:

  1. Keep it short. These days we have much less time to grab someone’s attention.
  2. Make it confusing. People will jump to conclusions when you give away how you do what you do.
  3. Tell people what you do, but not how you do it. This is where an understanding of benefits vs. features comes in handy.
  4. Include an action or feeling word. People will respond to emotion, so stir some up with words that excite.

In my example above, “dream” sparks emotion while the answer leaves people wanting to know more. As a professional speaker,  Cliff’s hook uses the word “excite” to do the same…

“What do you do?”
“We excite audiences.”

[dramatic pause]

That pause is important. It is where the conversation with your new contact begins. Use a good hook and it will always be followed by a question for you to answer with more detail, but don’t give it all way yet.

The Reel:

Go into sales mode to early in the conversation and you will lose interest. Whenever I have answered the question about what we do with details about how we manage a team of remote marketing executives who deliver product education and, well, yawn… you get the picture. There’s plenty of time for detail once someone is genuinely interested. And you know someone expresses interest when they keep asking questions. Let’s proceed with the reel, which draws in your contact without giving everything away…

“What do you do?”
HOOK: “We help people fulfill their dreams.”
“Uhh… what do you mean?
REEL: “We work from home and teach others how to do the same.” [pause]
“Well, how exactly do you do that?”

Now I have someone genuinely curious about what it is we do, asking for details about how we do it. The reel I use above tells them I operate a home based business, and provide coaching to others who want to work from home. The pause allows them time to inquire about specifics regarding exactly what kind of business we run and the type of assistance we provide.

This is where it is important not to leap into sales mode. What we’re looking for here is a need. Once I can identify my potential customer’s need, then I know I have a qualified lead and I can offer them a solution for what they are seeking. Since we’re in the business of enhancing lives, and helping people reach their physical and financial goals, there is a much better chance of developing a relationship if we know exactly how we can help them. That’s why it’s important to engage in a conversation with new customers, rather than just trying to sell some something they may not even need. Just remember: No need, no lead.

What do you do?

Rethink what you do and how you tell people about it. Try engaging new business contacts in a conversation to generate genuine interest using the anti-elevator speech. And remember that posture is everything. Be confident and excited about sharing what you do, and thank your new contact for asking. When my reel has people wanting to learn more, I like to say, “Thanks for asking! I love what I do and sharing it with others.”

If you don’t enjoy what you do, contact us today to find out how we can help you fulfill your dreams!

Learn more about Cliff Suttle and discover how Toastmasters can help you develop better speaking skills for business.

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