Commentary: Writing your elevator speech

By Elizabeth Jolliffe

An elevator speech, a 30 second introduction, a 20 second commercial. The problem: you have probably heard marketing people say you need one of these but you are not sure what they mean or why you need one. The short answer:
• It is a concise, memorable description of what you do and for whom.
• It is a marketing tool.

You need to have this description ready for any time you meet someone new and they ask what you do. You also use it when you introduce yourself in front of a group.

Focus on the benefits you provide. To preclude snap judgments and generate interest, focus on the benefits or results you provide and for whom. For example, when asked what you do, you could say “I am a tax lawyer.” A more meaningful answer might be “I help family owned partnerships and businesses reduce their taxes and become more profitable. I am a tax lawyer.”

Connect with your audience. To be more memorable, take your listeners into account. If possible, adapt your description to them. For example, “I help businesses like yours reduce their taxes through planning and become more profitable.” An estate planning lawyer might say to a new parent, “I am an estate planning lawyer. I help a lot of new parents have peace of mind by putting plans in place.”

Have energy. If you are bored with your own introduction, your audience will be too. If you don’t believe in what you do, your audience won’t either. If you feel like what you are saying is cheesy, it probably is. Keeping it short helps your energy, reduces the possibility of cheese and keeps you from trailing off.

Find the words that work for you, practice them with other people, and start using them. You will discover it is a lot easier when you are prepared. You won’t hear yourself saying blah blah blah any more, or at least not nearly as much.

Hint: to find your energy and the words that work best for you, consider what you like most about what you do for your clients. Most people become more animated when they talk about something they like and they also connect better with their listeners.

Last, don’t get stuck on the order of your sentences or having something really clever or catchy to say. The keys are keeping your answer or introduction short, simple and descriptive — the benefits of what you do and for whom.

One of my clients took on an elevator speech as part of her homework this week. She raised the subject and admitted she needs one for whenever people ask her what she does as a lawyer. What about you?

Elizabeth Jolliffe is a career management and business development coach for lawyers. She practiced for 19 years as a business litigator and partner at Clark Hill PLC. She helps her clients build their practice and take charge of their career. Jolliffe is president-elect of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association.  She can be reached at (734) 663-7905 or