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Down with elevator speeches!

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I was listening to a radio interview recently, and the subject of elevator speeches came up. “We hate giving them, and we hate listening to them. So why do we keep making them?” asked the interviewee.

Despite plenty of sales training to the contrary, I happen to agree. Don’t get me wrong: You still need to be crystal clear in communicating the following three things, which I refer to them as the “universal marketing questions”:

1.   Who do you work for? (Or who is your target market?)

2.   What do they need? (And why is it important?)

3.   Why should they buy from you? (What is your unique experience or impact?)

I also believe you need to be bold and compelling. That’s why I’ve replaced the “elevator speech” with my notion of the “audio billboard.” In my seminars, I sometimes ask “If you were cruising down the highway at 65 miles per hour, and you read on a passing billboard what you usually say in response to the question of what you do, would you slow down to read it or drive right past it?” People usually answer “I would probably drive right past.” But that’s obviously the wrong answer.

What you don’t have to do is blurt out your billboard in some “cutesy,” single-sentence, automated statement.  Your audience is, after all, not filled with faceless “prospects” but real human beings. Describing what you do should be part of a human-to-human conversation.

Here’s an example of a conversational “audio billboard” exchange:

John: I’ve been doing all the talking, Peter. Tell me, what do you do?

Peter: Well, John, do you know how a lot of people fall behind on their mortgage payments?

John: Of course.

Peter: This can mean there’s a serious danger they could lose everything they’ve worked for their whole lives.

John: It’s sad, but it’s happening a lot, with the job market the way it’s been.

Peter: Yes! And it usually means that unless someone can help them work something out with their mortgage companies, they have to live in a state of constant worry and stress, right?

John: I’m sure…

Peter: Well, I step in and help them work something out with their mortgage companies so that they can stop worrying and get on with their lives.

Using a simple but meaningful conversational format such as this one can take you from the dreaded “elevator speech” to an “audio billboard.” Keep your conversations bold and clear—not “cutesy” and forgettable. And remember: You’re taking part in a human-to-human interaction.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to


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