Ride to the top with a good elevator speech

By Kathleen D. Pagana, PhD, RN

The elevator door opens and you step in to find yourself face to face with the important person you’ve wanted to meet to discuss your promising idea. It’s the chance you wouldn’t want to miss. But that chance lasts only as long as the elevator ride. You have less than a minute to make an impression. Do you have an elevator speech ready?

What’s an elevator speech?

An elevator speech is any short speech that sells an idea, promotes a business, or markets an individual. It’s a short summary, or pitch, that quickly describes the value of a service, product, or organization. The term is a metaphor for unexpected access to someone to whom you’d like to sell an idea or proposal. It derives from the early days of the Internet boom when web development companies needed venture capital. Firms were swamped with applications for funding, and in many cases, the companies that won the cash were those whose reps had a simple pitch and could explain a business proposal in an elevator in the time it took to ride to their floor.

A great elevator speech describes and sells an idea in less than a minute. Of course, it’s not restricted to elevators. It comes in handy any time and anywhere you need to give a concise presentation to capture someone’s interest so you can move to the next step—a follow-up call, a referral, a meeting, or a partnership.

Why clinicians need an elevator speech

You need to be able to describe what you do, what you’re interested in doing, and how you can be a resource to someone. The ability to sum up a unique aspect of your service or expertise in a way that excites others is a fundamental skill. Doing this in a brief, persuasive manner is an asset for any professional. A good elevator speech should grab one’s attention in a few words and make that person want to know more about you. Here are examples where a good elevator speech would be helpful:

• Thomas goes to a recruitment fair
hoping to get an interview at a certain hospital.

• Mary is finishing her master of science degree and is interested in a position in a new wound care clinic.

• Caroline has written a book on grant writing and would like to present her ideas at a conference.

• Brian is interested in research and would like to join the research team.

• Mindy is trying to expand her wound consultation business.

You can use an elevator speech when you want to grab someone’s attention at a meeting, convention, or other social situation. In such situations, people typically ask, “What do you do?” A well-planned elevator speech can make the listener’s ears perk up and want to know more.

How to prepare an elevator speech

Before you can write an elevator speech, you need to know yourself, what you can offer, what problems you can solve, and what benefits you can bring to the prospective contact. For example, you may be an expert in professional communication and know strategies you can teach other staff to promote a better workplace environment.

You also need to know your audience. Will you direct your pitch to an administrator, a unit manager, or staff? You’re more likely to succeed if your elevator speech is targeted to a specific audience and you adjust it to that audience. Try to prepare different pitches for different audiences; a generic pitch is almost certain to fail. (See Key elements of a good elevator speech by clicking the PDF icon above.)

In today’s busy world, clinicians must be able to communicate in a succinct, persuasive manner. Your elevator speech is your introduction to others. It has to be good. Keep practicing it and perfecting it so you can speak with poise and polish. The more often you give it, the better it will become. It’s a great way to put your best foot forward when you have only a small window of opportunity to make a good impression.

Selected references

King C. How to craft an effective elevator speech. Powerful Presentations Web site. www.creativekeys
.net/powerfulpresentations/article1024.html. Accessed January 7, 2013.

Pagliarini R. How to write an elevator speech. BusinessKnowHow Web site. www.businessknowhow
.com/money/elevator.htm. Accessed January 7, 2013.

Pincus A. The perfect (elevator) pitch. BloombergBusinessweek Web site. www.businessweek.com/
advice. June 18, 2007. Accessed January 7, 2013.

Sjodin T. Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect. New York, NY: Portfolio; 2012.
 Sprung S, Giang V. 6 keys to delivering a powerful elevator pitch. Business Insider Web site. www
an-elevator-speech-2012-10. October 26, 2012.
Accessed October 26, 2012.

Kathleen D. Pagana is a keynote speaker and professor emeritus at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Nurse’s Communication Advantage and The Nurse’s Etiquette Advantage. She is also the coauthor of Mosby’s Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference, 11th ed. To contact her, visit www.KathleenPagana.com.

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