As you transition from a military to civilian career, there are many nuances and skills that those of us in the business world have learned to finesse over time. One of those is how we build relationships with strangers and make business contacts. We call this "in person networking."
This holiday season, you will undoubtedly find yourself in networking situations. Perhaps you'll be networking at company holiday parties, chamber of commerce meetings, parent (school) events or job fairs. Regardless of where you find yourself, be prepared to answer the age old question, "So, what do you do?"
The "elevator pitch" got its name from the idea that if you got into an elevator with a stranger and they turned to you and asked, "Tell me about yourself?" could you reply succinctly and with enough content that they would want to continue the discussion when the elevator doors opened. This assumes you have about a 30-second elevator ride.
Personal branding is the practice of building trust by creating and managing your reputation with intention and focus. As you build your visibility and your network, the perceptions other people have of you can directly impact the opportunities they assign you. As employers and prospective business contacts interact with you (in person and online), they are judging you based on what you say, how you act and how you look.
What to include in your elevator pitch
An elevator speech has impact when it is relevant. Whether you are introducing yourself at a business event, cocktail party or at a presentation to a potential employer, an elevator speech has impact when it is:
- Authentic and genuine.
- Relevant. Speak to me as an individual. How does your work affect others? Why should I care?
- Descriptive. Tell me what it is you do and how.
- Concise. Keep it short and sweet. Make me want to learn more!
Believe it or not, a common mistake people make with elevator pitches is forgetting to say what their product or service is — clearly. We also forget to say how we're relevant to people who might want to hire us. We don't tell the person who's listening why they should care!
Describe what you do in your pitch, then describe how you do it. Do not repeat your job description, or the job title you want, or the number of years you've been in the job, unless it makes you unique. Focus on what is it you do differently than your competitors. If you have a niche, tell me about it. The goal is to entice the listener to want to know more.
What NOT to include in your elevator pitch
As we network, promote and market ourselves to prospective employers and contacts, it is sometimes too easy to let our guard down and share information which not only makes the other person uncomfortable (I really did not want to hear those gory details about your military career) and can easily create the wrong impression about you.
Consider how these bits of "Too Much Information" can be misunderstood:
"My girlfriend just left me..." Can be read as: "I have a disruptive home life. I may not be able to function or focus on the job or on your project."
"I am so stressed out right now!" or "Wow! I have so many new job leads!" Can be read as: "I have no time or energy to give you the quality work you are considering paying me for..."
"I really need the money from this job..." Can be read as: "I will give you what I can, until a better offer with more money comes along..."
"My last boss really sucked. Your company sounds so much better!" Can be read as: "I will likely say mean things about your company someday."
"I wouldn't say I ever ‘stole' from an employer... unless you count paperclips, Post-It Notes and a few company ideas! Ha ha." Can be read as: "I cannot be trusted. Ever."
"I live for weekends!" Can be read as: "My focus is on Friday, not my work."
In our goal to build relationships with our key audiences, to let them get to know us on a personal level so they can relate to us, we often cross the line. These are just a few examples of things we might say that seem innocent and personal but can send a definite red flag to our audiences.
From your behavior, to your verbal communications, to your online networking, pay attention to how you come across to others. Could your expressions send the wrong message? Is your image consistent with your value proposition? Are you receiving feedback that indicates you have to clean up your act?
Beginning today, become more intentional and thoughtful about what you say and how you say it. Focus on being authentic and concise, sharing enough information to make your audience want to learn more. Show passion and excitement for your work (excitement is contagious!), and help put people at ease around you.
Elevator pitches take time and practice. Be patient, and understand that the tenth time you give your elevator pitch will be much better than the first time.