By Lillian Clementi
Reblogged from ATA Chronicle with permission
So I’ve made it to the networking event—I’ve even remembered to bring some business cards—and I’m starting to peek out from behind the potted plant when a friendly stranger makes eye contact and asks, “So what do you do?”
Or I’ve settled into my seat at a business gathering and suddenly the moderator says, “I’d like to go around the room so that we can all introduce ourselves.”
Now what? Enter the elevator speech.
Short and Sweet
An elevator speech is a brief summary of who you are and what you offer as a professional, so called because it is concise enough to be delivered during a 30- to 60-second elevator ride.
A good elevator speech is only about 90 words long. It’s a succinct, readymade introduction that you can use at business gatherings and networking events—and at dinner parties, at the bus stop, on airplanes, or in any other encounter when you only have a few seconds to make a connection.
Here is my elevator-speech-in-progress:
“I’m Lillian Clementi, and I help people over the language barrier. I’m the principal of Lingua Legal, a translation practice specializing in French and German. I provide translation and foreign-language document review to select clients in law and business.”
And here is another translation-specific example:
“Hi, my work makes your business shine in Spanish. My name is Maria Esposito, and I’m the owner of Esposito Translation. I specialize in transferring English business materials into clear, readable Spanish to help you reach your target audience.”
As I have begun experimenting with my own elevator speech, I’ve identified at least four benefits:
1. It keeps me focused on essentials. I can spit out the most important information about my practice even when time is short. Even when I don’t have to deliver the whole speech, having it in the back of my mind enables me to describe what I do clearly and quickly.
2. It keeps me from talking too much. I am so passionate about my work that I get carried away easily. Stopping after 60 seconds saves me from getting lost in translation.
It also gives the other guy a chance to tell me about his business and ask about mine.
3. It makes networking more effective. When I can give other people a clear, succinct idea of what I do, it’s easier for them to help me make connections. One of the best elevator speeches I ever heard included a sentence along the lines of, “Our ideal client is a small business three to five years old, with five to 50 employees.” That saves everyone a whole lot of time.
4. It calms my nerves. I hate networking functions: they make my skin crawl. An elevator speech is a security blanket. I always know what to say, and I don’t have to waste energy reinventing the wheel every time I open my mouth.
Getting in on the Ground Floor
There are so many theories on elevator speeches that it’s easy to get lost, but a few best practices emerge clearly from the chaos.
1. Focus on the listener. I asked Peter Baldwin, a marketing coach based in Alexandria, Virginia (see “Building Your Client Portfolio” at the end of this article), to identify the most important thing about elevator speeches. His answer: “Make sure you’re sharing something that benefits the listener—not what you do, but what they get out of it.” So you might have different versions depending on what sort of events you attend. For example, at a chamber of commerce function, I might say, “I help people over the language barrier,” but at a bar association function, I might say, “I help law firms take the pain out of foreign-language documents.”
2. Use a vivid image. I once attended a chamber of commerce breakfast where everyone gave an elevator speech. One lady said, “I’m with the Allergy and Asthma Network. We save lives.” I immediately pictured a child with a peanut allergy going into anaphylactic shock. Cheap sensationalism? Maybe. But that was more than two years ago, and I still remember the lady and her elevator speech. (As it turned out, she had an unfair advantage: I learned later that she was Peter Baldwin’s wife.)
For a translator, the vivid image might be: “I make your business shine in Spanish.” “I help businesses tap into global markets.” “I help non-English speakers get the medical care they need.” If all of these strike you as hooey—and they might—find one that works for you.
3. Keep it brief. The shorter, the better. Peter Baldwin again: “If you’re asked for a 30-second elevator speech, make it 10. I’m trying to slim my own speech down.”
4. Relax. Don’t worry about making it perfect: write the best imperfect elevator speech you can and start using it. You will quickly identify what works for you and what doesn’t. A certain amount of trial and error is inevitable: that’s fine. Just get started.
Once you have your elevator speech on paper, make the most of it. You may be surprised to discover just how versatile it can be, and how many doors it will open. For example, veteran translator Chris Durban recently experimented with using an elevator speech at an event for rail industry professionals. “When I simply introduced
myself as a translator, with no elevator speech, I could sense a brush-off coming. But when I led with, ‘I make texts sing,’ people were curious and started asking questions,” she said.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Say your elevator speech aloud until you can deliver it comfortably in any situation. There are plenty of opportunities to practice: with a friend, a family member, the dog; in your car on the way to a networking event; in the shower; while you cook dinner; during a stroll in the park. Peter Baldwin recommends practicing your elevator speech “until you own it.” Getting your mouth around it helps you get comfortable, and makes it easy to recognize anything that feels wrong. “I always practice mine out loud right before a networking event,” he adds. “You can’t over-practice.”
Tux or Tee?
In many places, it is increasingly common for everyone to be asked to introduce herself to a group at business functions, from chamber of commerce roundtables to women’s breakfasts. In formal situations like these, the elevator speech really is a speech. But in less formal settings—chatting with someone at a conference, for example—speechifying is inappropriate. Worse, it will probably make you feel phony and stupid. In these situations, keep your key points firmly in mind, but work them in as part of the conversation.
Here is a secret I stumbled on about six months ago, which Peter Baldwin confirmed when I interviewed him. In informal settings, the first line of my elevator speech is “Tell me about your business.”
Counterintuitive, I know. The elevator speech is supposed to tell the listener about me and my business, right? Absolutely true: but in an informal setting, asking the other guy about what he does is an easy way to kick off a conversation. And since most linguists are incorrigibly curious, asking a question feels safe and familiar.
Stranger Than Fiction
But what happens if the other person starts talking and you never get a chance to talk about you? Believe it or not, in the six months that I have tried this, not one of the people I have talked to has failed to come back to me—in pretty short order—with the question, “But what do you do?” Then I respond with an informal version of my elevator speech. Peter Baldwin says that he does the same thing, and it always works. People love to talk about themselves, he explains, but when you show genuine interest and curiosity, they reciprocate by asking about you.
A fine-tuned elevator speech is only one component of the marketing toolkit I need when I venture into client territory, but it has definitely gotten me out from behind the potted plant. I feel less terror when introducing myself to a group, and the time and thought that went into developing an elevator speech have clarified my approach to other aspects of marketing. I now have a clearer vision of who I am and what I can offer clients
—and at last I know exactly what to say when the elevator goes ding.
Building Your Client Portfolio
This article is part of ATA’s Client Outreach Kit, a new initiative designed to help you attract the clients you want by positioning yourself as a resource for translation buyers and users. The kit consists of a fully customizable PowerPoint presentation that you can use when speaking to potential clients, plus a set of practical, standalone skills modules to help you make the most of it. Skills modules include writing and delivering an elevator speech, improving public speaking skills, and handling audience questions effectively. The PowerPoint presentation is free and can be downloaded by ATA members in minutes; the skills modules are also free and are available to everyone.
When you use the Client Outreach Kit, you can score a triple win—promoting your own practice, helping potential clients become better-informed translation consumers, and raising awareness of translation as a profession.
If you are interested in becoming a more confident networker and public speaker, visit www.atanet.org/client_outreach to find out what Client Outreach can do for you.
More on elevator speeches
• ATA’s Client Outreach webpage includes a module on elevator speeches. Visit www.atanet.org/client_outreach/skill_writing_and_delivering.php to learn more.
• Peter Baldwin, the marketing guru quoted earlier, is chief marketing coach with The Advisory Board Program in Alexandria, Virginia. He can be reached at email@example.com.
• Browse samples of elevator speeches for many different professions at www.expressionsofexcellence.com/sample_elevator.html.
• For ideas on what to include in your elevator speech and how to edit it, visit www.speech-topics-help.com/elevator-speech.html.
• Learn practical strategies for joining and exiting conversations at www.susanroane.com/articles/conversationskills.html.
ATA to Launch Client Outreach Newsletter
In early 2010, ATA will launch a complimentary e-newsletter for consumers of translation and interpreting. Building on the success of Getting It Right and Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity, this new publication will appear four to six times a year and will be available by subscription and on ATA’s website. Each issue will feature practical tips and best practices on a specific aspect of translation or interpreting: planning ahead, listening to your linguist, budgeting wisely, and using computer translation tools safely, to name just a few.
Like ATA’s Client Outreach Kit, the newsletter is designed to score a triple win, benefiting translators and interpreters, their clients, and the language professions.
By offering lively, accessible content to current and prospective clients, the newsletter will make the profession more visible and help consumers avoid common pitfalls, leading to more successful translation and interpreting projects for all involved. Over time, translators and interpreters will benefit from a more sophisticated clientele, but you will be able to use the newsletter right away to strengthen your position in working with clients. (“As a matter of fact, the American Translators Association just published a newsletter on this very point. Let me e-mail you that PDF: it’s only one page, it’s very readable, and it may help solve our problem.”)
Got a Pet Peeve? A Clever Solution?
Active contributors to each issue will be acknowledged by name, and organizers hope to include a wide range of perspectives and to get ideas from as any many ATA members as possible. Put on your thinking cap: is there a question you have to answer over and over again? A problem that you encounter repeatedly? A practical solution you have found for a recurring client problem? A tip you would like to share? If so, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lillian Clementi is a member of ATA’s Public Relations Committee and principal of Lingua Legal, a translation practice based in Arlington, Virginia. She translates from French and German into English, specializing in law and business. Contact: Lillian@LinguaLegal.com.