Meeting with a Colleague

Start an Elevator Conversation; Forget the Elevator Speech

The elevator speech is dead. That was my pronouncement in last week’s blog. The reasons: Elevator speeches are too vague, too canned, too boring.

Hearing an elevator speech, people feel that you’ve tossed them “bait.” They resist “being hooked.” They push back just like you resist the salesperson who approaches you as you walk in a store and asks, “May I help you?” Your unthinking response: ”No, I’m just looking.”

Worse, elevator speeches are filled with clichés and platitudes. Often, you can’t even identify the industry or service the person provides.

Instead, aim for an elevator conversation.


Consider the Elevator Conversation to Engage Customers


Raise a Specific, Challenging Problem for Discussion

Obviously, you’re tempted to take control. But the other person wants to steer toward what THEY want to discuss without feeling “hooked.” They want you to be helpful, not cagey.

Let’s say you sell financial services. Here’s how you might toss out a problem for discussion: “Have any of you noticed how baffled people seem to be about the new rules and regulations coming down about retirement accounts? Employees seem to fear making any moves in their IRAs at all.” Discussion in the group follows.



State That You Help People Solve or Prevent This Problem

Don’t elaborate on how. Don’t gloat. Don’t make your statement with a trumpet blast. In fact, such a statement comes across best with a bit of humility.

Examples: After a bit of discussion, you speak up to add, “I agree with you, Jake. Our firm heard that from scores of people. So we figured there had to be a way to avoid that trap. Fortunately, we came up with what we think is a great game plan for our clients. A pretty unique formula that ensures safety—and it’s perfectly legal.”

Stop. Don’t say another word. Just wait.


Wait for The “How” Question

Invariably, your listeners will ask, “What’s that?” or “So are you going to tell us?” or “How do you do that?”

That’s your opportunity to state specifically how you solve problem X. But at this point, don’t be tempted to unload your whole catalog of products or repertoire of services. The listener just gave you a golden opportunity—permission to meet a need, a peek into what he or she is really interested in knowing.

So what if the listener doesn’t ask the how question?

Consider that a clue that one of these conditions exists:

  • They have no interest in the “problem” you raised for discussion.
  • Your “problem” statement was too vague. They didn’t understand what you were talking about.
  • Your tone was inappropriately arrogant in stating that you can solve or prevent the problem.
  • You’ve given them too much information when you stated your “how.”


Add a Credibility Builder to Your “How”

At this point, your listeners are likely thinking, so how credible is this person? Can he or she really do what they say? To add authority to your words, you can:

  • Mention a couple of key clients.
  • Recall specific metrics you’ve achieved for a client.
  • Refer to a book or article you’ve published on the topic.
  • Mention a partnership with a well-known supplier or distributor.
  • Say you’re honored to have won X award or recognition for such-and-such work in the field.
  • Share other impressive facts that subtly imply “I know what I’m talking about.”


End Your “How” With Another Question to Continue the Dialogue

Hand the baton back to your listeners and get off stage. You do that with another key question: “So how well do your people handle their IRA investment choices? Do you find they make the very best choices for themselves? Or do most employees seem overwhelmed with trying to keep up with all the changes in the rules and regulations?”

Ending with a question encourages continued discussion. Ending with a statement, on the other hand, often leads to silence, a head nod, or at best a noncommittal “Hmmm.”

With the elevator conversation—rather than the elevator speech—you’ve accomplished your goal: You’ve raised a pain point. You’ve introduced yourself as a source for the solution to the problem. You’ve lowered their “sales resistance” so they see you as a colleague with credibility, answers, and a track record.

The door is open. Either of you can follow up to continue the conversation and the relationship.


See Dianna’s new book Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done for more thoughts on leadership communication. Click here to download an excerpt.

Get more tips delivered to your inbox, click here to subscribe to Dianna’s ezine.