Why Elevator Speeches Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

“So, What Do YOU Do?”

As a professional speaker and communication consultant, I have been asked for years by nervous entrepreneurs and professionals headed to networking meetings and live events about the best way to put together an “elevator speech.” And for years I have been telling those same people why they should not have one.

So we’re all clear on the meaning, here is a common definition of an “elevator speech” as it appears on Wikipedia,

“An elevator pitch summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition. The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.”

What’s the first thing you notice about that definition? Well, that it’s not a “speech” at all. It’s called a “pitch.” And the idea is that the person you’re delivering it to will be in a position to buy your product or service right then and there – or at least get enough information to make a decision soon after or want to know more.

Let’s look at a few reasons why you do not want an elevator speech – and the better alternative. First here’s why you do not want an elevator pitch:

  1. You have no idea if the person you’re talking to is in your niche or target market if you haven’t spoken to them yet.
  2. Creating a speech involves knowing your audience—a GROUP of people – and understanding them in order to provide value through your words. Talking to one person could be considered an audience in the technical definition of the term, but delivering a “speech” of any kind to one person is odd at best and either rude, insulting, or obnoxious at worst.
  3. You’re at a networking function with the express purpose of connecting with others (and if you’re there to sell something on the spot you might as well stay home; people will smell that desperation a mile away and steer clear of you). Regurgitating a memorized canned spiel is not connecting, in fact it’s the opposite.
  4. Your main goal should be to find out if you know someone or something that could be helpful to those you meet. Being helpful is the first step in being memorable. Speaking “at” someone does not accomplish you being helpful in any way.

So the problem remains… if you want to connect with people and have them know what you do and vice versa, what do you say? Here are a few tips:

  1. Be the first person in the conversation to be interested instead of trying to be interesting. You be the interested party in the other person, finding out more about them first. Listen.
  2. Once you know more about the other person, you can then tailor your “what do you do” response to who that person is. Then continue the conversation by asking them even more questions about who they are in reference to what you can do for them in a way that is not selling your services, but possibly by sharing an example or even providing simple suggestions, help, or ideas on the spot. Yes for free.
  3. Remember above all you are connecting with another human being. Not a prospect. Not a hot lead. Not another face in the crowd. The person you’re talking to is a human being and deserves your full respect and attention. Find out their name and use it. Be with them in that moment instead of casually searching the room for your next hot prospect.
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Leave A Reply (20 comments So Far)

  • Dave Dee

    Wow. Totally love this. It really comes down to being authentic and truly connecting with someone instead of trying to sell them.

    • Hi @5451e85b5bf7a1494eafb0671175ab49:disqus !

      Thanks for stopping by and your comment. I’ve found it’s SO much easy to connect rather than sell. And when the connection is there, if we have a product or service that is a good fit, it’s an easy and natural conversation.


  • Refreshing! Thank you for giving us permission to lose the elevator speech. Ahhhh. Interested first. Interesting comes later, and that means we are making real connections. We are relevant, not pontificating. Love that. GREAT article!

    • Thanks, @facebook-1388362864:disqus !

      Doesn’t it feel great to be able to let go of the “elevator speech?” Real connections are always best. Thank you for your kind words.


  • Anonymous

    Spot on! Thank you for launching us to listen. We can’t be of real service if we are thrusting our stuff onto folks.

    • Thanks @ashleymahaffey:disqus !

      This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s so easy to forget to listen, isn’t it?

      Glad you stopped by!


  • Great post Felicia! My favorite part is “Be with them in that moment” then listen and serve if appropriate! And if not, have a great time “be-ing” with them for the elevator ride! 😉

  • Claudia Arnold

    Thank you for this post. We have all been working on our elevator speeches and then, in the elevator, did not deliver them because we felt it to be so very awkward and wrong. If I had a Euro for every rude, foolish or egotistic sales technique I have been taught in my life, I could give free beer for everybody here…

    • Yay for the free cocktails for everyone, Claudia! But see– real life experience is the BEST determining factor in if a sales or marketing technique works. If you feel foolish, rude or egotistic, then it simply won’t work. Thanks for commenting!


  • Really enjoyed the flow of your article, Felcia – showing us why elevator speeches don’t work, and then what to do about it. Great takeaways – listening, real connection, and providing value up front. Simple, yet so powerful!

    • Thanks, Mollie!

      I always write in a way that I like to read — with real takeaways.

      So much about effective communication is exactly what you say: Simple yet powerful. It helps to be reminded. Often. 😉

      Thank you for the opportunity to share and be part of BLD. You rock & I’m honored to be your friend!


  • Dr. K.

    This article is a great reminder of Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends And Influence People. Always be interested in the other person and ask them questions about what they do. Let them talk first and eventually they will ask you what you do. That way it doesn’t come across as selling and then comes across as giviing information.
    Thanks for the article!!!

    • Thanks Dr. K!

      I am humbled by the comparison to the great Dale Carnegie. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article.


  • I love this: “Be the first person in the conversation to be interested instead of trying to be interesting.” Yay!!!

    It drives me nuts when I meet somebody and they give their obviously prepared SPEECH in response to my genuinely interested question. It’s so weirdly unnatural. Way to give some practical advice on how to “not be that person.” 🙂

    • Hi Gina-

      Thanks for commenting!! I agree 100% — when people do that “speech” thing it does seem weirdly unnatural. Aren’t there times when you want to say to the person, “Just stop. Tell me what you love best about what you do.” Or something to get them off the phoney baloney trail.

      Always nice to see you!


  • Dr Marlene Siersema

    I am so thankful someone has finally written what is so true. I had given my “elebator speech” the boot years ago and started finding out about others. Once you know if they are potential you can talk to them later. Always saying or wearing something they will remember. Once you are memorable the next step is always is easier.

    • Marlene,

      Exactly! And what people most remember is that you were a real person & treated them with respect & interest. It’s MUCH easier to connect later. And soooo freeing!

      Here’s to giving the elevator speech the boot!


  • Jean Kuhn

    Felicia, I always enjoy what you write. Nice article

    • Thanks so much Jean! We’re in the mutual admiration club, my friend!


  • Dee

    Okay, but what do you say when someone asks you what you do? It sounds impractical to say “I’m more interested in you right now, tell me about you” .. then tailor make your response to their answers once they’ve finished. Thought a real example would be helpful, if you have one.
    Thanks Felicia.